Android is a mobile phone operating system developed by the search provider Google. Used on a wide variety of smart phones, Android is currently the best selling mobile operating system in the world. Android is an open source OS, letting anyone develop their own software (such as applications or games) to be run on Android platforms. The Android OS is also used in tablet computers, with the latest version being Android 3.0. While the Android OS has been in use since 2008, regular updates and support for Google keeps Android the leading-edge system it is today.
The first Android phone to be released was the G1, developed by HTC and released in 2008. Running Android 1.0, this phone had many of the features currently found in Android phones, including synchronization with the users Google account and the Android Market for downloading phone apps. Since then, there have been many updates to the Android operating system - major updates are given the name of a dessert. The newest version of Android for mobile phones is Android 2.3.4, Gingerbread. Designed for use on 4G phones with increased performance and speed, Gingerbread provides better video playback and support for front facing cameras for video conferencing.
Mobile phones running the Android operating system all have a similar set of features provided by the OS. The Android OS is made to be run on smart phones, phones which can run a variety of Java based applications that give the phone added functionality. In addition to basic phone and text/media messaging service, Android phones have a variety of web based services and applications. Android phones are connected with the owner Google account, allowing access to Gmail and Google Calendar as well as a variety of other applications. In addition to wireless internet and Bluetooth connectivity, Android phones allow for wireless tethering - using the phone as a modem to connect a laptop computer to the internet. All android phones allow for streaming video, with the latest models able to connect to the 4G network and video conferencing using Google Talk. The most well known aspect of the Android platform is access to the Android Market. Similar to the Apple App Store, the Android Market allows users to download applications and games for their phone, many of which are free.
The Android operating system allows phones to be produced by many manufacturers. With the current generation of 4G phones, the leading producers are Motorola and Samsung. Motorola is the creator of the Droid line of phones - a series that were made popular by their availability with Verizon service in the United States. The Droid X2, the latest model in the Droid series, includes a multi-touch interface, 8 GB of memory along with an 8 GB micro SD card for storage, and an 8 megapixel camera with built in video recorder. Samsung is the other major producer of Android phones and have collaborated with Google on the Nexus S. The Nexus was the first phone to use the new Gingerbread operating system and included a powerful processor and 512 MB of RAM. The Nexus S has 16 GB of internal storage and can access the 4G network using a Sprint service plan. Other companies such as HTC produce Android phones as well, giving the consumer a wide variety of choices when trying to choose the best Android phone for their needs.
Android is arguably the most advanced and widely popular mobile operating system in the world today and over a billion Android users around the world support that claim. This astonishing feat is not something anyone can achieve easily. The key elements behind this success are very simple. Android is an open source platform that allows unmatched freedom. Sure, Apple comes with a development tools suite that is very useful but what it does not give is the amount of freedom Android can. Other strong competitors like Google and Verizon are incrementing and implementing to the same amount of freedom that Android allows hoping to generate more revenue and so far, the results are very satisfying. Hundreds and thousands of people around the world are converting to Android. These people belong to all sorts of life circles. A common cell phone user to a Chief executive of a corporate company now prefers Android to attain the results and satisfaction they are looking for.
As part of my Switching to Android journey, I’m documenting the differences between the two operating systems, exploring the Android features that you might take for granted, but that iOS users may find a compelling reason to switch sides.
My first couple of days with Android 11 and One UI 3.1 underwhelmed me. I successfully transferred my compatible iOS apps over, and there they sat as plain little circles or rounded squares, crowded in on one another. In particular, my Pixel 3a icons looked insubstantial, the display so cramped that several app names ended in ellipses (i.e., Google P…). Bad aesthetics didn’t exactly make me enthusiastic about the transition.
Before iOS 14, iPhone users happily lived with the same aesthetics and similar UI for years. They may care more about Apple apps than customization.
For regular Android users this is a trivial issue: just reconfigure your settings to make the apps more accessible or prettier, right? You’d be surprised how many longtime iPhone users, myself included, aren’t used to changing anything more drastic than the wallpaper. Apple designs may have followed the “think different” motto in the past; but most Apple users fully expect their hardware and software to retain a particular style for years at a time with only incremental changes. Customization was a foreign concept before iOS 14.
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When Apple’s new OS, App Library, and widgets came out, my future colleagues argued that iOS 14 was a better version of Android 11. I can only speak to the Apple side of things, but I personally wasn’t quite as impressed. Yes, the widgets are especially handy and a huge step up for Apple’s UI. Yet the App Library relies on the same folders as before, just auto-organized. To me, iOS folders are like garages stuffed with stacks of old tools you hold onto and use once in a blue moon — not where you keep the daily apps you actually need. Besides that, the apps themselves are still their usual square selves.
I was open to a new experience, even if I was used to Apple’s style. Then I found out about Android launchers: Android theming had been almost completely off my radar until that moment, and every friend with an iPhone I asked didn’t know it was an option either.
I fell eagerly down a rabbit hole of launchers, icon packs, and custom KWGT widgets, tools that made playing with phone settings appealing instead of a chore. Customization is undoubtedly one of the high points for Google in the iOS vs Android battle.
Launching my creative side
Source: Michael Hicks / Android Central
As an easy starting point, I looked through AC’s best Android launchers list and applied them one by one to my home screen. My immediate, unexpected favorite was Microsoft Launcher, thanks in part to its multi-level dock but mostly because of its scrollable widgets page. Being able to scroll through previews of all my favorite apps, instead of having to swipe through different pages or open and load multiple apps, is a genuinely cool feature that I only wish Apple and Google would copy.
With other launchers, it was a mixed bag as a new user. I’m certain that Nova Launcher and Action Launcher are some of the most popular tools for a reason, but they both can be overwhelming for an iOS user that’s still figuring out which way to swipe to open a menu, or how to even find the elusive App drawer! I found myself preferring launchers like Niagara Launcher that have an immediate impact without much user setup. Yes, I know that’s my casual iOS self talking, but I’m trying to ease into things!
Android users probably take launchers and icon packs as a given, but they’re a revelation for a formerly complacent iPhone user.
Android icon packs are also something that you likely take for granted, but were a huge gust of fresh air for me. There may be iOS icon packs now, but they’re mostly so expensive that you can’t easily switch between different packs based on your mood. I’m currently on a minimalist kick with Whicons, but I switch to Crayon Icon, Mellow Dark, or a couple other fun options depending on which wallpaper I’m using.
I also downloaded KWGT presets through KWGT Pro. I’d read about talented Apple fans who’d created iOS 14-style KWGT widgets, and while I personally can just keep using my iPhone if I wanted that, I was very intrigued by the idea of creating custom widgets. I have some coding and design background that I thought could be put to good use, and wanted to try pulling information from apps like Goodreads that didn’t have official widgets.
I didn’t fully understand that KWGT mostly limits you to design customization, allowing you to use specific tools and info like music players, time and date, or phone battery life. It’s possible that I just don’t have the developer know-how I need yet to pull off my dream of a Goodreads reading challenge widget. As far as I know, these mostly seem to cater to artistic types that want their widgets to be more uniquely colorful rather than smarter.
Most Android users will just take what other people have built rather than spend time creating something just for the looks. And outliers like me aside, most Apple users probably don’t care about customization, and just want a phone that handles all the necessities for them.
Prioritizing style or substance
Source: Michael Hicks / Android Central
When iOS 14 launched with its new organizational system and home screen widgets, it inspired plenty of hot takes. One that riled up the AC commenters was the idea that iOS 14 widgets make Android’s look like an absolute embarrassment. It’s safe to say that I spent more time playing with widget colors and app themes because I don’t exactly know yet where they should be, or how much they’ve changed. But based on my fresh perspective, there are a few annoyances to point out amidst an overall positive experience:
- Is there really not a Google Photos widget yet for Android? It’s one of my favorites on my iPhone, so the absence here seems absurd.
- It’s very frustrating to me that Android doesn’t shove app icons into the next window if you try to add a widget and there isn’t enough room. I don’t like having to individually drag enough apps away to make room.
- It’s generally far easier in Samsung One UI 3.1 to tell that you’re currently using a launcher, and to tap the bottom square button to find your way back to One UI Home. On the Pixel, it was tricky to find the settings, and I’m still not entirely sure how to turn it off without a guide.
Those points aside, I generally think that Android launchers and customization got me enthusiastic for Android phones in a way that benefits like a fingerprint reader didn’t. It’s possible my enthusiasm will fade: Joe Maring argued last year that a simple home screen is better than one with widgets and cute icons. But I plan on playing with icons and widgets until I figure out what I like, instead of just letting Apple deciding for me what I should like!