iOS 11 vs. Android 8.0: Which is better? Well...

Plenty of people are pitting Apple's iOS 11 against Google's Android 8.0 Oreo release, but the true winner of this battle is rarely assessed accurately.

With Apple's magical and revolutionary new iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X devices now official, the world is about to get its first full look at iOS 11 — the most advanced, beautiful, and amazing software release to emerge out of Cupertino since, erm, the last one.

And you know what that means, right? Whenever we see a major new mobile OS release, we see a flurry of feverishly crafted arguments working to answer the eternally burning question: Which is better — Apple's iOS or Google's Android operating system? Who wins this round of the mobile OS battle? Who, gosh darn it, is the best?

I'm here to give you the honest-to-goodness truth — the genuine answer to what's become a silly and sensationalized subject of discussion. Are you ready? Hang onto your knickers, gang, and prepare to let out your most dramatic how-dare-you gasp:

At this point, neither operating system is inherently "better." Neither company categorically "wins" in a "competition" between Apple's iOS 11 and Google's Android 8.0 Oreo effort. Neither mobile software option is universally "the best" — and in the real world, on a practical level, virtually no one thinks about the platforms in such binarily bellicose terms.

Now, I'm not gonna lie: I've written my share of "iOS vs. Android" stories in the past. But most of those were penned six or seven years ago, when the mobile tech landscape was radically different from what we know today. Back then, the contrasts between using an iPhone and using an Android device were immense. The two operating systems were racing to define their identities and draw in new users — the countless citizens who hadn't yet committed to any particular platform and were still blank slates waiting to be won over — and they were miles apart in both form and function.

Back then, believe it or not, Android was the underdog — the barely-hitting-double-digits blip on the mobile market-share radar. Most pundits were still treating Google's mobile effort like a flash in the pan, a small-scale game that could never touch the rapidly rising Holy Grail of Apple. At the same time, each new Android release felt like a roaring war cry, a collection of possibilities so powerful you'd have to be crazy to ignore it and focus only on the button-upped, turtlenecked Apple alternative.

Today? Suffice it to say, things are just a teensy bit different. Six or seven years is an eternity in the mobile tech world. iOS and Android are no longer scrappy preteens duking it out in the virtual schoolyard. They're (mostly) mature adults, confident in their own positions and okay with aping each other's strengths (sometimes for better and sometimes — well, not so much). Think about it: When was the last time you heard about an iOS launch without hearing the requisite "But Android had it first!" remark — or vice-versa?

Here's the dirty little secret, though: In 2017, most people aren't picking an iPhone or an Android device based on any feature or interface improvement introduced in the latest OS update. Most people don't think: "Hey! Android has better picture-in-picture support as of its Oreo release, not to mention a pretty nifty native system for snoozing notifications. Golly jeepers, I think I'll ditch my iPhone and go get an Android telephone apparatus!"

Nope: Nowadays, most people tend to think more about the ecosystem surrounding their device — the apps, accessories, interfaces, and services they've invested in and grown accustomed to using. Sure, folks occasionally make the leap from iPhone to Android or Android to iPhone, but it seems safe to say such migrations rarely happen because one platform or the other charged ahead and "won the battle" with some random update.

Much like the Mac vs. Windows argument before it, the question of iOS vs. Android has mostly evolved into a matter of personal preference. Each platform is perfectly capable of keeping you connected and productive throughout the day, and each platform has its own fair share of advantages and drawbacks compared to the other. It ultimately comes down to what type of experience, ecosystem, and hardware selection you prefer and/or are used to — and anyone who tells you otherwise is being less sincere than, well, a Tim Cook pie chart.

Let's take it one step further: When it comes specifically to iOS 11 vs. Android 8.0, there's only one true winner: us, the grinning goofuses carrying around products from both mobile tech platforms. Why? Because no matter what else you want to say about the realm of mobile technology, it's competition that forces companies to keep pushing their own products forward. It's competition that keeps corporate giants from resting on their laurels and avoiding costly advancements. It's competition that makes Google and Apple play a perpetual game of catch-up with each other and work to find new ways to stay one step ahead.

At the end of the day, that's what this battle is really all about — and believe you me, that's far more meaningful than any contrived contest created solely to spark comment wars and validate people's preferences.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

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