Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted something pretty interesting about smartphones: you can either get an iPhone, or you can get - wait for it - an Android.
You once could also buy a Windows phone (until Microsoft turned its attention elsewhere) - and sure, there are still Blackberry phones on the market. But these days, when you're buying a new mobile phone, picking between iPhone and Android is the big cellular decision. So what's the difference - and which one should you choose?
What we like about iPhones
- They look cool
- Great security - Apple provides lots of updates to safeguard your privacy and security
- Seamless integration with all Apple products - from Mac computers and iPads to Apple Watch and Apple TV
- Easy-to-use interface and excellent hardware - iPhones are robust and extremely reliable
- Every iPhone works exactly the same
- iPhones retain their value - important when it comes to recycling your old phone
- Older iPhones receive software updates - Apple is very efficient at supporting older models
- Siri is pretty good and available on every model
- iPhones tend to be easier to use than Android devices
- Better support and help - Apple prides itself on the direct relationship with its customers though live chat and Apple Store Genius Bar.
What we don't like about iPhones
- iPhones are very expensive (though refurbished older models are more affordable)
- Limited to a small selection of phones - not a huge amount of choice
- Apple tends to be slower to introduce new mobile technologies - such as eye tracking, facial recognition etc.
- Limited customisation - Apple maintains the integrity of its iPhones by limiting functionality; Android phones are more flexible than iOS
- iPhones don’t have expandable storage
What we like about Android
- Greater choice of handsets and manufacturers - from cheap models to high-tech flagship phones
- Far more customisable - you can completely change the look and feel of the interface
- Easy to find a phone with expandable storage
- More apps available in the Google Play Store, and you can download unofficial apps without jailbreaking
- Platform is made by Google, so there's perfect integration with Gmail, Chrome, Maps, Calendar, and so on
- Easy to access your files
- Google Assistant is excellent
- More freedom to install un-official apps
What we don't like about Android
- The incredible choice of handsets and manufacturers can be overwhelming
- Software updates are often slow: new versions of Android from Google must be approved and implemented by your network provider and phone manufacturer
- The Android ecosystem is not as self-contained as Apple’s iPhones (think of the hundreds of Android devices out there); which means, in terms of software updates, older Android phones can become unsupported quite quickly.
- Increase in security risks - particularly in relation to malware, as you can pretty much download any app
Choosing a phone
If you want an iPhone, you're at the mercy of the small selection of phones that Apple currently offers. But, even though you'll still only have around five to ten to choose from, you get to pick from gems such as the iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max. Also, shops, networks, and resellers often have deals on older models.
For Android, meanwhile, you have absolutely loads of choice. There are literally dozens of manufacturers around the globe who all have their own collections of Android phones - ranging from top-of-the-line Samsung Galaxies, to mid-range Huawei and OnePlus handsets, to cheap budget brands.
iOS vs Android OS
The interfaces on both kinds of phone are fairly similar - if you're used to one, you can switch to the other with little issue. So, what else?
- iOS on iPhones has a lovely clean design, which is simple to navigate and easy for anyone to pick up and use. Updates are regular and so you’re as secure and up-to-date as possible, but there’s a lack of customisation.
- Android OS, meanwhile, is very customisable. Stock Android has a similarly clean design with lots of bold fonts and bright colours, but most phone companies like to overlay their own skin and install.
There isn't a huge difference between the apps on iPhone and Android these days. Here are the headlines:
- Vast majority of apps are available on either platform, and when a developer releases a new one, it's usually created for both very early on.
- Apple is infamously strict about what apps it allows in the App Store, and unless you jailbreak your phone, you can't download ones from outside sources either.
- The Google Play Store is far less stringent, and even lets you side-load and install apps from anywhere. That means you can download indie games, experimental apps, and Amazon Underground.
So, there's a lot more available on Android, and it's great if you want to use fewer mainstream programs… but it makes things less secure.
Security and privacy
- Generally, iPhones are considered more secure and private than Android phones.
- Very little malware is out there targeting iPhones, and if the old FBI vs Apple case is anything to go by, Apple's pretty concerned with keeping your privacy on lockdown.
- On the other hand, Google is big on collecting your data - that's largely to make all your services more personalised and high quality, but it's bound to make some of us uneasy.
- Security wise, there are hundreds of viruses and malware programs that target Androids. If your phone is kept up to date with the very latest version of Android, you're protected from them just fine… However, most models have to wait for the newest version - often several months, in fact - and that poses a security risk.
- Still, you can install extra safety measures if you want them. There are super secure apps like Signal, extra authentication measures, virus protection apps, firewalls, and so on.
- Android is the choice of a fair number of tech security experts, but for most of us, the iPhone is the most secure option.
There's a good reason why the iPhone vs Android debate is still alive and well: both platforms have their own distinct advantages and features, and both are excellent. This really does come entirely down to which one you prefer, based on what you want from a smartphone.
The main things we reckon you should consider are:
- Which interface do you like best?
- Do you have lots of other Apple products, like a Mac or an iPad?
- What specs and features do you want from your phone?
- How much customisation is important?
…and go from there.