Android is developed by Google. It sticks its own Pixel-flavoured version on its Pixel phones, and lets the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei and others add their own skins on top for their own hardware.
iOS is Apple's mobile OS for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. It's developed in tandem with the hardware, so Apple doesn't have to worry about making the code fit a hundred different devices from a dozen different manufacturers.
In essence, they're both very similar. They both let you make calls, send messages, take photos, and run hundreds of apps to watch movies, chat with your friends, read up on the news, manage your calendar, and so on.
They've also borrowed a lot from each other down the years – issues that used to differentiate Android from the iPhone, like notifications or widgets, don't matter as much as they used to. There are still some key differences though, as we'll get into.
Android vs iPhone: hardware
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The big advantage of Android in terms of hardware is that you've got so many different phones to pick from. The Samsung Galaxy 9. The Pixel 2. The Huawei P20 Pro. If Android is your choice then you've got a lot of manufacturers and models vying for your business.
With the iPhone and iOS, you've basically got... the iPhone. Sure, we see a few different models each year, but you're largely stuck with the design vision of Apple and the way that Apple wants to go. That's great if you like Apple's aesthetics, of course, but you're definitely more limited in your hardware choices.
Android vs iPhone: features
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As we've said, much is the same between Android and iOS. We can't delve into every little detail but broadly speaking there are a few key differences to know about.
Android is more customisable — if you don't like the default SMS app or web browser, you can change it. You can slap widgets on the home screen and leave gaps in the rows of icons. You can completely transform Android with a launcher app. You can't do any of that with Apple's iPhone.
The iPhone and iOS, on the other hand, tend to offer a more polished, secure experience – they don't suffer the same slowdowns and security issues as Android can sometimes (but not always) be prone to.
We'll talk a bit more about the pros of both Android and iOS a little lower down. But both are going to do a fine job of running your smartphone: there aren't any killer, must-have features that you'll find on one but not the other.
Android vs iPhone: apps
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You can find most big name apps on both Android and the iPhone nowadays – there aren't many major bits of software that only run on one platform and not the other.
That said, many new apps (or app updates) often appear on iOS first, especially games – Alto's Odyssey is one recent example of this. You might have to wait a little longer for your favourite title to make it to Android.
In terms of apps made by Apple and Google, you can of course get all of Google's key apps on your iPhone: in fact a lot of people use them instead of Apple's defaults. In contrast, the only significant app you can get on Android that's made by Apple is Apple Music.
While iOS tends to have better quality apps overall, Google's apps are typically superior at working across mobile, desktop, and the web, especially if you want to use hardware that's not made by Apple.
Android vs iPhone: the case for Android
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Why would you choose Android? It's more customisable, as we've said. You get a broader choice of devices. It also gives its apps more freedom – you can get screen recorders and call recorders on Android that Apple doesn't allow on the iPhone, for example. If you don't like the default apps, you can swap them out.
Google's cloud apps are also much stronger than Apple's at the moment: compare Gmail on the web with Mail in iCloud. You might choose Android if you want to switch between a lot of devices regularly, rather than just devices made by Apple.
In terms of the built-in AI assistants, Google Assistant currently seems to have the edge over Siri, though Siri is no slouch. This is getting more into the broader ecosystem that Google and Apple offer – which is an increasingly important consideration when you're choosing between Android and iOS.
Android vs iPhone: the case for iOS
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An iPhone guarantees you a stylish and stable smartphone experience, and overall the interfaces of its menus and apps tend to have more polish than the Android equivalents (though there's not much in it when you put Apple's phones up against top-tier Android phones such as the Galaxy S9).
You can argue about the aesthetics and the interface, but there's no doubt iPhones certainly get software updates much quicker than most Android phones, and that has knock-on effects on security and performance. Apple controls the hardware and the software of the iPhone, and that leads to a smartphone that's (usually) brilliantly smooth in operation and very simple to use.
Privacy is another big differentiator: Apple doesn't use your data to target ads at you like Google does, and keeps most personalisation settings (such as where your office is) stored locally on devices rather than in the cloud.
Android vs iPhone: summary
You can approach the Android vs iPhone question from all kinds of angles: the design of the actual phones, the customisation options in the software, the number of apps on each platform, and so on and so on. At this stage there are almost too many comparison points to keep track of.
But the Android vs iPhone debate is now just a part of a much bigger Google vs Apple battle. The best choice of phone for you is no longer just about the phone — it's also about how deeply you're invested in the ecosystems set up by Google and Apple.
If you also own a MacBook and an iPad, then you'll find life much easier with an iPhone, as everything will work together seamlessly. Those of you who've gone all-in on Google — with Google Home speakers, Chromecasts, Gmail and Chromebooks — might well find Android the better choice.
There are differences between Android and iPhones – Android a little easier to customise, iOS a little easier to use, for example – but the question of which one you should be using now goes far beyond these mobile operating systems.
Liked this? Then why not check out our guide to the best smartphones and the best budget phones as well.