Why Arguing the Toss Between Android and iPhone Makes You More Similar Than Different

By Stuart Houghton on at

The launch of Instagram for Android brought a well-lit, sepia-toned smile to the faces of the many amateur snappers who have Android smartphones. But it also stirred up some unpleasant sentiments among the photo app's iOS-using old school. In tweets, Facebook posts and forum rants, certain members of the iOS community reacted to the launch of an Android app like Nick Griffin watching a reggae sound system pitch up in his neighbour's back garden.

From the offensive ("Android user? Don’t follow me please.") to the actually quite funny ("Oh, great. Instagram is now available for Android phones. Now I'm going to be forced to see what poor people eat for dinner,") many of the comments and tweets had a whiff of snobbery about them. The message was clear -- not only was the iPhone better than any Android phone, so were iPhone owners better than their rivals.

Here at Giz UK, we are no strangers to flamewars. Gadget geek rivalries are as old as the spirit of invention, stretching back through the console wars that pitted (Xbox) friend against (PlayStation) friend to when ZX Spectrum fans rumbled with Commodore 64 owners in scenes resembling the 1979 Walter Hill film The Warriors, and into the pitched street battles that settled the VHS vs Betamax argument once and for all.* We have little doubt that the early adopters of the Wheel were jeered at in sarcastic parchment missives by fans of "old school" sleds pulled by donkeys.

[*note, some of this might not have happened]

Despite all this, the strength of the reaction to Instagram for Android took us by surprise. What motivates someone to be so determinedly anti a mobile phone OS that they would go out of their way to insult people who use it? Is it just a case of "someone is wrong on the Internet!," or is there more to it?

The Gizmodo UK comments have, shall we say, one or two people who feel quite strongly about technology. We spoke to two of them whom you might know from the site's comments fields -- Taf, an iPhone user since the 2G, and Darrell who has been an Android fan since 2008, when he attended the UK launch of the T-Mobile G1.

First of all, what is it about their chosen OS that appeals so much? For Taf it is iOS' simplicity: "iOS is so easy to use, anyone of any age can use it. My 1 year old plays with it and my dad who has never used a computer in his life can use an iPad!" while Darell loves both the customisability of Android ("my phone is my phone!") and the deep Google integration.

Both Taf and Darrell are adults who have jobs and personal lives and while we haven't checked in person, we are fairly sure they don't having blazing rows about mobile OS App distribution preferences at the breakfast table. Yet they -- like many other readers -- are not shy about getting into arguments about their phones. What motivates a person to stick their neck out online and argue the toss on behalf of a multinational corporation?

"I speak my mind!" says Taf, "That's just me. I only tend to comment if the subject catches my attention, or just for a bit of banter. Comments are sometimes taken out of context, but then again sometimes they are made to get a reaction from the other side."

Darrell says he sometimes reacts to a perceived bias against his chosen OS: "I used to get angry, very much in the "someone is wrong on the Internet!" mould about articles on [our American older brother] Gizmodo.com that I perceived as containing blatant anti-Android bias, as a result of which I have been banned from there 3 or 4 times."

"Giz UK is a hell of a lot better and maybe I've also grown up a bit and -- after all -- Android has already beaten all other phone OS', so why get heated when the losers get upset?" he adds with a (virtual) grin.

One notable aspect of the Android/iPhone beef is how it seems to have extended beyond the geeky borders of similar disputes and into the 'real' world. Gamers arguing about which console can throw the most polygons or petrol heads fighting over the best make of clutch pedal (or whatever it is THOSE guys argue about) are one thing, but mobile phones are used by practically everyone. Which is why a quick Twitter search for #TeamAndroid and #TeamiPhone gives such a broad cross-section of people. A smartphone is not a cheap device, but it is an affordable object of desire for many people, and it is no surprise that the marketers trying to flog phones have learned to exploit their potential as lifestyle accessories or status signifiers as well as useful gadgets.

Whatever your opinion of the iPhone as a smartphone, it is difficult to deny that it is a remarkably well presented brand -- something that no Android manufacturer has really nailed as yet, despite some sterling efforts from HTC, Samsung and Sony, among others. Because a phone can be an expensive buy, it has become a status symbol and something that many people are prepared to see as an extension of their personality.

The net is awash with surveys claiming that one mobile brand or another signifies optimismbetter decision-making skills, and even promiscuity, but one thing that struck us when talking to Taf and Darrell is how similar they both are.

They are both intelligent and articulate -- which is why we spoke to them in particular -- but more than that they have a genuine interest in mobile technology and are enthusiastic about its benefits. Both are able to see some good points in rival mobiles and acknowledge problems in their own. "The big thing that I would like to see Android have that iOS has," says Darrell, "is timely updates." Taf admits he jailbreaks his iOS devices to get around the restrictions that Apple places on the OS, although he understands why they are there in the first place. Could it be that the reason people get so fired up about their mobiles is because they feel so attached to them, and that they are such a big part of their lives?

Both Taf and Darrell conform to the stereotypical image of an iOS or Android user in some ways. Darrell is a Linux user who is attracted by the open source and 'free' (as in freedom) nature of Android and enjoys tinkering and customising where he can. Taf has strong opinions on the look and feel of iOS versus rival operating systems as well as seeing the benefits of Apple's more tightly-controlled approach. In both cases however, these stereotypes are only part of the story. They really do seem to have more in common than what sets them apart. A choice of mobile OS is a good way to express certain parts of your personality, perhaps, but it is not your entire personality.

There is no escaping the fact that choosing which brand of smartphone you will buy is a nice problem to have. A smartphone is, by the standards of most human beings who have ever lived, a miraculous device capable of scarcely believable feats. Even the dumbest of dumbphones will let you talk to people on the other side of the planet; a feat that was unimaginable for most of human history and is still prohibitively expensive in some parts of the world.

You live in a magical, fantastical time. You not only have a means of near-universal communication and limitless knowledge that is several orders of magnitude more powerful than the computer used to coordinate the moon landings *in your pocket,* but you can also use it to play Angry Birds Space.

When seen from that remove, the differences between an iPhone 4S and a ZTE Skate no longer seem quite so profound. Or do they?

Do you have an urge to throw down and fight for your mobile phone brand? Do you think users of inferior gadgets deserve pity, insults or perhaps 're-education' in walled camps? Let us know just how far you are prepared to go in the comments. We don't want to know which mobile OS is best, though. We already know that it is [REDACTED TO PREVENT SERVER MELTDOWN].

Image Credit: Giz Au