Anytime I talk to people about mobile phones, I always get  the question – “which is better, an iPhone or an Android device?” I could evade the question and say, “it depends” (because it does), but that’s taking the easy way out. Unfortunately, there’s not a simple answer for this question, but here’s what I generally tell people.

Coke vs Pepsi

The sad truth of the matter is that despite what loyal fans of each platform will tell you, it doesn’t really matter. Over the last five years, Apple and Google have copied so many features from each other that the platforms are nearly identical. Sure, there are differences in the design elements, the user interface, and hardware options, but the overall functionality is virtually identical. It’s much like the debate between drinkers of Coke vs Pepsi. Serious fans of each soda will tell you that their favorite is much better than the other, but most wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two in a blind taste test. (Anyone remember the Pepsi Challenge of the eighties?)

The same can be said when comparing the iPhone with Android. Serious fans of each side will be quick to point out what features makes their choice superior, but at the end of the day, both will get the job done for you. It’s really a matter of personal preference and how important branding is to you. As with Coke, Apple has the more iconic brand with the iPhone, but that doesn’t mean that Android isn’t as good.

Recommendations on making a choice

There comes a time when you need to decide which type of phone you will choose, or if you want to make the switch from one platform to the other. Here’s what I tell people when I get pressed for an answer:

You should use an iPhone if…

  • You already use a lot of Apple products
    iPhone 5s
    If the inside of your house looks like a miniature replica of an Apple store with Macs, Apple TV, iPads, and iPods lying around, then using the iPhone is the smart thing to do. It will seamlessly integrate with all of your other Apple products as well as with your iTunes account. Consider yourself locked into the Apple ecosystem as switching to Android would not be the smartest thing to do.
  • You’re easily overwhelmed by too many choices
    The nice thing about the iPhone is that Apple take more of a one size fits all approach to their phone design and features. You don’t need to spend a lot of time stressing over device features. The biggest decision you’ll need to make is what color you want the phone to be, the rest has already been decided for you.
  • You just want something that works and don’t want to tinker with technology
    Another great feature of Apple products is that they just work, at least most of the time. There is usually very little tinkering you need to do with an iPhone outside of the basic settings that they walk you through on startup.
  • You don’t plan or want to do much customization to the phone
    Outside of some background and ringtone choices, there isn’t a whole lot of customization options available for the iPhone. If you’re good with that, then you’ll get along fine with an iPhone.
  • Your network of family, friends, and colleagues use the iPhone
    While it’s always fun to be different, inevitably you will run into problems with your phone. If you’re immediate circle is made up of iPhone users, then they can offer a helping hand or share tips and tricks to get the phone to do what you want. Plus, you get to share back and impress them with your technical skills and knowledge!

You should use an Android phone if…

  • You’re heavily vested in the Google ecosystem
    Nexus 5If you use lots of Google tools such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Hangouts, and Google Docs, then an Android device will provide better integration. Sure, you can access all of these tools on your iPhone, but there is a noticeable difference in the integration with an Android device.
  • Handset choice is important to you
    One of the beauties of the Android ecosystem is that you can change from a wide variety of handsets. You can choose large, over-sized phones or small ones. Phones are available in every price range from free (on contract) to over $700 (unlocked). Basically, there’s a lot of choice so you can get exactly the type of phone that you want that fits your budget.
  • You’re not afraid of technology and like to tinker
    While it’s gotten a lot better over the last five years, there are still some nuances with Android that may require you to look under the hood and adjust a setting or two to get something to work the way you want it to.
  • You want to be able to customize your phone
    With Android, there are all kinds of wallpapers and widgets that you can choose from to customize your phone.
  • You don’t mind the occasional “crap-app”
    Since Google’s app approval standards aren’t as rigorous as Apple’s, more low quality apps exist in the Google Play store than in Apple’s App Store. If you don’t mind having to weed through an occasional bad apple to get to the good stuff, then you’ll be fine.

The bottom line

If you’ve already selected a platform, the best and easiest thing to do is to stick with what you know, unless there is a compelling reason to change. For example, you might want an iPhone for a particular application, or you may want an Android device in order to get a bigger screen. Otherwise, switching platforms will just create friction in your daily workflow as you adjust to the subtle differences between them, which can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to get used to. On other hand, if you’re making the choice for the first time, the best thing you can do is to use each platform for a week or so, take advantage of the carrier return policies, and then choose the phone that you like best.

Above all, don’t get caught up listening to the extremists on either side, as my favorite animated GIF illustrates. Either platform will get the job done, so choose the one that you like best.

iPhone vs Android

Full disclosure

In the interest of full disclosure, my daily driver is currently an Android device – the Moto X. I switched from a BlackBerry to the Nexus One in 2010 and haven’t looked back. While I’ve also used iPhones at times over the years, I enjoy the stock Android experience and have chosen to stick with the Nexus line of Android devices, or those that run as close to a “stock” version of Android as possible. In my opinion, there are very few differences in the user interface between a stock version of Android and the iPhone.

(For more information on the “stock” version of Android, see this article I wrote last year – What is stock Android?)