From a hardware perspective, the new iPhone is a significant improvement over Apple's last offering. And on the software side, the updated operating system brings about numerous capabilities previously unavailable to iPhone users.
The problem, though, is that most of the iPhone's new features feel like incremental upgrades, not game-changing innovations. Put simply, the new iPhone is a step forward within Apple's world -- but outside of that walled garden, it's still worlds behind.
[SEE ALSO: iPhone 4S vs. Android]
Apple's iPhone 4 vs. Android: The Basics
Let's go through the biggest selling points of Apple's new iPhone 4, as outlined by Steve Jobs in his keynote on Monday:
It's pretty. The new iPhone has an updated design, with a thin 9.3-millimeter profile and a stainless steel shell.
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It's sharp. The iPhone 4 boasts a new 326-DPI, 960-by-640 LCD display.
It's faster than the 3GS, thanks to the addition of Apple's custom A4 chip.
It has a better camera, plus a new front-facing camera that allows for (limited) video chat.
It has new features from the iPhone OS -- err, sorry, iOS -- 4.0 release. These include primarily things that have been available in Android-powered devices for some time, so we won't spend much energy focusing on them here.
Oh, and it also has that gyroscope thingie.
Pitted up against the HTC EVO 4G, arguably the highest-end Android phone on the market right now, the iPhone 4 comes out ahead in the display department: Its 960-by-640 resolution beats the EVO's 800-by-480 resolution, though the EVO offers a larger screen (4.3 inches next to the iPhone's 3.5 inches). The new iPhone is also about a tenth of an inch thinner than the EVO.
Do those advantages have you seeing stars? Because they're pretty much where the new iPhone's competitive perks end.
(I know, I know: I left out the gyroscope thingie. Quite frankly, I'm not sure most typical users will understand or care what it is, let alone notice the difference it makes. If it excites you, feel free to add it into the list above.)
Apple's iPhone 4 vs. Android: The Smackdown
Consider now where Android, despite this week's iPhone progress, comes out ahead. We'll start with the basics on the handset-to-handset comparison:
[Update: As several commenters have pointed out, it's unfair to compare the cameras based on megapixels alone. So consider this item stricken from the list.]
The EVO has limitless video chatting, whereas the iPhone's "futuristic" video chatting works only over Wi-Fi and only with other iPhone 4 users.
In speed, the EVO uses a 1GHz processor. The iPhone, meanwhile, is said to use the same A4 processor as the iPad, which suggests it also has a 1GHz chip (Apple hasn't explicitly disclosed the processor's specifics). No formal device-to-device benchmarks have been completed yet, but some initial impressions suggest the new iPhone may not be noticeably faster than its predecessor. Either way, new cutting-edge Android devices will be coming out practically every month; this iPhone will likely be the only hardware available until Apple's next hurrah in 2011. You do the math.
Then there's the other important stuff the new iPhone is still lacking:
The existence of full multitasking, outside of carefully defined and limited circumstances.
Any significant customization options (and no, the ability to set your own wallpaper doesn't count as significant, even if Steve Jobs says it's "amazing" and "really wonderful"). Don't like Android's interface? No problem: You can change almost every facet of the user experience, should the urge strike.
System-wide voice-to-text input.
Live, functioning home screen widgets.
The ability to swap out the phone's battery.
High-quality navigation software that isn't a separate purchase.
Anything that matches the numerous innovations coming from Android 2.2 -- things like over-the-air music syncing and streaming, cloud-to-device messaging, and mobile hotspot functionality.
The choice to use a carrier that isn't AT&T (I don't think I have to spell out the numerous reasons why).
Tethering that doesn't cost you $20 a month.
The ability to install any app you want, even if it's something morally objectionable -- you know, like porn. Or political satire.
The ability to use an app that Apple sees as competition, like Google Voice.
The ability to view Flash-based content on your phone. (See also: Why the Apple crowd's completely wrong about Flash)
The ability to use your device the way you want -- not the way Steve Jobs thinks you should.
(Side note: I read somewhere that the new iPhone has a handful of hidden features most people don't know about. If anyone ever sees the "Soul Scanner" in action, let me know and we'll re-evaluate.)
Apple's iPhone 4 vs. Android: Final Thoughts
In the end, there's little question that Apple's new iPhone will be a commercial success. And hey, if you're the kind of person who buys into Apple's world, you'll probably love it (in fact, I think that might be a contractual requirement).
The tides are turning, though, and more and more people are starting to realize that there is a more powerful and open alternative. Yes, the old "but what about the apps?" argument is still out there -- but it's becoming less relevant with each passing month. And, let's be honest, does anyone really need more than 50,000 apps to find what they want? The vast majority of Apple's selection sits unused.
Here's the truth: Steve Jobs is many things, but stupid is not one of them. He's undoubtedly aware of the strides his competition is making in mobile technology, and he's
undoubtedly made a conscious decision to do things his way, with his control, instead of trying to keep up with the paces. It's a decision that should feel awfully familiar to Steve and the Apple empire; they've been in this boat before, and we all know how it ended.
So mark my words: This won't be remembered as the year the iPhone got folders, a faster chip, or a gyroscope. This will be remembered as the year the iPhone stopped paving the way and started transitioning into the third-place platform -- albeit, the very pretty third-place platform -- it's destined to become.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.