Ever mulled making the move from Android to iOS? Here's a series of tips to help you decide whether to switch to move to Apple's OS, or stick with Google's.
With the arrival of iOS 8 just around the corner, Android handset owners will soon have fewer reasons to resist hopping over (or back, as the case may be) to the iPhone.
Android owners take for granted the freedom to switch keyboards, add widgets, and install new or even multiple launchers to customise their device. For the most part, Apple has made the decisions on these elements for users, limiting iOS to a few wallpapers and built-in features like the iOS keyboard, which hasn't been revamped since the first iPhone.
The launch of iOS 8 itself will bring two major changes that should make iPhone owners less likely to move to Android, and give Android users one fewer reason to resist a jump to Apple.
First, the keyboard is getting a makeover with new predictive text functionality, which should allow users to write whole sentences with just a few taps, according to Apple. The keyboard will suggest the the next complete word in the sentence being typed, a change from the current method where it just offers to complete the current word itself. Its predictive engine is customised for context too, adopting a more casual tone in Messages and a more formal tone in Mail.
The bigger change in iOS 8 is that Apple has made the keyboard an app rather than a fixture, meaning Android afficinados can choose to swap out Apple's own keyboard for any number of third-party keyboards.
Android users, most likely with larger screen devices than the iPhone 5S, will already be familiar with swipe keyboard apps that can be faster and more accurate than fumbling around a screen to hit iOS' soft keys. Third party keyboards desiged for two-handed typing could also help improve typing on what's expected to be the larger screen iPhone 6. A few that should be coming soon to the App Store include Swype, SwiftKey, and Flesky.
Widgets can be great for bringing live information to the surface from weather, social, stock and news apps, allowing you to catch key bits of information without having to open an app.
Previously, the only way around the lack of widgets in iOS was to jailbreak the device or buy fake widgets, which use the 'badge app' icon to provide live updated information.
These workarounds won't be necessary when iOS 8 arrives, offering developers the ability to add widgets to their apps.
Android to iOS switchers will find a completely different way of handling widgets and one that still doesn't quite offer the flexibility to plaster the homescreen with large widgets. Instead, widgets will live within the iOS 8 Notification Center, Apple's alert hub for messages in iOS and OS X.
Specifically, widgets will become part of the dropdown in the Notification Center's Today menu, where basic at-a-glance information is drawn from an app that has a Today extension.
So, users will be able to add widgets in the Today view for those apps and can edit them in the Today view to add, reorder and remove widgets.
Whether Apple's way of containing widgets in the Notification Center is popular with Android users remains to be seen, but it does finally address a capability that Android users have come to expect from a modern smartphone.
Anyone that left iOS for Android in recent years will be pleased to know that search in Mail does work reasonably well now. For Gmail users, it's therefore not as necessary to install the Gmail app just to find an email that's not stored locally.
But there are notable limitations to Mail on iOS. Unlike the native Android Mail app, Mail on iOS cannot attach files to an email. To send photos for example, the user must go to the Camera app, select forward, pick a photo and then choose Mail. It's minor but annoying obstacle to do something that's standard on desktop and on Android.
Fortunately, Acompli, a relatively new email app for iOS, will let you send locally stored attachments from within the app, in addition files that have been recently sent or received.
While adopting Android's more visual approach to email, the app also borrows from the iOS Mail app's archive action, using a swipe left action to bring up delete or archive email.
The app includes an easy way to send a contact your calendar availability or a map of your current location, as well as manage your calendar through the app, cutting out the need to go back and forth between the Mail and the Calendar app. And it's free.
The one downside is the lack of control over notifications. Every single email, no matter how unimportant, will deliver an alert. Notifications for the native iOS Mail app can be limited to people from contacts that are selected as VIP.
iOS 8 brings a number of improvements to the Mail app though, including a new VIP feature that notifies the user when they receive an important reply. The user simply taps 'Notify Me' to activate an alert for incoming messages on a particular thread.
The new Mail app also adds the ability to mark messages as read or unread or to flag them for follow-up with a swipe to the left or right. Swipe actions can also be customised.
Android tablet owners can create multiple user profiles on one tablet, useful for controlling what apps children have access to, or to limit access when providing the device to someone else in a work environment.
iOS handles restricted access differently. Dealing with the kids first, iOS does allow the owner to set password-based restrictions in Settings —> General —> Restrictions, which can be enabled for in-app purchases, iTunes Store, installing apps, and Siri among others. Setting up restrictions in this way should address most of the app-related control issues parents face.
When you want to limit the device to just giving access to a single app, there's also Guided Access. It's found in Settings —> General —> Accessibility and sits beneath the title 'Learning'. After the owner enables Guided Access and creates a passcode, they can select the app they want the device restricted to by opening it and (with prompts) triple-pressing the Home button. The device then operates as if it only has one app and requires knowledge of the passcode to leave the designated app.
The list of sharing options above would be a surprise to iOS owners who haven't used Android before. As the latter camp know, sharing links and content from an app with just about any other relevant app is one click away.
In iOS it hasn't been possible to send a tweet to Pocket or, for example, open a foreign language tweet in Google Translate. Even Twitter, a prioritised third-party app, has been limited to four actions: report tweet, mail tweet, copy link to tweet, and send to Reading List (a feature in Safari).
Developers thought Apple might enable better sharing in iOS 7 but it instead yanked what limited sharing was available, leaving iOS developers and users constrained by the lockdown.
Again, iOS 8 will finally open up its closed garden just enough to make iOS interesting again for users that had deserted the platform.
The new app data sharing is a part of iOS 8's new extension system, which should allow iOS users to do basically what Android users have been doing for some time.
But, with an eye on the home automation and health apps tied to the iPhone and possibly its long-rumoured companion iWatch, Apple has also introduced new frameworks to handle data sharing in these emerging areas of tech.
Using iOS 8's Health Kit, developers can build apps that will be notified when, for example, the user takes their blood pressure or if their blood pressure becomes too high. The Home Kit meanwhile opens the door for apps to discover and control networked devices in the home.
The other door Apple has opened up is its Touch ID fingerprint authentication system, which so far is more usable than rival systems. Owners of iPhone 5S and later will be able to open not just the device, but unlock apps with their fingerprints too. That it is now open to apps should help reduce the reliance on passwords. Some developers, such as the makers of password manager app 1Password, have already put that access to good use.
Neither assistant needs an introduction, but while consensus is that Google's two-year-old helper is leading Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, it's too early to say which will be the better long term bet.
Today, both have their shortcomings. Twitter remains the only third-party app with Siri integration, and while for the most part Apple's maps are the default, Siri will palm off transit routing searches to Google Maps, which Apple doesn't support.
Android owners on the other hand can open Twitter, Facebook, and basically any app with Google Now voice commands. Yet it can't do what Siri can: send a tweet.
Ex-Android people can still use Google Now in the Google Search for iOS app, but to get equivalent capabilities, such as opening the native email app or dictating a message and sending it, Siri is the only option on iOS, just as Now is on Android.
Siri may eventually offer more possibilities in vehicles, given support for Apple's CarPlay is due in forthcoming models of Volvo, Mercedes, and Ferrari. Panasonic is also offering after-market integration with CarPlay in several NEX in-vehicle systems. For the most part, however, it looks like car manufacturers are supporting both Android and iOS for in-vehicle systems.
Some key changes to Siri coming in iOS 8 include that is always listening. So, just as Android users can open Google Now today by saying "OK, Google", tomorrow iOS users will be able to say "Hey Siri" to activate it.
It shouldn't take long at all for Android switchers to get to grips with Apple's Notifications Centre, given that Apple took its cue from Android in some respects.
There are superficial similarities between the two, including that notifications in both OSes are accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen. But Apple broke up notifications into Today, All, and Missed tabs, while Android has a unified dropdown from notification icons in a bar at the top of the screen.
While Android notifications are in some ways easier to access and clearer than in iOS, in iOS it's been possible to access notifications from the lockscreen and control which apps appear there by toggling the settings of each the app listed in Settings —> Notifications Center.
Android L, Google's new OS to arrive expected later this year, will also enable access to notifications from the lockscreen, so the difference is somewhat neutralised.
Historically, neither Android nor iOS allowed replying to messages from within notifications. In each, the app would launch from notifications for any followup action.
This will change in iOS 8, with the ability to respond to messages directly within notifications for Apple and third-party apps like Facebook (as pictured above). The main advantage of responding to messages within notifications is that you don't have to leave the app you're in. Actions include accepting calendar events and replying to email.
Android L will deliver a similar capabilities in the Heads Up notification system, however. For would-be Android to iOS switchers, instead of icons and Android's pulldown screen of notifications, they'll see 'banners' drop down and quickly vanish or 'alerts' that pop up in the centre of the screen and require an action to clear. Users can select which type appear in Settings —> Notifications Center. This is also where users can select which apps appear in notifications, enable sound alerts, and set up whether to show alerts on the lockscreen.
iOS offers more options to customise notifcation settings than in Android, yet Android notifications seem more intuitive and a larger part of the overall experience.
An advantage of iOS notification customisation becomes apparent for email, which lets the user select contacts they want to appear in notifications.
Another feature Apple borrrowed from Android for iOS is Control Center, which offers shortcuts to various settings including Aeroplane Mode, wi-fi and Bluetooth as well as flash light, clock/timer/alarm, calculator and camera. In iOS, it can be accessed by swiping upwards, including from the lockscreen.
For all its customisation features, permission controls for apps are missing entirely in Android. For the prospective Android to iOS switcher, there's a lot to gain here by moving to iOS 7 and even more in iOS 8.
Per-app privacy controls were once available through App Ops, but Google removed the feature in Android 4.4.2 because it was unintended for consumers. Android also has poor visibility into new permissions that apps can gain thanks to Google's recent effort to simplify the update process, which seemed to ignore the possibility that good apps can go rogue.
When it comes to privacy controls, Android has other shortcomings. Moving to iOS 7 opens up the choice to approve location services on a per-app basis by going to Settings —> Privacy —> Location Services. There are also controls in Privacy for apps that have access to Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Photos, Bluetooth Sharing, and Microphone.
A key privacy control to inspect, tucked away at the bottom of Location Services, is System Services. As per ZDNet Apple watcher Jason D O'Grady's advice, people that care about their privacy should disable Diagnostics & Usage, Location-Based iAds and Frequent Locations (not in iPhone 4). Discreetly placed at the bottom of Privacy is the Advertising setting, where iOS owners can enable Limit Ad Tracking and Reset Advertising Identifier. This won't stop ads, but it will make them "less relevant".
iOS 8 introduces a new, simpler way to manage privacy within the settings for each app. Instead of managing an app's access to things like the Location, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Photos and so on through privacy settings for each element individually, all of those settings will now become part of the app's setting page.
iOS 8 also notifies the user about apps that are running location services in the background, giving them the opportunity to revise permissions.
Another important improvement to privacy in iOS 8 is Apple's choice to randomise MAC addresses, a move that should thwart marketing efforts to track users' location in places like malls.
Android to iOS switchers will find Apple's home button easy to grasp, since the two OSes offer variations on the same theme.
iOS lacks Android's back arrow (to go back to the last open app) and the multi-window button, but in terms of efficiency, only the back arrow offers Android a real advantage.
Apple improved the usability of its double tap on the home button in iOS 7 with the introduction of new thumbnail images of each open app, and the ability to re-enter the app in the state it was left.
And if you just can't stand the physical home button, there's a feature in iOS called AssistiveTouch that's actually designed for people who have difficulties pressing buttons.
AssistiveTouch is an interesting way of navigating an iPhone without a physical home button. It can be switched on through Settings —> General —> Accessibility —> AssistiveTouch. Enabling the feature will produce a translucent soft home button that is always present but can be placed anywhere, and provides all the functionality that the physical home button otherwise would, from multitasking to volume controls.
Another Accessibility feature, if customisation takes your fancy, is Invert Colours. It does make for easier night reading than dialling down brightness by minimising the white light emanating from the screen.
Sure, iOS loyalists can face higher costs for the latest iPhone or iPad, but you won't hear many of them whining about being stuck on iOS 5 or iOS 4.
The latest stats from Google and Apple on OS distribution for their respective mobile platforms shows why. Seven months after Google released KitKat, around 21 percent of users are running the OS.
As of 27 July, 90 percent of iOS devices were running iOS 7, and 10 percent were running iOS 6. That's good news for both developers and consumers.
Sure, Google Play Services helps keep apps update, but owners would probably prefer the latest version of Android. Some Android device owners are still waiting for OEMs to deliver the latest version of Android and sometimes they won't get it at all as HTC and Samsung told owners of some 2012 model devices.
Google ensures Nexus devices get Android updates so long as they're younger than 18 months. By contast, the iPhone 4, pushing its fifth birthday, got iOS 7 along with newer iPhones. The update initially harmed the iPhone 4's battery life but six months on, the device copes with the latest OS and, unlike Android owners who want the latest update, don't have to resort to buggy ports.
It's difficult to complain about the availability of apps in the App Store or Google Play, but there are still subtle differences between the two, depending on where in the world you live and which bank issued your credit card.
In Google's world, your IP address is what matters. In Apple's, what you can buy is determined by your payment card and the nation it was issued in. So, in Google Play, if you're in Europe (and not using a VPN) you can't see what's available in Google's store in the US, whereas in iTunes and the App Store, if you've got a US credit card, you can purchase/rent anything from its US stores.
Besides many apps still coming to iOS first, another piece of evidence that iOS, for the most part, is prioritised are certain subscriptions. The New Yorker, for example, is available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Amazon's Kindle Fire, and Nook, but only if you're in the US. If you're in Europe, Australia, Asia or anywhere else, it's iOS-only.
In other words, the difference between app stores is negligible for the most popular apps; however, it becomes more pronounced when for special interests or local content.