iOS 8 vs Android Lollipop Smackdown

By Chris Mills on at

The two major mobile operating systems have seen some of the biggest updates in years hit in 2014. But with iOS now full of third-party keyboards, and Android with a new lick of paint, the question has to be asked: how do they stack up against each other?

App ecosystem

After core functionality, almost everything you do with your smartphone will be dictated by what apps are available for your operating system of choice. Both Android 5.0 and iOS 8 have the advantage of mature, years-old app stores with untold millions of third-party apps just waiting to be downloaded. For almost every single important app you can care to mention (or want to download, for that matter), there's both an iOS and Android version.

Apple's OS still has one major advantage, though: "Android version coming soon". That's the tagline we see daily on any number of the app pitches that get force-fed through our tips line. It's a reflection on the fact that, while all apps end up on Android eventually, they almost always launch on iOS first. If you're an early adopter of tech, this can be a major consideration. It took months for Uber, for example, to bridge the gap and you wouldn't want to be stranded far from a kebab shop with no way of getting home, after all.

Look and feel

Overall, both iOS 8 and Android Lollipop have fully embraced a more flattened, minimalist design that the skeuomorphism of earlier years. For Android, this is a big departure from previous editions: it's the first time a version of Google's OS has been built under the new regime, 'Material Design'. Many of the fundamental underpinnings are new: an updated typeface, bolder colours and more use of animations all add together to give a completely new, sleeker, more modern user-interface.

For iOS, however, almost nothing is changed in iOS 8. Flat design was introduced in iOS 7 a year ago, and very little has been updated, with Apple's latest operating system retaining the clean, rolling-pin-treated look.

Lockscreen 

Android L brings a new lockscreen, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. Notifications are now big, swipeable bars, in line with the theory of Material Design, and the swipe-unlock actions have been simplified. Android's always had the ability to launch straight into apps, depending on which direction you swiped to unlock; but Lollipop has tightened this up, and you now just have the option to swipe up to unlock, right for the dialler, or left for the camera. That's broadly similar to iOS, where there's an icon that will launch you straight into the camera without having to faff-about with a passcode.

Also notable are the various unlock mechanisms. One of Apple's flagship features is TouchID, which, on a compatible iPhone (5S or upwards), or one of the new iPads, lets you unlock devices with just a fingerprint. Android doesn't have support for a fingerprint scanner baked in, but it does offer facial recognition unlock. From my testing, I've found it to be almost as fast as TouchID, albeit only in good lighting.

Android L also includes the option to unlock devices automatically, based on your location and what Bluetooth devices are connected. This is similar to the 'trusted devices' feature that debuted on the 2013 Moto X, and should be handy for any smartwatch owners.

Notification system 

Android Lollipop sees an overhaul of the notification system, with pop-ups ordered by priority on the home screen, and also pushed to you in a banner form when you have the phone open. Apple hasn't been sleeping, though, and iOS 8 introduces interactive notifications that let you action them (reply/dismiss) straight from the notification. The pull-down notification itself has also seen an overhaul, with apps capable of sticking widgets in there.

Personal assistant

Both Android and IOS now feature voice-command systems that can be activated just by saying a key phrase: either 'OK Google' or 'Hey Siri', depending on the phone. Both work pretty well, and in natural language: so you can ask "what will the weather be like tomorrow in London", and get a coherent (if not entirely accurate) response. Google's replies are, statistically, a little more useful and accurate. Perhaps the biggest difference is that iOS devices have to be connected to a power source to use the 'Hey Siri' feature, something that isn't true of Google's assistant.

Customisation

iOS 8 saw one of the most-demanded features come to Apple's platform: third-party keyboards. You can now download and install all manner of add-on keyboards for iOS: either to replace the stock keyboard with excellent alternatives like Swiftkey or Swype; or to download a GIF keyboard to irritate your mates.

Android, of course, has had this ability for years; indeed, all the keyboard makers who have designed a keyboard for iOS have cut their teeth (and honed the design) for years over on Android's platform.

Android 5.0 still retains the edge in customisation, though: whereas you're stuck with Apple's homescreen and general design on iOS, Android lets you download and install custom launchers or custom app icons, so you can literally tweak to your heart's content.

Smartwatch compatibility

Both Google and Apple have smartwatch ambitions at play. In Google's case, this is via the Android Wear platform, which is already onto its second generation of (stunningly beautiful!) hardware. Apple also has a smartwatch, coming out in the spring, probably for a little more moolah than the Android Wear offerings. Either way, the smartwatches need compatible smartphones in order to work, and guess what? And Android Wear watch will only play nice with a 'droid, and Apple Watches are limited to iPhones. What a surprise.

Cross-platform compatibility

Both companies are also taking a stab at cross-platform compatibility: being able to pick up where you left off with your phone on your desktop. Apple does this through 'continuity', a series of features that make your iOS and OS X devices talk to each other. This means that you can pick up phone calls on your Mac, or check out a webpage you were browsing on your iMac on your iPad. It's a brand-new feature, which only went live with the launch of OS X Yosemite, but thus far, it seems pretty slick.

Although Google only barely has a desktop operating system (Chrome OS), it does have a big share of the desktop-browser market, which lets it execute much of the same functionality. Messages are synced pretty well, provided that you use Google's Hangouts app; and there's even the option to sync SMS and phone calls, thanks to Android apps like MightySMS.