Is the iPhone all that much simpler than Android?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: May 23, 2011

At the close of last week, our own Cam Bunton (of Today's iPhone), asked a simple yet surprising question: is iOS really that much easier? Obviously pitting Apple's mobile platform against that of Google's, it's a question that has plagued the mind of new smartphone buyers and return customers alike for roughly two years now.

As Managing Editor of an iOS tech site, one would assume that Cam was simply sticking up for the aging platform and driving the nail into the casket for Android. Instead, he was actually downing fanboyism and showing that the simplicity of a platform is subject to the individual end user. In reading his question on Friday though, it honestly made me think about the two platforms and how things have drastically changed over the past year.

Most users automatically assume the iPhone platform, or iOS, is much easier to use and to figure out than Android because that is what they have been told. This could probably hold true for someone who has never used a smartphone before. But for someone who has had at least a little knowledge of smartphones, it's fairly obvious they really aren't all that different. Performing an action on one is generally no harder on one platform than it is the other; it's a matter of familiarity and knowing what to look for.

For instance, taking a picture on either an iPhone or an Android phone is about the same in difficulty level. It's as simple as finding the icon that looks like a camera, pointing, and shooting. On the iPhone, finding the camera icon can be difficult if you have six pages of apps and can't remember which folder you stowed it in. On Android, you could have the icon on one of your five home screens or hidden within a folder, too. But there is always the app drawer alternative if you forget where you have placed an icon. The unique benefit of the app drawer is it being in alphabetical order. The camera icon will always be in the same general area – about 1/4 the way down the page. Some Android phones also have dedicated camera buttons, which make it even easier to find.

This scenario could also go for sending a text message, an email, browsing the web, or nearly any action you could perform on either phone. So where does the assumption that the iPhone is generally a more simple device to use come from? This is what Apple tells us and wants us to believe, and for the most part, it has been received as a fact.

However, it boils down to the user interface. Saying that the iPhone's interface is more simple than the several varying Android interfaces is hard to contest. Android's basic interface is made up of multiple home screens that can be filled with icons, shortcuts, folders, and widgets. All of the applications that are installed are viewed in the app drawer. On the other hand, the iPhone's interface is as basic as it can possibly get. It is composed of a varying number of home screens (based on how many icons you have and how much space is needed) that are filled with application icons and folders. Comparing them solely on complexity, the iPhone's interface is more simple, mainly because there are less components involved.

That hardly means it is easier for a newbie to figure out. Setting the wallpaper on iOS requires you to navigate to settings, which is unintuitive. A long press on a blank area of the home screen on Android will prompt you to add or change several components of the home screen, including the wallpaper. What if you download an application that you no longer want? On iOS, uninstalling is as simple as a long press on the undesired icon and tapping the "X" in the upper corner. Removing an application on Android typically requires navigating through a series of setting menus or back to the application's page in Market. There are aspects of each platform that are remarkably simple and also aspects that are severely unintuitive.

Personally, I find a wall of unorganized icons more daunting than widgets and an alphabetized app drawer. I tend to forget where I put applications and have found myself scrolling back and forth a few times before giving up and just searching for the app. The next person may find the app drawer cumbersome and have their application layout perfectly memorized. When push comes to shove, neither platform is "better" or "simpler."

If you are having a hard time choosing between the two platforms, my suggestion is to get some hands-on time with them instead of listening to friends who may be biased or watching YouTube videos. Head to the local wireless store and play with both. Also, I would recommend trying a Windows Phone 7 device, as they are often commended for their unmatched simplicity.

The battle for the best and most simple mobile operating system is one that will go on for some time to come, but no single platform will ever take home the crown. Every little aspect of each is subject to preference. Every platform will always have their high and low points. It's up to you, the end user, to figure out which one works the best for you. Oh, it's also good to remember that just because you like one platform doesn't mean you should hate all others. Fanboyism of any kind is frowned upon, folks.

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