Android Mobile? iPhone?

When we think of androids, the first vision that comes to mind is R2D2 the spunky little droid from Star Wars.

Now, with the release of Google’s Android OS, it is possible to have your own droid, right in the palm of your hand. It has over 70,000 apps available for download. The Android operating system is currently being used in mobile phones and tablets by different manufacturers. Among them are Acer, Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG, T-Mobile and Sony Ericsson. More and more are joining the bandwagon; it would lead us to think that this is the one mobile OS to rule them all. It may seem that way, but alas, for many the issue is not that clear cut. As ObiWan said, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”, or are they?

You have to love code names that developers use — they often stick and become a part of the nomenclature. Developers of the Android OS came up with a dessert code name for each of the versions; you can tell somebody’s got a sweet tooth! The technology was first released in 2009 — the Android 1.5 — or fondly called the Cupcake. Phones running on Cupcake let you record and watch videos in camcorder mode, which you can easily upload to YouTube. It also has Bluetooth connectivity, Picasa photo upload, keyboard support with text prediction and animated screen transitions. The high calorie diet continues with upgrades dubbed Donut, Éclair and Froyo.

The latest version is Android 3.0, or Gingerbread. Gingerbread has improved copy-paste functions and improved social networking features, and it supports WebM video playback with a total overhaul of user interface and animations to rival iPhone OS 4.0. The addition of Google Talk and the ability to receive and make calls on Google Talk over a WiFi connection is an answer to iPhone 4.0’s Facetime. It also packs link capabilities to Google TV and enhanced video and chat options.

So how does a phone with Android compare with the iPhone? It is important to note that while the iPhone is only available from Apple, Android phones come from many manufacturers, so all features may or may not be available in different models.

For many users, Web browsing will be the biggest point of comparison. While Apple, under the always opinionated watch of Steve Jobs, has eschewed Flash support on the iPhone, it has been supported and embraced by the Android community. So the frustration of not being able to browse Flash-enabled sites is not an issue on an Android phone. That alone makes many people pass on the iPhone.

As expected, the user interface is not as refined on Android phones. After all, nobody does UI like Apple does UI, but many of the base features and benefits found on the iPhone are there. A robust, more open App store, superb connectivity to desktop computers, multi-tasking, and super integration to Google.

Other than the refinement of the operating system, Apple’s entertainment tools through iTunes is a far more developed but less open concept. If you like iTunes and are happy with the DRM (Digital Rights Management) rules as practiced by Apple, you can’t beat the entertainment tools on the iPhone.

You can expect more “open” functionality. While apps like Skype are available on both platforms, Apple’s history suggests that you will see less applications that compete with a “core” function of the iPhone.

One thing you can be sure of is as soon as you choose a phone, the Empire will strike back. The other guy will jump up and offer something new. Something cheaper and better than you currently have. But patience is a virtue, as we can expect the competition to cause all the major smartphone makers to leapfrog each other in a continual march towards market dominance. A destination I am sure none will ever truly arrive at.

Steve DobbsSteve Dotto is Canada’s most respected geek. For over 15 years, as host and executive producer of Dotto Tech, a nationally syndicated TV show, Steve has entertained and educated millions of Canadians on all aspects of technology. Steve has a passion for understanding the social impact of technology. His DVD Cybersafe with Steve Dotto , teaches parents and caregivers about the opportunities, dangers and challenges of social networking.