By Cody Crawford
Early Access! iOS 8 and Android L
Apple and Google Face Off in a Feature Showdown
It’s that time of year again! Apple and Google both announced releases of their new mobile software. Apple unveiled iOS 8 for iPhones and iPads at their World Wide Developer’s Conference, and Android revealed Android L at Google I/O. Both sets of software are in beta and only available to developers now. Apple and Google have slated the public releases for sometime later this year, and both operating systems are usually provided in the fall with versions of the latest phones.
So how do the two operating systems compare with one another? Although almost all iPhone users have the last update, iOS 7, only 15 percent of Android users have KitKat, which was released last year. This is due to the fragmentation of the Android market.
Android users outnumber iOS users by more than double. Countless phones use different versions of the Android operating system, while the only phones that use iOS are iPhones. Android is open source, so anyone can take the Android OS, build on it, and release it.
Since there are so many Android phones, it is up to the makers of those phones to create a release of Android that runs on each one. This is why almost a year after the release of KitKat, only 15 percent of Android users actually have it installed.
It isn’t easy to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the two operating systems. Android phones typically have more features than iPhones. Depending on the Android model, they might have inductive charging, NFC, high megapixel cameras, and very large screens. Apple is not particularly innovative with regard to new features, but very user friendly; what they do, they do right.
Some features, however, are common to both operating systems. Both have voice control, messaging, music, document editing, wireless printing, thousands of apps, and an ecosystem of devices that sync media with each other. Here is our comparison of iOS 8 and Android L.
Last year, Android greatly improved its voice control. It allowed users to ask a question on Google Now simply by saying “OK Google.” Users with KitKat could do many things without even having to touch their phones. Apple caught up this year with iOS 8. In the next release, Apple users will be able to say “Hey Siri” and use voice features. Currently, in the beta of iOS 8, this only works when the device is plugged in, probably to save battery life. The big players in the mobile operating system market all have sophisticated voice control solutions with the Android Google Now, Apple’s Siri and the Windows version, Cortana.
When iOS 7 was released, Apple introduced hardware with a special processor to track a person’s minute-by-minute activity. In the iPhone 5S, the M7 processor allowed apps to access movement data, such as steps taken per day. In iOS 8, Apple has taken this one step further by allowing developers a tool called HealthKit. This is an API designed for app developers who want to use health data collected by the iPhone. In Android L, they released Google Fit, which is exactly the same thing as the Apple counterpart, HealthKit.
Android also has a different solution. With a smart watch from LG, Motorola or Samsung, Android Wear allows users to track their steps, and even their heart rate on some devices. This information syncs with compatible Android phones.
Android widgets are convenient apps that pin to the home screen of your phone. There are many available, and they are commonly used to quickly get information, such as weather and sports scores. Widgets were introduced into Android in 2009, and iOS is just now catching up with its iOS 8 update. The widgets in iOS 8 are not quite as configurable as Android widgets.
Notification Center was released in iOS 5 in 2011, and parts of it were sort of like widgets. But in iOS 8, the widgets are interactive, and will allow users to respond to notifications directly from the notification center, without having to launch the associated app. The difference in iOS and Android widgets would probably not steer a person to a specific operating system, but the Android way is probably a little better, since there are so many options for home screen configuration.
Apple announced a developer tool called HomeKit with iOS 8 as well. HomeKit will allow app developers to combine different home automation hardware, such as smart door locks and lights, into one app. This basically means the iPhone can be used as a remote control for items in the home. In Apple’s Keynote at the developer conference this year, Craig Federighi said Siri would be integrated as well, and a user might be able to tell Siri to “get ready for bed,” which would cause your doors to be locked, lights to be dimmed, and thermostat lowered.
Android is also involved in the smart home market. There are probably just as many home automation devices on the market for Android as there are iOS. What Apple is seeking to do with the HomeKit solution is encourage people to create smart home devices and make it easier for developers to create apps for them. This is going to be more difficult for the Android OS to accomplish, since there are so many different Android phones on the market.
In iOS 8, there were lots of improvements for messaging. Apple added predictive text, which Android already had. Apple also made improvements to their group messaging, allowing a user to add or remove people from a group conversation, or mute it if people are texting too much. Android made a lot of messaging changes in KitKat, but there weren’t many in Android L.
Android L revamped its look this year with what they call Material Design. This is similar to what Apple did with iOS 7. What made Android different was that they added shadows and depth to the flat surfaces in the OS. Still, the two looks are pretty similar with modern, flat surfaces and bright colors. Android also added animations between and within apps.
This overview only scratches the surface of all the new features included in both of the new mobile operating systems. Both will be available in the fall, so make sure to try one or the other and let us know what you think.
Cody Crawford holds a degree in software engineering and recently joined the staff of Validity as Director of Digital Innovation.