iPhone vs Android (or iOS vs Android, to be more precise) has been the biggest rivalry in tech for the best part of a decade, long ago eclipsing the desktop wars between Apple and Microsoft, and Apple and IBM. Both sides record some amazing sales numbers. Samsung, the leading manufacturer of Android handsets, sold a whopping 308.5 million units in 2016, while Huawei, Xiaomi and others will add many more to the pile; but Apple, in a comfortable second place at 215.5 million iPhones, made the lion’s share of the profits: something close to 80 percent of worldwide smartphone profits.
But which of those two clans should you join? Is an iPhone or an Android smartphone your best bet for value for money, features, security, ease of use, app selection and more?
iPhones are more secure
iOS is a more secure platform than Android. iOS isn’t impregnable, and it’s very dangerous for iPhone users to assume that it is, but far more malware is written for Android – Pulse Secure’s 2015 Mobile Threat Report put the figure at 97 percent of all mobile malware, while the US Department of Homeland Security estimated in 2013 that just 0.7 percent of malware threats were aimed at iOS – and while this is partly because Android has more users, it’s mainly because it’s simply an easier target.
The ‘closed’ platforms – iOS, Windows Mobile and, if anyone out there is still using it, BlackBerry – have very little malware written for them. It’s easier to break into Android, and malware writers will almost always go for the low-hanging fruit.
Part of the problem for Android is that so many of its users don’t bother to update to the latest version: the DoHS report above found that 44 percent were still on ‘Gingerbread’, a version of Android which had been released two years earlier. (By contrast, after four months of availability iOS 9 was on 75 percent of active iPhones and iPads.) A family of trojan malware named Ghost Push is still infecting Android phones two years after first emerging because 57 percent of users are running the old version 5 of Android (Lollipop) that is vulnerable to it, even though versions 6 and 7 have come out since.
There are also small differences between the flavours of Android used by the different handset makers. This fragmentation makes it harder to push out adequate security patches on a timely basis.
As we said, there are still dangers out there for iPhone users. In its 2015 Threat Report, F-Secure Labs reports on several instances of malware penetrating Apple’s ‘walled garden’ App Store. Instead of using social engineering to persuade users to download malware directly, hackers have learned to target the app developers, who then use “compromised tools to unwittingly create apps with secretly malicious behaviour”.
Multiple apps – anywhere from 30 to 300, and many of them from reputable companies – were removed from the App Store in September 2015 because they contained the XCodeGhost malware. Later that year similar situations arose with apps based on UnityGhost, a cloned and compromised version of the Unity development framework, and on the Youmi SDK.
Don’t make the mistake, then, of assuming that the iOS platform and Apple’s App Store are invulnerable to attack. They’re not. But they are more secure than the Android equivalents. Despite its findings, F-Secure insists that Apple’s App Store “remains a tougher nut to crack than the Android ecosystem”.
You quite often hear the logically flaky reasoning that, because Apple’s OS software products aren’t perfectly secure, they’re no better than rival products which also aren’t perfectly secure. It’s easy to explain why this is wrong. iOS (like macOS) is very secure indeed, albeit not completely secure. Android is pretty secure – it’s not like Android users are getting their bank accounts emptied and their motherboards fried by Hollywood-style hacking attacks morning, noon and night – but quantifiably less secure than iOS.
By picking iPhone you give yourself a large security advantage.
iPhones are more private
There’s two main strands backing up the above statement: the privacy measures built into Apple’s smartphones (and particularly the most recent generations of iPhone), and the statements and actions that Apple has made in support of user privacy.
Android phones tend to have better specs for the money
It’s usually the screen resolution where Apple really suffers, but you’ll tend to find that a given iPhone will have equal or weaker specs in most areas than an Android phone of equivalent price, and that you’d be able fairly easily to match that iPhone’s specs with a substantially cheaper Android.
Apple would probably say that it doesn’t care about chasing the best specs, and it’s true that the real-world effect produced by a product is more important than the numbers on the specs sheet – the general feeling of an interface’s speed, its smoothness and slickness and so on, matters more than the number of gigs of RAM that contributed to it – but it’s still easy for Apple fans to feel rather shortchanged at times.
iPhone vs Android: Conclusion
Ultimately the iPhone vs Android debate comes down to a choice: between Android’s flawed, fragmented openness, and Apple’s quality experience in a closed environment.
Openness sounds brilliant, and if we were talking about a lifestyle or a political philosophy then Android would be hard to beat. But this is about a phone. And if you just want a smartphone that’s safe, easy and enjoyable to use, and connected to the best-quality app store around – not to mention sumptuously designed and reliable – then iPhone is the only answer.