Modern smartphone hardware comes with all sorts of bells and whistles – displays, hyper-modern screen material, superb cameras and elegant and unusual designs. However, what underpins all this eye-catching technology is the phone’s operating system; the software platform on top of which other programs can run. It’s the foundation for everything from the fingerprint sensor which unlocks your phone, to the way your apps and features are laid out on your screen, to the smooth launching of those apps. Even the various functionalities of your camera, such as image stabilisation are a product of the OS.
Most people are aware of Windows’ and Apple’s domination of the PC and laptop markets. A similar duopoly exists within the smartphone world between Apple and Google. Until recently, there were other operating systems to rival these two tech giants. Most of these were proprietary software manufacturers, such as Nokia’s Symbian and BlackBerry’s eponymous system. However, natural selection has prevailed over the years and the two main operating systems left standing are now iOS and Android. Both of these have their strengths and weaknesses, so let’s take a more in-depth look at each one, as well as briefly referencing Windows 10 Mobile which, while a good idea, perished on the battlefield against its competition.
What are the key factors when assessing an operating system (OS)?
You could say that the hardware of a smartphone takes second place to what really matters and makes these devices perform – apps.
Indeed, the availability and quantity of apps can make or break an operating system. The ‘look and feel’ of a device is all very well, but if your app availability is limited, you won’t last long in the market when facing iOS and Android; even Microsoft has reached that conclusion.
It’s hard to distinguish between iOS and Android when it comes to range and availability of apps. For sheer volume, Android wins out, but the fragmentation of their hardware and software makes it more challenging for developers to mitigate any issues, as performance isn’t as homogenous across these devices when comparing low to high-performance smartphone models.
The so-called ‘Triple-A’ games are released on the same footing on both operating systems, but iOS is seen to have more of an advantage here than Android when it comes to common-or-garden apps. The bias towards iOS is exemplified by what large brands like Spotify and Instagram do when they want to trial new features. They tend to do this on iOS before releasing them on Android at a later date.
Virtual assisting software provides another strong comparison point between the two. Google Assistant has a very good reputation. It feeds useful information throughout the day, both from third-party installed apps and from the web in general, according to your preferences. Many blogs and forums claim it works better than Siri, partly because Google opens up the APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to developers, unleashing the creativity of large numbers of talented programmers.
iOS’s Siri, on the other hand, is accurate in understanding what you say and feels more like an actual helper than Google Assistant, but it tends to be more limited in terms of the information it can provide. Nevertheless, both companies coincide in terms of the future. Android and Apple will be integrating their personal assistants deeper into their operating systems.
On iOS, icon designs, colours and wallpapers might be different, but it has very strict customisation options, making it less easy for users to ‘pimp’ their appearance.
Android is the polar opposite. Customisations aplenty come from OEMs (original equipment manufacturers – Samsung, Huawei, Motorola, etc). Samsung applies its own ‘skin’ called TouchWiz, Xiaomi has MIUI, OnePlus has Oxygen OS, and so on. Why? It’s really down to marketing. Largely, it’s to alter the look and feel and distinguish the brand from its competitors, although some skins can rearrange elements of the interface, making the program easier to use.
Apple disciples say iOS ‘just works’, and yes, the iOS interface is very user-friendly. But so is the Android’s interface. If you can use one, you won’t necessarily need to make a quantum leap in order to use the other.
What is the most secure phone operating system?
An operating system is only as secure as the version you have and the updates and security patches it offers. Any potential risks tend to emerge from the attention (or lack of) the user pays in terms of protecting their device from vulnerability to malicious software such as viruses or malware. That being said, even the most careful of users can sometimes fall prey to malevolent security breaches, so it’s a good idea to take even more precautions, such as opting for good mobile insurance protection.
Generally speaking, the difference between the security and privacy aspects of iOS and Android’s platforms boil down to their approach. As outlined by PCMag UK, Apple has a ‘whatever it takes’ mindset when it comes to securing their devices and data. This means they employ tactics such as end-to-end encryption and destroying hardware keys in order to ensure the utmost protection for their users. Android, on the other hand, has undergone an evolution from employing security measures that were passable to gradually baking security deeper into its system.
That being said, Apple has recently become even more vocal about its commitment to data privacy over other competitors. As revealed by the Independent’s recent inside look into the visionary and consumer-focused company, Apple very much views privacy as a ‘human right that must be upheld even in the face of intense criticism and difficulty’. As such, its policy has become to store more data on the device and send less of it to its servers (for targeted advertising).
What threats can compromise a device’s security
We’ve noted that Android collects and sells more data to advertisers, but are certain devices less prone to being hacked? Apple wins out once again because iOS has much higher scrutiny over approval of the apps sold in its App Store. iOS is much more restrictive, with in-depth security scanning of every single application before it appears on the App Store platform. Of course, a drawback for developers and users is that iOS is less customizable. There again, Apple would counter that iOS only runs on iPhones and iPads, so customisation isn’t so much of an issue.
Android prides itself on being open-source up to a point, so as a result, it’s much easier to get apps approved for the Google Play store. However, it also makes it easier for malicious apps to slip through security screenings. In August 2018, Google had to remove 145 Android apps from the Play app store after security firm Palo Alto Networks confirmed that they were all infected with malware that was stealing data from users.
Privacy and security
Google has taken major steps to protect all Android users against malware and privacy breaches. They now scan apps before installing them to make sure that they’re safe and secure. Android 9 Pie has encrypted data backups and shields all data transmissions with Transport Layer Security (TLS). It’s also the first OS that supports secure transactions through Protected Confirmation APIs.
iOS 12 brings robust security features to iPhones and iPads. It made some improvements to how passwords are managed. iOS can auto-fill passwords through third-party password managers like LastPass and 1Password. When you log into a website, you will see a suggested password on the bar above the keyboard which you then authenticate on your device with Face ID or Touch ID. It also supports built-in Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) to secure your Apple account, USB restricted mode, controls location tracking and prevents social media apps from tracking users’ browsing habits. Do you get more choice as a consumer and user of apps on the Google Play store? Yes, for two main reasons;
- It’s more accessible for web developers, so they can create content and apps for Android devices far more easily.
- End-users can more easily customize their devices.
The importance of updates
Updates are basically alterations. They can include repairing security ‘holes’, removing computer bugs, adding new features, improving speed, efficiency and quality of existing ones and removing outdated ones. An update can also provide stability for a discrete part of the system so that it doesn’t crash.
Apple’s famed annual developer conference took place in California recently to unveil the latest version of iOS,13, which will be released later this year. Among other improvements, app sizes and launch speed will be reduced by 50%, update volume cut by 60% and face recognition will be much faster. Another notable development is that its tablet will have its own separate operating system – iPadOS.
This kind of public event simply isn’t an option for Android, seeing as there are multiple versions of the OS out there. In fact, updates for Android are very much dependent on the proactivity of individual manufacturers, so updates may well be infrequent.
Scandals like Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting, which affected 87 million users, or phishing attacks (emails disguised as authentic sources to gain confidential information) are unavoidable ongoing security problems. They won’t be the last, by any means. Nevertheless, it’s still the user who is the weakest link in terms of security, so what we all need to do is update our own operating systems by using digital hygiene measures such as password managers and two-step verification.
Hackers are constantly on the lookout for vulnerabilities in all types of systems. They work relentlessly to package all sorts of malware intended to steal data saved on hard drives, remotely control your device and even encrypt your files (ransomware). In some cases, it’s not only the user who’s affected. If hackers install a virus, it can have direct consequences for everyone they know, including work colleagues. Given the ubiquity of the BYOD (‘Bring Your Own Device) model at many companies, this presents a huge threat for indviduals and businesses alike.
The verdict? For built-in privacy, Apple is superior to Android, but having said that, no OS is ever going to be guaranteed to be invulnerable and as a savvy mobile user, you should take your own measures to prevent hacking of your devices even if you have faith in your brand.
Is iOS better than Android in 2019? Or is Android better than iOS?
The OS ‘ecosystem’
A platform is a business model, an operating system is a technology model and an ecosystem is what is known as platform value. How Google and Apple address this value is fundamental to understanding their operating systems.
Essentially, Apple’s iPhone/iOS platform is generally classified as a closed ecosystem because Apple has complete control over both the software (the operating system and apps that can be installed) and the hardware (the phone itself). Android’s underlying code structure, on the other hand, is freely available to anyone, can run on just about any mobile hardware, and has few or no restrictions on the applications the user can install.
Neither approach is the ‘correct’ one. Both options have unique advantages and disadvantages and excel at different things. Ultimately, making a choice between the platforms comes down to assessing which option is a better fit for your needs. The important takeaway here is that, in either case, applications exist within a larger ecosystem and, to add value, are becoming increasingly interconnected with all the components of that ecosystem.
Windows 10 Mobile OS – R.I.P.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning where Microsoft has landed in the mix. The seasoned tech firm shut down its phone hardware division in 2017 but has recently announced that updates to its software and security for existing devices will end in December 2019. From now on, Microsoft will be concentrating on building apps and services for iOS and Android devices. It has thrown in its lot with Android as the mobile version of Windows, with an Android launcher and app mirroring support to come in the near future. Why did Windows flounder in the end? It all came down to its arid ecosystem – it simply couldn’t offer a big enough selection of apps, despite its obvious (and good!) connectivity and synching capacity with Windows PCs and laptops.
For further information on the latest versions of Android and iOS check out this point-by-point comparison.
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