Apple iOS 7 full review
What will be the best smartphone operating system in 2014: iOS 7 or Google Android? Here's our comparison review of iOS 7 and Google Android Jelly Bean.
iOS 7 is expected to launch on 10 September alongside the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C (although none of this has been officially confirmed). While we wait for iOS 7 to launch, however, it's possible to compare the features and design concepts Apple has unveiled already with those of iOS's main rival, Google Android.
(Inevitably, there's an element of speculation: bear in mind that iOS 7 hasn't been finalised yet. We think iOS 7 beta 6 - which has been available to developers for a fortnight - is very close to the final edition, mind you, but further changes are still possible before launch.)
In this comparison review we look at the respective advantages and disadvantages of iOS 7 and the latest version of Android, Jelly Bean.
iOS 7's interface (left to right): Weather, Control Centre, Safari
iOS 7 vs Android: Visual design
Visuals are a matter of personal taste, of course, but Apple fans who've got used to iOS's look will have to cope with some big changes when iOS 7 launches. Apple has turfed out the skeuomorphic elements (the quasi-realistic graphics that make digital diaries, for instance, have 'ring binders' and 'ripped-off pages') and come up with something far more modern.
The Notes app in iOS 6 (left) and an early beta of iOS 7 (right) illustrates how radical a visual shake-up we can expect
It's likely to divide opinion. We rather like it - iOS 6's yellow paper and green felt were starting to look a bit tired. And in any case users are likely to grow accustomed to the appearance of iOS 7 after a while.
Android is far more variable, and more customisable too. Some handset manufacturers, such as HTC and Samsung, will put their own overlay on to the interface. And you can add widgets to the 'desktop' of an Android phone.
We prefer iOS 7's default look (as of iOS 7 beta 6, at any rate) but Android offers the potential to customise the look of your smartphone's interface more.
Android Jelly Bean running on an Xperia Z
iOS 7 vs Android: Ease of use
We've discussed this elsewhere, but Apple's ease of use is legendary for a reason: the company designs both hardware and software, meaning the two are beautifully interlinked. Android, on the other hand, will be run on dozens of entirely different smartphones by many different manufacturers.
The result is that iOS users tend to be more loyal than Android fans - they try it, they like it, they stick with it.
iOS 7 vs Android: Security
Another area of strength for iOS. Apple pursues a 'closed ecosystem' approach, exerting an almost obsessive degree of control over what users can do with their devices, and how much third-party software developers can affect the user experience. Some users dislike this approach on principle, and it can also mean Apple is slower to add cutting edge features, but one side effect is that security is almost watertight. (Almost! Don't get complacent.)
A US government report in July found that 79 percent of mobile malware threats were aimed at Android, while 19 percent were for Symbian (the operating system used on older Nokia phones). Just 0.7 percent of threats were focused on iOS. The main danger for iPhone users can be summed up as 'human error' issues - you have to be fooled into clicking the wrong link or responding to phishing requests for personal details. You should still be careful, in other words, but by picking iPhone you give yourself a massive security advantage.
However, since we're talking specifically about Jelly Bean, it's worth mentioning that Android would be safer if users were better at regularly updating to the latest version, allowing Google to plug discovered flaws.
iOS 7, too, will include fixes for the flaws discovered since iOS 6 launched. But most of these will have been pushed out throughout the year, and most iOS users will have updated when these appeared.
One final point: iOS 7's automatic app updates has received a mixed reception (we find the idea a bit alarming, to be honest - sometimes developers update an app in a way that makes it less enjoyable or effective, and we'd like to be able to pick and choose when we update) but should ensure that fixes and patches get out to users faster. That means even more 'herd immunity' for the iPhone crowd.
iOS 7 vs Android: Apps
For a while Apple had an App Store that non one else could match for quantity or quality; Google Android has caught up on the former, but is still way behind on the latter. Apple's developers are obliged to follow stringent rules before getting their software approved for release, which means everything you'll find on the store has been subject to some degree of quality control. Google Play is much less strict, and there are consequently more junk apps.
What's more, quality apps are more likely to appear on iOS than on Android, and if they appear on both they tend to appear first on the Apple App Store, for boring financial reasons that are unlikely to change in the short to medium term.
However, iOS 7's launch in September could cause some disruption for app developers. Developers have had access to the beta editions of iOS 7 for a couple of months now, so most will have worked out how to make their apps work within the platform, but there will still be bugs; a few older apps - ones that aren't really a commercial concern any more - may simply stop working when you update to iOS 7, which is one more reason to wait for a few days before jumping in. Others will be made redundant by new features being built into iOS 7 (although that's no skin off your nose, of course) and nearly everyone is likely to revamp the look of their app to fit in with iOS 7's radical new visual style.
iOS 7 vs Android: New features
We've mostly looked at iOS's strong suits so far, but now we get to Android's home territory: features. Take Control Centre, for instance: it's one of the new features in iOS 7 that we're most looking forward to, but Android users have had essentially the same functionality for ages.
A major feature added to the Jelly Bean edition of Google Android was called Google Now: a selection of 'cards' which appear onscreen to give you the information you want before you ask for it (in theory). Traffic information before you leave home in the morning, reminders of appointments and so on. But iPhone owners can download a Google app that replicates some of Now's functions.
Google Now, in Android Jelly Bean
In turn, iOS 7's Notification Centre adds further Google Now-esque functions by adding tabs that can, for instance, give you a weather forecast on the 'today' tab.
And what about AirDrop? This new iOS 7 feature will let two iPhone owners, for instance, create a wireless connection and transfer files easily. Compatibility is limited (you'll need to have one of the current generation of iDevices to use AirDrop, or the newer iPhones we expect to launch alongside iOS 7) but this is a great option to have.
But Android hits back with NFC, which is often rumoured for an iOS update but has yet to appear. NFC depends on hardware support, and not all Android-based smartphone hardware is NFC-compatible, but for Android phones that are, it allows for easy transfers of small files (as well as making payments, in theory, although few outlets offer this service in the UK at the moment).
Additional reporting by Jim Martin.