Mobile OS deathmatch: Apple iOS 4 vs. Android 2.2

As the mobile battle narrows, the iPhone finally faces a real challenger

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Deathmatch: Web and Internet

Both Apple and Google are strong forces behind HTML5 and other modern browser technologies, so it's no surprise that both offer capable Web browsers. Do note that neither is as HTML5-savvy as their desktop versions, however. Based on the HTML5 Test site's scores, mobile Chrome scored 176 out of 300, versus 197 for desktop Chrome, and mobile Safari scored 185 versus 208 for desktop Safari.

The main differences between the iOS 4 and Android OS 2.2 browsers center around the UI: Android usually requires the use of the Menu button to access Chrome's controls, whereas iOS 4 makes more Safari controls accessible without such machinations. For example, Safari has a Forward button on all screens; it's buried in the Menu options on Android.

Likewise, bookmarking, sharing pages via e-mail, and switching among open Web pages require several steps in Android but not in iOS 4. And I really noted the lack of a .com button on the Android OS 2.2 touch keyboard when entering URLs; it's a significant timesaver in iOS 4.

Both browsers let you select text on Web pages, but only iOS 4 lets you select graphics. Both browsers also have settings controls over pop-up windows, JavaScript, cookies, history, cache, form data, passwords, and image loading. Chrome has a few additional controls, such as for opening pages in the background, while Safari has them for autofill, fraud warnings, and debugging.

Although not preinstalled with the Android OS, a beta version of Adobe's Flash Player is available at the Android Market as a free download. This beta version worked in my testing on a variety of websites that use Flash, both for videos and for interactive capabilities. I didn't experience the crashes or timeouts that some users have reported when loading Flash assets, but Flash was quite slow, causing pauses of tens of seconds to as much as a minute on many Web pages.

Perhaps the final, shipping version will be faster, but I can see that many users might happily disable it if they frequent Flash-based sites. (The only way to do that is to uninstall it.) iOS, of course, has no Flash support, given Apple's dislike of the Adobe Flash technology.

Using the cloud-based Google Docs on either iOS 4 or Android 2.2 is not a pleasant experience. It's barely possible to edit a spreadsheet; the most you can do is select and add rows, as well as edit the contents of individual cells. You can't edit a text document, and all you can do in calendars is view and delete appointments.

But that's because Google hasn't figured out an effective mobile interface for these Web apps; the iOS 4 and Android browsers are simply dealing with what Google presents, rather than working through some front-end Google Docs app.

The winner: iOS 4, by a whisker, thanks to its easier UI and its ability to copy graphics. I can't yet credit Android for Flash Player support, given it's a beta product not included in the operating system, and I have reservations over its slow performance.

Deathmatch: Location support

Both iOS 4 and Android OS 2.2 support GPS location, and both can triangulate location based on Wi-Fi signals. Both operating systems also come with Google Maps, which can find your current destination, provide directions, and otherwise help you navigate. Both operating systems let developers integrate location information in their apps, so location is just another native feature.

Both iOS 4 and Android 2.2 let you control your location privacy. However, Android only lets you control whether your location is detected by disabling or enabling the GPS and Wi-Fi location services, while iOS 4 lets you control this per application. Android apps can ask if it's OK to use your location, but there's no central way to manage these location permissions as there is in iOS 4.

I do prefer iOS 4's implementation of Google Maps better than Android's because Android's Maps app is much slower than iOS 4's, though they run on comparable hardware. It's also more work in Android to switch views, such as from map to satellite, due to the use of nested menus.

The winner: A tie.

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