iPhone vs Android: Which Is Better For You?

Factors to consider before you buy a smartphone

When buying the best smartphone, the first choice can be the hardest: iPhone vs. Android. Both offer a lot of great features, but iPhones and Android phones are very different. Read on to learn more about these differences to help you decide whether an iPhone or Android smartphone is best for you.

Hardware: Choice vs. Polish

All 3 iPhone 11 models in the Apple Store

JOHANNES EISELE / Contributor / AFP

 

Hardware is the first place where the differences between the iPhone and Android become clear.

Only Apple makes iPhones, so it has extremely tight control over how the software and hardware work together. On the other hand, Google offers Android software to many phone makers, including Samsung, HTC, and Motorola. Because of that, Android phones vary in size, weight, features, and quality.

Premium-priced Android phones are about as good as the iPhone, but cheaper Androids are more prone to problems. Of course, iPhones can have hardware issues, too, but they're overall higher quality.

If you're buying an iPhone, you need to pick a model. Because many companies make Android devices, you have to choose both a brand and a model. Some may prefer the choice Android offers, but others appreciate Apple's greater simplicity and higher quality.

Winner: Tie

OS Compatibility: Android Is A Waiting Game

iOS 11
image credit: Apple Inc.

To ensure you always have the latest and greatest version of your smartphone operating system, you have to get an iPhone.

That's because some Android makers are slow to update their phones to the latest version of the Android OS and sometimes don't update their phones at all. The makers of the phones—not users—control when the OS update is released for their phones. Most Android makers are very slow to update if they update at all.

While older phones will eventually lose support for the latest OS, Apple's support for older phones is much better than Android's. 

Take iOS 11, which was released in 2017. It fully supported the iPhone 5S, which was released four years earlier. IOS 11 was installed on about 66% of compatible models within six weeks of its release, thanks to its broad device support.

On the other hand, Android 8 ran on just 0.2% of Android devices more than eight weeks after its release.​ Even its predecessor, Android 7, was only running on about 18% of devices more than a year after its release.

So, if you want the latest and greatest OS as soon as it's ready, you need an iPhone.

Winner: iPhone

Apps: Selection vs. Control

google play and app store badges
Google Inc. and Apple Inc.

The Apple App Store offers fewer apps than Google Play (around 1.8 million vs. 2.8 million, as of Dec. 2020), but the selection isn't the most crucial factor.

Apple is strict about what apps it allows, while Google's standards for Android are lax. While Apple's control may seem too tight, it also prevents situations like the one where a fake version of WhatsApp was downloaded 1 million times from Google Play before Google removed it. That's a significant potential security threat.

Fragmentation—the large numbers of devices and OS versions to support—makes developing for Android expensive. For example, the developers of the game Temple Run reported that early in their Android experience, ​nearly all of their support emails had to do with unsupported devices even though they support over 700 Android phones.

Combine development costs with Android's emphasis on free apps, and it reduces the likelihood that developers can cover their costs. Key apps also almost always debut on iOS, with Android versions coming later if they come at all.

Winner: iPhone

Gaming: A Mobile Powerhouse

mobile games on iphone
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Mobile gaming used to be dominated by Nintendo's 3DS and Sony's Playstation Vita. The iPhone changed that.

The iPhone and iPod touch are the dominant players in the mobile video game market, with tens of thousands of great games and millions of players. The growth of the iPhone as a gaming platform has led some observers to say that Apple is the leading mobile game platform (Nintendo has even started releasing games for the iPhone, like Super Mario Run).

The tight integration of Apple's hardware and software supports powerful gaming technologies using hardware and software that make its phones as fast as, or quicker than, some laptops.

The general expectation that Android apps should be free has led game developers interested in making money (i.e., almost all of them) to develop for iPhone first and Android second. In fact, due to problems with developing with Android, some game companies have stopped creating games for it altogether.

While Android has its share of hit games, the iPhone has a clear advantage.

Winner: iPhone

Security: No Question About It

An image depicting iPhone security, showing a padlock on the screen of the phone with a separate security key.

 Getty Images

If you care about the security of your smartphone, iPhone is more secure than Android.

The reasons for this are myriad and too long to go into here. For the short version, consider these two facts:

  • In one study, 97% of all malware, viruses, worms, etc., were for Android. In that study, 0% attacked the iPhone.
  • Even the head of Google's Android team admits that "We can not guarantee that Android is designed to be safe... If I had a company dedicated to malware, I should also be addressing my attacks on Android." 

That says it all. However, it's important to note that these stats don't mean iPhone is immune to security threats. It is not. It's just less likely to be targeted than Android-based phones and is better at keeping you secure. 

Winner: iPhone

Privacy: A Stark Divide

iPhone Privacy Settings
image credit Jonathan McHugh/Ikon Images/Getty Images

If you care about the privacy of your personal data, just like with security, Apple is your only viable choice.

Google's primary business model is built around collecting user data and selling that data to advertisers. As such, Google needs access to your data and the ability to share it with other companies.

Apple doesn't have an advertising business (yes, there's iAd for in-app ads, but it's not the same thing) and doesn't need your personal data to sell you products or make money. Apple has increasingly moved functionality that uses personal or private data onto your iPhone and other devices, reducing how much of that data ever leaves your device and goes to the cloud.

Winner: Apple

Cost: Is Free Always Best?

Image of a woman pulling money out of her wallet.

 Getty Images

If you're concerned most about what your phone costs, you'll probably choose Android. That's because many Android phones are cheap or even free. Apple's most affordable phone is the iPhone SE, which starts at $399.

For those on a very tight budget, that may be the end of the discussion. If you've got some money to spend on your phone, though, look a little deeper.

Free phones are usually free for a reason: they're often less capable or dependable than their more-costly counterparts. Getting a free phone might be buying you more trouble than a paid phone.

The highest-priced phones on both platforms can easily cost $1000 or more, but the average cost of an Android device is lower than an iPhone.

Winner: Android

Resale Value: iPhone Keeps Its Worth

Making a purchase at the Apple Store
Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

With new smartphones being released so often, people tend to upgrade quickly. When you do that, you want to be sure to resell your old model for the most money to put towards the new one.

Apple wins on that front. Old iPhones fetch more money at resale than old Androids.

Here are a few examples, using prices from the smartphone resale company Gazelle:

  • 64GB iPhone X in good condition, unlocked: $161
  • 128GB iPhone 8 in good condition, unlocked: $118
  • 64GB Samsung Galaxy S9 in good condition, unlocked: $95
  • 128GB Google Pixel 3 XL in good condition, unlocked: $89

Winner: iPhone

Support: The Unmatched Apple Store

Make Genius Bar Appointment
Artur Debat/Moment Mobile ED/Getty Images

Both smartphone platforms generally work pretty well and don't usually have problems. However, everything breaks down once in a while, and when that happens, how you get support matters.

With iPhone, you can take your device to your closest Apple Store to get help from a trained specialist can help. (They're busy, though, so it pays to make a Genius Bar appointment ahead of time.)

There's no equivalent for Android. Sure, you can get support for Android devices from the phone company you bought your phone from, the manufacturer, or maybe even the retailer where you purchased it. But which should you pick and can you be sure the people there are well trained?

Having a single source for expert support gives Apple the upper hand.

Winner: iPhone

Intelligent Assistant: Google Assistant Beats Siri

Artificial Intelligence
PASIEKA/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

The next frontier of smartphone functionality will be driven by artificial intelligence and voice interfaces. Android has a clear lead here.

Google Assistant, the most prominent intelligent assistant on Android, is very powerful. It uses everything Google knows about you and the world to make life easier. For instance, if your Google Calendar knows that you're meeting someone at 5:30 and that traffic is terrible, Google Assistant can notify you to leave early.

Siri is Apple's answer to Google Assistant for artificial intelligence. It's improving with each new iOS release. That said, it's still limited to relatively simple tasks and doesn't offer the advanced smarts of Google Assistant (Google Assistant is also ​available for the iPhone). 

Winner: Android

Wondering whether Siri runs on Android or Google Assistant on iPhone? Check out How to Get Siri for Android or Windows Phones.

User Experience: Elegance vs. Customization

how to unlock iphone
With an unlocked iPhone, you'll feel this free. Cultura RM/Matt Dutile/Getty Images

People who want complete control to customize their phones will prefer Android thanks to its greater openness. That said, there are apps for customizing your iPhone too.

One downside of this openness is that each company that makes Android phones can customize them, sometimes replacing default Android apps with inferior tools developed by that company. 

Apple, on the other hand, limits customization options on the iPhone. It recently added home screen widgets and now lets you change some default apps (for example, you can set Gmail as the default email app for iPhone). What you give up in flexibility with an iPhone is balanced out by quality and attention to detail, a device that works and is well-integrated with other products.

Pick iPhone if you want a phone that works well, delivers a high-quality experience and is easy to use. On the other hand, if you value flexibility and choice enough to accept some potential issues, you'll probably prefer Android.

Winner: Tie

Pure Experience: Avoid Junk Apps

iPhone in nature
Daniel Grizelj/Stone/Getty Images

The last item mentioned that Android's openness means that sometimes manufacturers install their apps in place of higher-quality standard apps.

This issue is compounded by phone companies also installing apps. As a result, it can be hard to know what apps will come on your Android device and whether they'll be any good.

You don't have to worry about that with the iPhone. Apple is the only company that pre-installs apps on the iPhone, so every phone comes with the same, primarily high-quality apps.

Winner: iPhone

Integration with Other Devices: Continuity Guaranteed

Handoff in iOS 8
Apple, Inc.

Many people use a tablet, computer, or wearable in addition to their smartphone. For them, Apple offers a better-integrated experience.

Because Apple makes computers, tablets, watches, and the iPhone, it offers things that Android (which mostly runs on smartphones, though some tablets and wearables use it) can't.

Apple's Continuity features let you:

  • Unlock your Mac using an Apple Watch
  • Start writing an email on your iPhone and finish it on your Mac with Apple Handoff
  • Have all of your devices receive any call coming into your iPhone

Google's services like Gmail, Maps, Google Now, etc., work across all Android devices. But unless your watch, tablet, phone, and computer are all made by the same company—and there aren't too many companies other than Samsung that make products in all of those categories—Android has no unified cross-device experience.

Winner: iPhone

Battery Life: Consistent Improvement

plugging in low battery phone
iStock

Early iPhones needed to recharge their batteries every day. More recent models can go days without a charge, though new versions of the operating system tend to cut battery life until they're optimized in later releases.​ Fortunately, there are ways to extend your iPhone's battery life.

The battery situation is more complex with Android due to the large variety of hardware options. Some Android models have 7-inch screens and other features which burn through much more battery life. There are also ways to extend the battery life for Android.

But, thanks to the wide variety of Android models, some offer ultra-high capacity batteries. If you don't mind the extra bulk and need a long-lasting battery, Android can deliver a device that works much longer than an iPhone on a single charge.

Winner: Android

User Maintenance: Storage and Battery

quitting iphone apps doesn't save battery
Michael Haegele/EyeEm/Getty Images

Apple emphasizes elegance and simplicity in the iPhone above all else. That's a significant reason that users can't upgrade the iPhone's storage or replace the batteries (it's possible to get replacement iPhone batteries, but they have to be installed by a trained repair person).

On the other hand, Android lets users change the phone's battery and expand its storage capacity.

The trade-off is that Android is a bit more complex and less elegant, but that may be worth it compared to running out of memory or avoiding paying for an expensive battery replacement.

Winner: Android

Peripheral Compatibility: USB Is Everywhere

USB Ports
Sharleen Chao/Moment Open/Getty Images

Owning a smartphone usually means owning some accessories for it, such as speakers, battery cases, or simply extra charging cables.

Android phones offer the widest choice of accessories. That's because Android uses USB ports to connect to other devices, and USB ports are available practically everywhere.

Apple, on the other hand, uses its proprietary Lightning port to connect to accessories. There are some advantages to Lightning, like that it gives Apple more control over the quality of the accessories that work with the iPhone, but it's less widely compatible.

Plus, if you need to charge your phone right now, people are more likely to have a USB cable handy.

Winner: Android

GPS Navigation
Chris Gould/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

As long as you have internet access and a smartphone, you never have to get lost again, thanks to the built-in GPS and maps apps on iPhone and Android.

Both platforms support third-party GPS apps that can give drivers turn-by-turn directions. Apple Maps is exclusive to iOS, and while that app had some famous problems when it debuted, it's getting steadily better all the time. It's a solid alternative to Google Maps for many users.

Even if you don't want to try Apple Maps, Google Maps is available on both platforms (generally pre-loaded on Android), so the experience is roughly identical. 

Winner: Tie

Add Ons: Apple Services Can't Be Beat

Screenshot of the Apple TV app on Mac

Using a smartphone involves more than just the apps that come with it or that you add. Some of these apps are likely to require subscriptions to deliver valuable content. Think of music or TV streaming apps, for instance.

On that front, the iPhone offers a set of services that Android can't match.

With Apple's Apple One service bundles, you can get Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple News, Apple Arcade, Apple Fitness+, and upgraded iCloud storage for one relatively low price per month. On Android, you can subscribe to competing services in every category, but not for such a reasonable price (and there's no equivalent of Apple News or the made-only-for-Apple Arcade games). Android can't match the combination of great content and intelligent cross-device integration offered by Apple Fitness+, either.

If you don't want or need these services, then either platform will be fine. But only iPhone can offer such a compelling selection of content at such a reasonable price.

Winner: iPhone

Bottom Line

iPhone X
image credit: Apple Inc.

The decision of whether to buy an iPhone or Android phone isn't as simple as tallying up the winners above and choosing the phone that won more categories (but for those counting, it's 10-5 for the iPhone, plus three ties).

Different categories matter more for certain people. Some people will value hardware choice more, while others will care more about battery life or mobile gaming.

Both platforms offer good choices for different people. You'll need to decide what factors are most important to you and choose the phone that best meets your needs.

FAQ
  • How many people use Androids vs. iPhones?

    Together, Android and iPhone users own 99% of all active cell phones; however, there are considerably more Android users than iPhone users due to the vast price difference. As of 2020, global statistics show that roughly 1 billion people own an iPhone and 2 billion people own an Android.

  • What can I do on an Android that I can't do on an iPhone?

    An Android lets you do several things that iPhone's security won't allow, such as setting up a guest mode account to share your Android phone with other users. You can also use widgets to pull info from apps without launching them, add storage with an SD card, work with a split-screen, and transfer documents directly from the PC to the phone using an Android File Manager. iPhone only lets you transfer pictures this way.

  • What can I do on an iPhone that I can't do on an Android?

    You can hold your old phone next to your new phone and use the QuickStart feature to transfer data to your new device with an iPhone. iPhone also lets you send and receive money through the built-in iPhone Messages app. Another top feature is FaceTime, where you can video chat with other iPhone users without installing a third-party app.

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