iPhone vs. Android: Five points of difference

Wow, the way people are arguing about iPhones vs. Android phones I'm having flash-backs to the grand old tech. flame wars of Macs vs. PCs; OS/2 vs. Windows; or vi vs. EMACS. Now, I don't have a dog in this fight. I've used both iPhones and Android phones, specifically the HTC EVO and Motorola Droid, and there are things I like, and dislike, about both smartphone families

Before jumping into that though, I think everyone should keep in mind that when you're talking Apple iPhones vs. Android phones, you're really arguing... ah... apples vs. an orange grove. All iPhones 4 are identical to each other, there's quite a variety of Android Linux-powered phones. So, there's really no fair way for end-users to compare the two platforms. You can only really compare specific phones when it comes to making an informed buying decision.

Another point, which my buddy Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier made, helps disprove the old myth that Linux is hard to use. He told me, "A friend showed me his Android phone yesterday. I asked 'do you run Linux?' 'Nah, I can't understand that stuff.' Me: 'oh, yes, you do.'" Android, iPhone, or, coming soon, MeeGo from Intel and Nokia, no matter whether the underlying operating system is Apple's iOS4 or Linux, any smartphone is about equally easy to use.

All that said, let's look at some of the real differences between iPhones and Android phones.

1) Closed systems vs. open systems

The iPhone is as proprietary as Apple can possibly make it. If you like what Apple wants to give you in the iPhone, you'll never notice.

But, if you want more than what Apple wants to offer you, you're out of luck. Take Adobe Flash, for example. Adobe would love to let you view Flash videos and play Flash games on an iPhone, but Apple will have nothing to do with Flash. Short of the Department of Justice ordering Apple to let Flash on iPhones or Adobe suing Apple into submission, the only way Flash will show up on iPhones, or iPads for that matter, will be through technical kludges.

Android is far more open. If there's an Android application out there, even if it's not in Google's official Android Market, you can download, install, and run it.

2) Security

The downside of anyone being able to build Android applications is that some of them, perhaps as many as one in five Android applications, have security holes in this at this time. Not good.

While any system can be broken, at this time the iPhone's tightly controlled applications seem to be the safest bet for people who want a secure phone. Sad isn't it? Just as we're finally leaving PC and Windows' perpetually broken security model, we're going to be facing a new generation of security problems built around the vulnerabilities that comes with mobile computing.

3) User Control

If you like how the iPhone and iOS handles things, life is great. And, to be perfectly fair, Apple has killer design engineers whose job is to make sure you're going to love the interface and how it all works together. But, say, you'd like more control over how widgets appear or what the interface looks like, in that case, Android is your better choice.

4) Vendor Lock-in

Obviously, if you want an iPhone you have to buy it from Apple at their price, whereas several vendors offer Android phones and more will be arriving shortly. But, what I'm talking about is the one thing that many iPhone users hate: being forced to use AT&T. That may be changing. As I write this, there's a Bloomberg report that Verizon will start offering the iPhone in January 2011. For many iPhone users, some choice with their wireless carriers can't come soon enough. Once again, of course, Android phone users already have lots of choices.

5) Battery Life

Here I see a situation where you get to pick your poison. Generally speaking, iPhones have had better battery life for me. That's the good news. The bad news is that you can't replace the battery yourself. I hate that.

On the flip side, Android-powered hardware seems to average a couple of hours less time per charge for me. And, yes I know all about battery training and optimization. When it comes to battery life, I see it as a coin-flip between the two.

That also pretty much describes my feelings between the iPhone and Android phones. Generally speaking, since I hate phones, I'll use whichever is handier at any given moment. I know for many of you though picking the right smartphone is a big deal. So, what do you think? Which one do you prefer and why? Your fellow ComputerWorld readers would like to know.

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