Which is the best smartphone platform: the iPhone's iOS, or Google Android? The iPhone, obviously. But don't just take our word for it. Here's why Apple's iPhone 5 is the best smartphone on the market right now, and why iOS 6 (and iOS 7 when it launches shortly) is the best mobile operating system. Updated 28 August 2013
Is the iPhone the king of smartphones? Or has it been caught up by Google Android and the many smartphones that run it? In the following article, we argue the case for the iPhone 5's superiority. (For an alternative view, however, take a look at PC Advisor's Android vs iPhone vs Windows Phone 8: what phone should I buy?)
iOS vs Android: iOS is more secure
Now don't get complacent about security, but between you and me Android faces far more threats than the iPhone's iOS platform. An F-Secure report in May found that more than 90 percent of all mobile malware is written for the Android platform, while the remainder is aimed at the Symbian software found on older Nokia phones. The 'closed' platforms - Apple iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry - simply don't have malware written for them. It's harder to break in, and malware writers will almost always go for the low-hanging fruit. They're just looking for easy victims.
This strike against Android was backed up five days ago by no less an authority than the US government's Department of Homeland Security, which published a report [pdf] that largely corresponded to F-Secure's figures. It put the proportion at 79 percent for Android malware, and 19 percent for Symbian. iOS faces just 0.7 percent of malware threats, according to the report, which observes in passing that part of the problem for Android is that so many of its users don't bother to update to the latest version: 44 percent, the report found, are still on some variant of 'Gingerbread', which was released in 2011. In contrast, 93 percent of North American iPhone owners had updated to the latest version of iOS, iOS 6, by June of this year.
There are still dangers out there, but for an iPhone user they largely amount to 'human error' threats - you have to be fooled into clicking on the wrong link or responding to phishing requests for your personal details. You should still be careful, in other words, but by picking iPhone you give yourself a massive security advantage.
iOS vs Android: iOS is more user-friendly
Personally I think iOS is easier and more convenient and enjoyable to use than Android; and it would appear that a lot of my fellow smartphone users agree, since iOS users are on average more loyal to the platform than their Android counterparts. Once people have tried the iPhone they tend to stick with it.
But quality of user experience is hard to quantify. A better way of approaching the idea might be to think about the respective design processes and philosophies behind iOS and Android.
Apple famously builds both software and hardware, enabling it to create a seamless whole. These days the design teams even overlap for greater collaboration, with Apple design guru Sir Jony Ive bringing his minimalist hardware design aesthetic to iOS 7. Every aspect of the iPhone 5, then, has been designed with iOS in mind - not only the current build of iOS but future iterations. In some cases the same people are involved in the design of hardware and software.
Android handsets, on the other hand, are built reactively: hardware and software are designed by separate teams in separate companies (in separate continents, quite often). Expecting the same level of polish would be unrealistic.
(For a more detailed run-down of the features in iOS 7 and the latest version of Android, try Apple iOS 7 vs Google Android Jelly Bean: the biggest mobile OSes compared.)
iOS vs Android: Apple's apps are better
The number of apps on Google Play and the App Store are roughly the same. But while Google has caught up on quantity, it's still miles behind on quality.
Apple 'curates' its store in the sense that developers are obliged to follow stringent rules before getting their software approved for release. (Sometimes, indeed, Apple takes this too far, with its generally admirable stance against distasteful content sometimes leading it into areas that seem politically partisan - or creating a climate in which publishers censor themselves.) This means that everything you'll find on the store has been subject to some degree of quality control.
Now, we're not saying that making it into the App Store is like Nintendo's Seal of Quality; there are still bad apps, and boring apps, and ethically iffy apps, and plagiarised apps (and even a few that tick all four boxes) that make it through the net. But the proportions of these are vastly lower than on Google Play.
Take one example from this week which illustrates both the extra wait Android fans are subjected to, and the dangers they face of downloading something dodgy. As of 29 August 2013, Plants vs Zombies 2 - a very high-demand game - has been available for iOS for a fortnight, but Google Play still hasn't got it. Worse, a dodgy game has appeared on the Google Play store that claims to be Plants vs Zombies 2, but is actually a hoax that is designed to get you to download more apps.
Plants vs Zombies 2: The real thing, only available (at time of writing) on iOS
It's easier to find good apps as an iOS user. And discoverability is no small issue in a store closing in on a million apps. Apps are cheap and numerous, and individual buying decisions are much easier than simply finding the stuff worth considering in the first place.
What's more, quality apps are more likely to appear on iOS that on Android, and if they appear on both they tend to appear first on the Apple App Store. Why? Because on average, Android users are less inclined to pay for apps, which means developers have less incentive to put the effort in. It might seem unfair, but by joining the platform with the more spend-happy consumers, you're earning yourself preferential treatment from software developers.
iOS vs Android: You get what you pay for
A common refrain of Android fans centres on the price differential between Android and iOS handsets, and it's true that iPhones are near the top of the smartphone budgetary scale. It's also true that today's Android handsets are both cheap and beautifully made: sadly, though, to paraphrase an old gag, the handsets that are cheap are not beautifully made and the handsets that are beautifully made are not cheap.
Two of the best Android smartphones are the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z. They're great, and well worth a recommendation. But to call them a budget alternative is misleading: they cost £529 and £520 respectively, compared with £529 for the entry-level iPhone 5.
Equally, it's possible to find an Android phone for less than the equivalent iPhone - the Samsung Galaxy S4 offers a saving of almost £100 - but don't expect the same quality of design.
iOS 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.
iOS vs Android: Your views
That's our view, but we're keen to hear what you think. Send the writer your point of view, whether pro-Apple or pro-Android, on Twitter or in the comments at the bottom of this piece.
Here are some of your thoughts on the iOS vs Android debate:
Well I have to say you are risking a backlash from the Android Fanboys. Luckily for you I'm not one of them… We have plenty of Apple products in our family, a MacBook, an iPad 2 & mini, an iPhone 3GS, 4 & 4S, an Apple TV, numerous iPods, and everything works so well together. marclewis4
Personally I have a Mac Pro, a retina iPad, and an iPhone 5 - the total experience between them is amazing. JimGr
Androids openess is it's flaw, as it is becuase of fragmented hardware all the extra stuff that comes with the open access hardly ever works. [Android fans] bang on about all these features when most of them don't even have the latest Android OS. DaveTheRave137
Problem is, if your comments were true, you wouldn't see iPhone defectors. Several I know are extremely happy S4 owners. @rmagruder
Agree with [the article], and on top of that I also believe Android’s supposed “openness” is misleading. @_mattbrock
Everything.me and SwiftKey blow away iOS. It isn't even a fair fight. Apple's closed ness is dooming it. @Scobleizer