Things you can do on an Android that you can't do on Apple - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Things you can do on an Android that you can’t do on Apple

There are clear advantages to owning an iPhone or iPad over an equivalent Android device. These include build quality (though with the latest offerings from Samsung–the Galaxy S5, the HTC One, the Nexus 5–this gap is narrowing), seamless integration of apps with the operating system and the startlingly clear Retina display. There is one clear advantage to owning an Android device, however: The open nature of Google’s OS allows you to do things on your Android that you simply can’t do on an iPhone.

Advantage one

And it is this fact which makes Android the platform of choice for those who want a phone that does things the way one wants to do them, to completely change the user interface, to root the device (remove the OS entirely and replace it with a wide array of Android based free, custom built operating systems which add new and valuable capabilities to the device, such as hot-spot tethering (creating a WiFi connection with your phone to your laptop or tablet giving you access to the Internet), and controlling one’s PC from the phone or tablet.

wifitether-nexusone-5On an iPhone or iPad, you can interact with the user interface any way you please, as long as you do it Apple’s way. Fortunately, this way is both elegant, intuitive and simple.

But a surprisingly large number of Android owners have completely changed the interface and added these capabilities through rooting (though this process voids the warranty and can, if not done correctly, completely disable the phone).

Advantage two

The next advantage Android bestows upon its users is a larger screen, a common feature shared by most of the newer models. The iPhone 5S and 5C reflect Apple’s philosophy on screen size. They are absolutely committed to the phone fitting comfortably into one hand, and to one-hand operation. Informed rumors of changes coming in the iPhone 6 series both confirm Apple’s concern that its current four-inch screen is too small and that they are aware that they are losing potential buyers to those simply seeking a larger screen as people begin using them for serious work.

iphone_6The iPhone 6 is variously projected to have a 4.7-inch screen to a five-inch screen to a less credible projected “Pro version” with a phablet sized six-inch screen. This might not sound like much but the real estate gained is tremendous.

Remember that the iPad Mini is just over seven inches, and you get an idea of the size of this beast, which would compete with the unexpectedly popular Samsung Galaxy Note ( surely you’ve seen a few of these huge, faintly ridiculous looking large phones) are great for serious work but are barely pocketable and require two-handed operation.

Apple has a policy of never commenting on new devices till they are officially released, so these rumors are impossible to confirm or dismiss, but personally I don’t believe Apple would ever release a phablet; it just strays too far from Apple’s policy of making incremental. Not game changing, alterations to existing lines of devices. I do credit the rumors that they are moving toward a five-inch screen, maybe permitting one-handed operation by retaining narrowness through the elimination of the bezel around the screen entirely.

But the competition has larger screens and it’s indisputable that this enhances the user experience, in everything from web browsing to viewing videos and photos to reading books and magazines. That Apple will respond with a larger screen size is nearly indisputable, as the 5 series increased screen size from 3.5 inches in the 4S to four inches.

But you can bet Apple will find a way to increase screen size without losing one handed operability.

But large screen sizes are now common on Android, and Samsung, Apple’s chief competitor, has proved through its success that this is a desirable feature.

Advantage three

Thirdly, the Android home screen is infinitely customizable, even without rooting the device. There is a whole category of Android apps called launchers, a term unknown in the world of iOS. These range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Those who suffer from iPhone envy can obtain launchers which exactly mimic the iPhone user interface. They can also mimic the Windows phone interface, but only 2.3 percent of the market has chosen Windows phones, so maybe people are installing this launcher for a laugh.

android-customized-homescreenLaunchers are more accurately termed home screen replacements. Plain vanilla Android launch screens are almost identical to iPhones, although you get five of them out of the box, to which you can add your favorite and most used apps to each, as well as widgets, which provide you with information relevant to your needs in windows and scrolling bars, such as weather, stock prices, social media updates and new post alerts, etc. The list is nearly endless.

Launchers are a fast growing category of Android apps, that they replace your home screen backgrounds with the image you choose; that the most sophisticated new-to-market ones present your most used apps in transparent windows, categorized by function; that some employ data feeds from Google Now, so that when you arrive at work you’re notified of scheduled meetings or to- do lists; and that they change everything from your home screen to the icons of your apps.

I have an Android phone, have tried many launchers, but find I prefer the unaltered, vanilla Android user interface, which is so close to the iPhone’s as to make very little difference. It should be noted that many Android manufacturers provide their own overlay to the stock Android experience, such as Samsung’s Touchwiz, along with device-specific apps that you don’t really want and can’t remove without rooting your phone.

These are becoming more rare and less intrusive however, as companies begin to realize that people would either rather customize the user interface to their own individual preferences, or go with Android’s simple, iOS- like start screen.

Gamechanger

An app called Tasker really illustrates the difference between iOS and Android. It is an app that has no equivalent in the Apple ecosystem, and which makes your phone infinitely smarter. It does this by automating everything you want it to do. It detects what you want it to do using a variety of triggers. These include the simple act of launching an app, a time of day, arriving at work, nearly any event you can think of. It has more than 200 built- in functions, and if that’s too few you can download additional plugins.

android-automationSome of the automated functions include, and here I quote from the review published online by BGR, ”Send a text to your husband when you get to the gym. Shoot a message via Whatsapp to your wife 30 minutes before she’s to leave for the gym to remind her. Change your ringer settings and dim your display when you get to your favorite movie theater. Open Google Maps when your Bluetooth connects to your car’s infotainment system. Email your location to a client when you arrive at a meeting location.”

And so many more.

Change your wallpaper and launch a chosen app when a specific person calls. Make your phone flash and sound a chosen alarm when your news apps issue a new post. Have your phone connect to your work LAN to wake your computer when you arrive in the parking lot. Sound an alarm when you exceed 25 miles an hour in your car. This list contains a very few of the built-in commands you can scroll through and activate with a keypress. In fact it can perform automatically any chore you can think of, and is only $2.95 from the Play Store. Again, Apple has nothing like it.

Mission impossible

In fact Apple is so specific in its rules governing the way its apps must be written not to interfere with each other that it would be impossible to even write such an app for the iPhone. This is an example of a perceived strength of the iPhone OS and alleged flaw in Android that clever programmers have exploited. And in so doing they have come up with a super intelligent, almost infinitely powerful app that puts the lie to Apple’s claim of technological superiority achieved through rigid rules governing the behavior of apps it provides through the iTunes App store.

iTunes_android_syncYes the best apps appear first on iTunes, and Android versions, when they do appear, often lack the elegance of design or certain features found in the iOS version, but Android strikes back occasionally with amazing apps that make them so much smarter than out of the box, not to mention leaving Apple in the dust.

Many are happy to live in Apple’s well curated, well stocked, well behaved ecosystem of apps, and indeed this is plenty for most of the tasks you would wish to perform on your smartphone. Also, the Play Store is not rigidly curated and proportionally there are a lot more junk apps there than in iTunes. But that freedom granted developers of Android apps sometimes results in sheer genius.

More plusses

Other advantages Android enjoys is that when connected to a PC the phone or tablet is recognized as a USB storage device and you can copy downloaded media such as videos, photos and music just as you would from an outboard hard drive. To accomplish the same thing Apple forces you to jump through hoops navigating the iTunes interface, which makes it much easier to load media onto your phone than reverse direction and copy your phone’s files to your computer.

Many Android phones come with slots for the insertion of cheap storage in the form of micro SD cards, which run about $30 for 32 gigabytes or $45 for 64 gigabytes. Compare this to the $200 premium you pay for bumping up the storage space on your new iPhone from 16 gigabytes to 64. Advantage Android.

Many choices

And one last clear advantage. You can find, due to the wealth of manufacturers, an Android in your price range in just about any size, technical specification, or form factor you please. Until Apple releases its new iPhone 6, probably in the third quarter of this year, you have exactly two models of iPhone to choose from–the poorly selling iPhone 5C or the popular but pricey iPhone 5S, the latter of which runs from a subsidized price of $299 for 16 gigabytes to more than $400 for 64 gigabytes.

Android-Phones-in-India-under-11000It sounds as though I’m on team Android. Ideally, I’d like one of each. If I had to choose and price were no object I’d wait it out till this summer and buy the new iPhone 6. I know I’ve described wonderful things an Android can do that iPhones can’t. But those qualities I mentioned at the beginning, sterling high-quality build, simple interface, mostly better apps, make me long for an iPhone.

Leave the tinkering, rooting, customizing etc. to those who enjoy it. I’m happy to have the highest quality phone money can buy if I’m careful with my money and can fit it into my budget later in the year. In this case, I’m happy to live in Apple’s world and leave the driving to others. Just because I can see the appeal of such tinkering to other, and write about same, doesn’t mean I enjoy it myself.

If this sounds like it contradicts the main thrust of this article, keep in mind this one aphorism from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”


About the author

Paul Croke

Paul Croke, former newspaper editor and longtime Washington DC area freelance writer, has loved gadgets and consumer electronics since he saw his first Dick Tracy watch. He writes about consumer technology. Contact the author.
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