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How to Choose between Android and Apple iPhone Smartphones

Part 1 :  The Origins and Evolution of Modern Smartphones

It is positive testimony to Apple's wonderful design skills that the original iPhone still looks modern and state of the art today, 3.5 years after its release.

This article is part of a series comparing Android based phones with Apple's iPhone and helping you choose which would be the best option for you.

Please read through other parts in the series - see links on the right.



The iPhone created a new type of device - a multi-functional product evolving from its roots as a cell phone, with color multi-touch screen, very user-friendly interface, and a huge range of third party add-on programs to fully exploit the capabilities of the unit.

Apple might have been first, but Android, introduced 15 months later, after several years of chasing after Apple has now irrefutably overtaken it in terms of new phone sales.

Does this mean that Android phones like T-Mobile 4G phones are better?  And what about new OS based phones such as Windows Phone 7, or other well known smartphones such as Blackberry.

What should your next phone be?  Read on to understand the issues and choices open to you.

Executive Summary

Apple created what we now know of and expect in a smartphone when it released its first iPhone in June 2007.  The Android operating system, coordinated by Google, was released on its first phone 16 months later in Oct 2008.

Android took a while to catch up to the early lead created by Apple, but it has steadily and rapidly grown and now more Android based phones are sold each month than iOS based iPhones.

Looking to the future, Android has a huge open ended advantage and Apple's iOS suffers a huge close-ended disadvantage.  Android is currently available on over 100 different phones, and new manufacturers are free to build devices using Android any time they wish.  So too are developers free to create applications for Android as they choose.

In contrast, Apple tightly controls iOS, restricting it only to the iPhone (and iPad and iPod Touch), and sets sometimes harsh conditions on who can publish iOS based software.

This is indeed history repeating itself.  Apple's insistence on keeping the Mac a tightly controlled closed system caused it to be trounced in the marketplace by the more open architecture of Windows based computers.  We expect the same to occur in the phone marketplace, and for all the same reasons.

There are other competitors, but most of them suffer, to an even greater extent, by being similarly closed (one could almost say 'dead end') systems.  Only the newly announced Windows Phone 7 OS has a moderately open platform which is already supported by several different phone handset manufacturers and wireless companies.  This is a huge plus, on the downside though has been Microsoft's appalling record of stark failure in the phone marketplace to date.

Accordingly, we have no hesitation in calling Android the clear and certain winner.  For most people and most purposes, an Android based smartphone promises to be less expensive up front, less expensive in monthly costs, and more open ended in terms of future potential and support.

A Quick History of Apple's iPhone and its iOS Operating System

Apple first announced its decision to sell a phone on 9 January 2007.  The phone, now known as the iPhone, went on sale on 29 June 2007, after an extraordinary amount of marketplace interest and excitement quite unlike anything associated with any previous cell phone launch.

The phone truly was a transformational product, and marked the first genuinely user-friendly multi-gesture touch-screen interface that made the phone easy to understand and use, coupled with enhanced capabilities that extended the functionality of the phone way beyond simply making and receiving phone calls.

There were other phones that claimed the appellation of 'smartphone' prior to that time, but their capabilities were generally more limited and their interface not nearly as elegant.  The user-friendly revolution of the iPhone was similar to the revolution brought about by Macs and Windows compared to earlier DOS and Apple II computers.

The iPhone unsurprisingly became massively popular, and the first generation iPhone has been successively replaced by new models in approximately 12-monthly intervals - the iPhone 3G in 2008, the 3GS in 2009 and the iPhone 4 in 2010.

As well as regularly updating the phone hardware, Apple has also been continually updating the underlying operating system, which it formally named as iOS in 2010.  There has been a major release of a new version of the OS each year, and minor releases at least once or twice during the life of each major version release.

Shortly after the iPhone went on sale, Apple released a new model iPod - the iPod Touch (Sept 5, 2007).  This was physically almost identical in size/shape to the iPhone, and used the same underlying operating system, with the only major differences of note being the iPod Touch could not make phone calls, and did not have a built in camera or GPS receiver.

Apple's iOS platform broadened still further in early 2010 with the release of the iPad in April, a device that could be thought of perhaps as an overgrown iPod Touch, with most of the same features/limitations, and again using the same iOS software.

Other Companies Respond

Apple's iOS showed the world - and other phone manufacturers - that making a user friendly interface could massively extend the appeal (and functionality) of smart phones and related devices.

Other companies took note, to a greater or lesser extent.  For example, Microsoft continued to crawl forward pursuing an increasingly obsolete design philosophy for several years before finally announcing a catch-up product earlier in 2010 that is just now coming onto the market - its Windows Phone 7 OS.

One of the early leaders in smartphone technology, Palm, completely lost its earlier leadership position, and the company collapsed, eventually being purchased by Hewlett Packard.

Another former leader in smartphone technology has been similarly laggard in responding to the new touch screen mindset - Blackberry.  Its devices and its user interface have become increasingly behind the curve in terms of functionality (and desirability), but its historic marketplace strength and the greater inertia of its corporate customers to change hardware platforms has kept it going for now; a recently released new version of its OS may or may not enable it to start to catch up into the future.

Nokia has done various things to attempt to restart its former success with the open architecture Symbian operating system, and has also developed some completely different OSs as well, but nothing has captured the marketplace imagination and it seems to be devolving down to become primarily a manufacturer of low cost under featured phones.

But what about the other major phone manufacturers?  Motorola?  Samsung?  LG?  HTC?  And various other manufacturers too (such as Siemens and Sony Ericsson).  What were they doing?

Unfortunately, as they variously were finding out, creating a new fully featured 'modern' phone OS to compete with the rapid ascendancy of Apple, and then selling it in to the market in sufficient numbers as to attain a critical mass of user and developer support is a complicated and expensive process, with success being far from assured.

Few companies wanted to do this.  At which point a 'white knight' rode in to present an alternate solution, one which they embraced with alacrity.

Enter Android

Happily, these phone companies quickly discovered they did not need to commit to this extensive and expensive process.  Another 'state of the art' phone operating system was being developed; a system that offered 'open architecture' enabling it to run on a wide range of physical phones, and a free open source system that did not have any associated licensing fees.

This was initially being developed by a small startup in Silicon Valley called Android, and in July 2005 this company was purchased by Google.

To start with, little was known about what Android was and would become, but on 5 November 2007, a new group calling itself the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of companies then including Texas Instruments, Broadcom, Google, HTC, Intel, LG, Marvell, Motorola, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile was unveiled.  Their stated goal was to develop open standards for mobile devices.  Along with the formation of the Open Handset Alliance, they also announced their first product, Android, a mobile device operating system based on a Linux kernel.

On 9 December 2008, it was announced that 14 new members would be joining the Android project, including PacketVideo, ARM, Atheros, Asustek, Garmin, Softbank, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba, and Vodafone.

The first Android based phone was released on 22 Oct 2008 - 15 months after Apple's initial iPhone release and three months after its second (iPhone 3G) release.  This was an HTC manufactured phone that was sold as the 'G1' by T-Mobile in the US.

On the release date, the G1 and its version 1.0 Android software compared poorly to the second generation iPhone 3G and its several times updated software, and at the time of its release, we recommended against choosing a G1 over an iPhone 3G.

Furthermore, something that was becoming an increasingly important issue - the variety and number of third party programs that could be loaded onto a phone - showed Apple as a clear winner, with some tens of thousands of applications compared to a mere handful of applications on the G1.  Indeed, the initial release of Android had a major omission - it had no way for software developers to actually sell programs; they could only be given away for free.  So, with no direct way to profit from Android programs, many developers ignored the Android platform.

But, that was the situation in late October, 2008, almost exactly two years ago (compared to the time this article is being researched/written).  A great deal has happened since then.

The Android software has gone through a series of revisions (currently on its sixth major release, with the seventh release expected prior to the end of this year), closing any gaps that may have formerly existed between it and iOS.

Android phone hardware has mushroomed, with many different phone choices now being offered by many different manufacturers, and using many different wireless companies.  The number of Android applications, while still fewer than those available for iOS, has exploded.

There are now thought to be over 100 different Android phones and over 100,000 Android apps.  While this is perhaps only half the total number of iOS apps, the certain reality is that, most of the time, anything you'd want to do is available as both an iOS or Android app - sometimes offered by the same company in two different forms, or sometimes by two different companies.

Additionally, just as iOS has grown to handle other platforms such as the iPod Touch and iPad, so too is Android growing to handle platforms as diverse as Barnes & Noble's Nook eBook reader through to a growing number of tablet devices designed to compete with the iPad.

The Present Day

Both the iOS and Android operating systems have now evolved through enough development cycles as to cause them to have resolved many of the glaring weaknesses which were initially present.

That's not to say they're now identical in every respect.  We see some advantages to Android, occasioned in large part by the more open architecture concept embraced by Android's developers and the hardware manufacturers who build Android based phones.

For example, whereas Apple iPhones don't allow you to add external memory cards (ie microSD cards) to their phones, Android phones universally allow this.

For example, whereas adding a tethering capability to an Apple iPhone forces you into paying an extra monthly $20 fee to AT&T and limits you to the type of tethering you can then do (ie connect to a single computer via a cable), if an Android phone supports tethering, there is no extra fee (over and above any extra data charges, of course) and you can tether any way the phone supports (eg creating your own Wi-Fi zone to then connect multiple devices through your phone and on to the internet).

This article is part of a series comparing Android based phones with Apple's iPhone and helping you choose which would be the best option for you.  Please read through other parts in the series - see links at the top right of this article.

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Originally published 5 Nov 2010, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
Should you choose an Android based smartphone or iOS based Apple iPhone
Part 1 :  Introduction, Executive Overview, History
Part 2 :  The unnecessary restrictions imposed on you by Apple if choosing an iPhone
Part 3 :  Hardware issues between Android and iPhones
Part 4 :  Performance and Compatibility issues
Part 5 :  Market shares and trends
Part 6 :  Other OS choices for smartphones
Part 7 :  Pricing and Conclusion

iPhone 3G and 3GS Battery Replacement


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