A lot of virtual ink has been spilled over these pages towards covering the war between the iOS iPhone camp and the Google Android side, the war for mobile Internet supremacy. During this war I often changed sides, but now actually have the perspective gained from using both operating systems in parallel through the latest incarnations of their phone operating systems: an iOS4 iPhone 3GS and an Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) Nexus S phone as well as a Kogan Agora tablet.
What does my new insight tell me? The message is simple: the iPhone/Android scene is best explained through an analogy with the Mac/Linux scene. I guess that should not surprise anyone given the origins of these two operating systems, but my point is simple. Understand the Mac scene and the Linux scene and you will have their mobile counterparts all figured out.
Just like the Mac, the iPhone’s look and feel are unparalleled. Just like the Mac you can use it straight out of the box, in a manner that pretty much explains why it is coveted by those of us less technologically inclined. Sadly, just like the Mac the iPhone is restricted: you cannot do whatever you want to do with it; you can only do what Apple wants you to do with it, and Apple is usually guided by the principle of making profits.
On the other corner you have the Android system. It allows you to do almost anything you want with your phone, some times easily but often with much effort. It is rough around the edges and requires dedication and know-how to get the most out of, which explains it being coveted by geeks. On paper, you can get more out of an Android phone than you do with an iPhone; it would just be much harder to get there.
Another similarity between Android and Linux is to do with the way Android manages installed apps. The Android platform is pretty secure, but once you authorize the installation of an app you’re exposed to its whims. At the PC environment where application installations are rare those whims tend not to matter much, but on a phone running dozens of apps and charged for 3G downloads the Android platform suffers.
Given the above, which of the two operating systems do I prefer?
My natural preference, as a tinkerer and a gadget freak, is to go the Android’s way. Android is also a better fit ideology wise: it is not a truly open source platform like Linux is, but it free. Add the two together, the ideology and the ability to tailor the phone to do as I will it, and Android should be the clear winner.
It this stage, though, it is not a clear winner. Coming from the iPhone world it is hard for me to give up on that slick, simple and generally awesome presentation the iPhone has to offer. I also appreciate the operating system’s tighter control on its apps: I despise Apple dictating to me which apps I can run and which apps I can’t, but I appreciate the tools it provides me with to police the apps I do have on my phone.
I would therefore conclude on some sort of a draw. I will add that were Apple to take iTunes out of the equation I would be a firm iPhone supporter; as it is, with me having to carry the burden of iTunes every time I want to do something as mildly complicated as copying music to my iPhone, I have to deprive Apple of victory.
Things will become interesting in the next few months. Apple will release iOS5 and the iPhone 5, whatever that phone's actual name is going to be. If iOS5 does to my iPhone 3GS what iOS4 did to the iPhone 3, the usable days of my current iPhone are numbered. Soon I will have to choose where my allegiance lies.
On its side, Google plans a new Android release, too: Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0?), an operating system meant to combine Android for phone (Gingerbread) and Android for tablet (Honeycomb). Rumors of the next Google phone, a Samsung manufactured Nexus Prime running on ice cream power are already travelling the Internet. I wouldn’t put my money against this [Optimus] Prime being my next phone.
Image by nrkbeta, Creative Commons license