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