This single screenshot shows why iOS is years behind Android in usability

This single screenshot shows why iOS is years behind Android in usability

Summary: When it comes to home screen flexibility, the iPhone is even less flexible than the Palm handhelds were back in the 1990s. By comparison, iOS is positively regressive.

TOPICS: Android, Apple, Mobility
2014-05-15 21.40.55
Android and the power of widgets

If you just use an iPhone -- or even if you just use an Android phone -- I don't think the deep gulf in usability would be nearly as apparent. But I jump between my old iPhone (which I use as an iPod touch) and my Android phone all day.

And boy-oh-boy, do I notice the difference.

Take a look at the screenshot above. What do you see? What you see is information and control. This is the home screen on my Galaxy S4. I've been tweaking it on and off over the past year, until I got it to be exactly the way I want it.

What you're looking at is a combination of widgets and icons. The iPhone doesn't have widgets. The iPhone presents simply page after page of icons. Even worse, you can't scale the icons, so if you happen to be over 40, you're forced to squint at your home screen to get anything done. It's even worse for those damnable folders, with their incredibly teensy icons -- and you can't even set a folder icon.

When it comes to home screen flexibility, the iPhone is even less flexible than the Palm handhelds were back in the 1990s. By comparison, the iPhone is positively regressive.

In any case, my Android home screen is going to be different from everybody else's. That's because what I want to see and interact with is different as well.

Let's work our way down. There are five main rows.

On the top row, I have a button that triggers Google voice search. Very useful. Then I have a small clock showing time and date. I can do this at a glance. I don't have to swipe up, or click an icon. That's a basic clock widget and there are roughly 47,000 varieties of these available for Android.

Next is a widget that opens a set of contact options for reaching my wife. I use this widget a lot during the day because, with one tap, I can send her a text, call her, Skype her, and more. Yes, the iPhone has apps that are similarly designed to focus on one contact, but what's next goes way beyond what the iPhone can do.

I have Hue lights in my house. They can be completely controlled by an app called Hue Pro. That's the first icon. Then, there's the ON/-/+ widget. Just one tap allows me to turn all my lights on or off, or dim them, or make them brighter. I don't need to launch an app. I just tap the widget.

At the far end of that row is Life360. My family uses it so, no matter where we are, we're able to keep track and locate everyone. I have a paid account and this program, which is also available on my iPhone, has proven invaluable for family coordination and project management.

The next row gives me much more granular control over my lights, and this is where I begin to really notice the difference between the Android and iPhone. If I've got my Android phone, I can merely tap the screen to turn on my desk lights. If I've got my iPhone, I have to launch an app, wait for the loading screen, and then find the icon to invoke my setting.

In day-to-day use, it's a huge difference. Oh, and as soon as I walk into the house, Hue Pro turns on my lights.

Let's move down to the fourth row. Here, you can see two status widgets and two icons. At a glance, I can use Overlook Whiz to see the status of the two Web servers I maintain (my personal site server, and the archive for the old ZATZ articles). I set Overlook to check on my sites every fifteen minutes, and if there's any issue, the status message changes in both content and color.

Again, on the iPhone, there's no way to make or use custom widgets like Overlook. Between the two overlook status widgets is the icon for Fing (made by the same people who make the Web status widgets). Fing (also available on the iPhone, unlike the Overlook widgets), is a very useful tool for network scanning. It's become a key go-to tool.

And finally, the Smart Tools app is an incredibly useful app that turns the phone into a full-featured measurement device. I tend to turn to it regularly as well.

Just for completeness, there's my app bar. On it, are Phone, Voice, Hangouts, and Mail -- the communications tools I jump in and out of constantly.

And, of course, the home screen isn't the only one that can have widgets. If I swipe to the left, I get my entire month's calendar, displayed for me beautifully as a widget. If I swipe to the right from my home screen, I get a display of the hottest to-do items on my list -- all without having to launch apps. It's not just widgets and it's not just apps. It's the ability to mix them and customize the display to each individual's needs that blows away iOS devices.

My point is not that my choice of widgets is going to be perfect for you, or even that I've chosen the best widgets and apps. It's just that -- for me -- this customized screen perfectly suits my needs. Every time I pick up my iPhone, it becomes completely apparent that the iPhone lags considerably behind Android in usability.

There really is no denying it.

What's on your home screen? What are your favorite widgets?

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at

Topics: Android, Apple, Mobility


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Niche use

    Your customization options are pretty much a niche scenario. I recently got a Galaxy note and the widgets were the first thing I got rid of. Eventually, I added them back, but placed them on the third page. If you are an iPhone user, you are not gonna miss this. As much as Android makes using a smartphone feel like a powerful desktop computer in your hands, the iPhone meets the needs of most users who want a top of the line smartphone. iOS has hidden widgets you can call up with a swipe (Control Center) and you can do a variety of things, search and Siri are the same. Most of the things people need a smartphone for: calls, email, facebook, twitter, youtube, play games. Your sophisticated wiz-bang setup is for the less than 1% Steve Urkle type of users.
    • nicely brainwashed

      Apple told you a calendar, weather or switcher widget is not useful?

      I have very useful time+weather+switchers (wifi, light) on my main desktop

      nothing more useful

      iOS is really years behind Android
      Jiří Pavelec
      • Apple didn't 'tell' me anything

        I've owned and used both Android and iPhones. Even as a tech savvy person, I quickly tired of the endless tweaking and figured out that 95% of that stuff is stuff I couldn't care less about. Sometimes simpler actually is better. I'd say for the vast majority of people that's exactly true. You'll always have your tech geeks that love to customize and dork around under the hood just like you'll always have that guy that loves to be in his garage on the weekends futzing around with his car or motorcycle. The rest of us want to get in the car and drive without incident and in comfort. That's how most feel about their smartphones.
        • one can't reason with an iHole

          as demonstrated by your repeated posts.
          • iHole

            I love it. It describes most apple users.
        • ios is outdated and basically a dumbphone os

          ...and you're right, 'simpler' is better...which is why you don't wanna click 5 times to do one action which is what you have to do under layers of menus on the iPhone. Android is simpler after you set it up to your personal needs (and many basic settings are 2 clicks instead of 5, out of the box. So yea, old people, technical luddites and dummies like things that don't require much thinking.
          • Not a dumbphone, but a featurephone

            Apple doesn't actually make smartphones, they make featurephones. They are very, very smart featurephones, but they're just featurephones by any objective measure you can define.
            x I'm tc
        • I agree

          I am a Technical Manager with over 17 years experience in the software/IT industry. I have worn project Management/Architecture hats and with the wisdom of experience, I would take simplicity over complexity. One lesson learnt is that what appeals to one segment will not appeal to another - If it works for you, good. Else there are other alternatives. Many of us do not care on either underlying platform or UI - we just want to work and get a move on.
          • no, you just dont know

            no, you just think that, iOS = more simple OS is just a myth
            because iOS is a very limited and outdated OS causes iOS is more difficult, just see this video comparison:

            Jiří Pavelec
          • Wisdom of Experience

            > Lesson "learnt"
            > You'd better be British.
            Nemo Who
        • Widgets and shortcuts

          Widgets are more powerful than just a information dump on Android. There are many that are just toggles that you can set to turn on and off things. I have one for my Hotspot feature since I am using that many times a day. On iOS I would have to drill down into the settings each time to turn on and off. If I am using my device as a hotspot for a while and I know its a battery drain, I also have a toggle that throttles down my processor and screen brightness.

          In fact I use Nova launcher and it allows me to setup gestures to get to aspects of my OS with just a finger swipe. I can set custom icons to that they are more informative of their function, remove the text under the icons, set a higher density of icons per screen, name my screens with a text widget so when I do a "show all screens" I can drill down to the screen I need very quickly, etc and so on. And I can backup all these customizations and load it all on my next device as well when I load the launcher.

          iOS is just very very limited. I do recommend iOS to people, people that I look at and think they have no idea what they are doing and are easily confused by tech (not a dig on them, they could be smarter than I am, just not tech savvy).
          Rann Xeroxx
        • We don't like customising our iPhones

          we don't like customising our iPhones...
          because we can't
          • the same like Notification centre, NFC, water resistance, bigger display

            the same like Notification centre, NFC, water resistance, bigger display

            everything Apple is going to copycat now
            Jiří Pavelec
        • Sorry, but I'm going to call you out.

          If you are "endlessly tweaking" your Android phone you either have OCD or you are an outright liar. There isn't that much to "tweak" and once you have it set the way you want, you would have little reason to change it. Hell, if you're spending more than a day tweaking your phone...let alone a whole better be developing a new ROM, otherwise you have some real problems.
        • Widgets

          Using an iPhone is like driving a car where you first have to open an app to see the speed you are driving. And switch to another one to check your fuel.
          That has nothing to do with tweaking or customizing.
      • How is someone who doesn't need the bells and whistles shown above


        adacosta38 pretty much described my wife's iPhone, not David.

        Hey, wait a minute......
        • you didnt need NFC, right? you didnt need notification centre, right?

          you didnt need NFC, right? you didnt need notification centre, right?
          now, you are going to have both
          soon Apple will be a copycat again and will add widgets ;)
          Jiří Pavelec
    • Not another Palm Pilot

      That's actually true -- most people don't use widgets, because they are clunky and not very intuitive.

      The mobile OS that gets this right is Windows Phone. It's dynamic (unlike IOS) and intuitive (unlike Android). It's really the only mobile OS that did something different and avoided the decades old Palm Pilot UI, with rows of buttons.
      • Apple told you so

        How exactly is Android not intuitive?
        this video shows you how Android is more intuitive and superior over outdated iOS from 1990 ;)
        Jiří Pavelec
        • What's with the Apple Hate, Jiří Pavelec?

          Tojuro said "The mobile OS that gets this right is Windows Phone".

          Microsoft makes Windows Phone, not Apple, so why would you claim that Apple told him so?

          A little too heavy with the Apple hate, IMHO.