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Among the smartphones available today, the Samsung Galaxy S III and the iPhone 5 sit at the top of many wish lists.
Both of them are the best-available iPhone and Android phone, respectively. But how do you choose whether to buy an Android smartphone or an iPhone?
The truth is, the differences aren’t all that significant, short of access to a few applications per device. You’ll find the mission-critical apps like Facebook and Google Maps on both. Case-in-point: Google held a major advantage on Android with a superior Maps application, but that was released for the iPhone just yesterday. When it comes to major apps, the line between Android and iPhone is starting to blur rapidly.
When deciding on which smartphone to buy, be sure to check out the Digits guide to picking a smartphone. As earlier indicated, the most important choice initially is your carrier, which will determine the availability of certain smartphones. That being said, there’s a healthy availability of Android smartphones and iPhones on most major carriers.
While the operating systems are similar, there are some differences, and it’s important to know the most significant ones when picking an ecosystem. Once you select a platform and start buying apps, you are more or less locked in — meaning switching from iPhone to Android will require you to purchase apps again in the Google Play store, and vise versa for the Apple App store.
Here are some of the biggest differences between the two. Choose wisely:
The biggest advantage the iPhone has over Android phones is its massive app ecosystem. It was the first major App Store, and as a result most developers will opt to build their applications for the iPhone before any device. For example, Instagram was available only on the iPhone for a very long time, and Facebook redesigned its app for the iPhone before finally upgrading the Android application. Apple said during its last earnings presentation that it had more than 700,000 apps on the App Store.
The iPhone has very deep integration with Twitter and Facebook, making it easy to post status updates to either from directly within the operating system without having to dig too deep into the customization of the app.
Apple also has some iPhone-specific apps, like Passbook — which a lot of major app developers, like mobile payments company Square, have chosen to support — that removes day-to-day annoyances like carrying around gift certificates and boarding passes. It takes some time to set up and is still limited for now, but the upside is huge.
Most importantly, the user experience is locked down. That means there isn’t a lot of significant modification you can make to the experience, such as changing the keyboard. But for the non-tech savvy crowd or those not looking for a lot of customization, this can be a plus, because Apple does know what it’s doing when it comes to user experience. You will know exactly what you are getting.
The first thing you will notice when shopping for an Android smartphone is the massive hardware selection. It can be daunting, given that there are many major smartphone manufacturers, and all of them have an exceptionally good Android smartphone. The go-to options will be the Samsung Galaxy S III or the Nexus 4, depending on your situation, but there is a wide array of cheaper Android phones (check out our guide to picking a smartphone for the best option).
In addition, Android phones are highly customizable. For example, one of the top apps on the Google Play app store is an app called SwiftKey, which modifies your Android smartphone’s keyboard, making it easier to type by predicting your next word after synchronizing with your Google and Facebook accounts among others. The possibilities of tweaking the Android ecosystem are nearly endless.
You’ll also find unique apps you won’t find on the Apple App Store. While the converse is true for the Apple App Store because many developers consider it a first option, but realistically Apple will likely not approve a lot of the more fringe-level apps on the Google Play store: For example, SwiftKey, or apps that emulate older gaming consoles. It gives your Android smartphone a little more functionality at the cost of being more complicated.
Google’s app store has also caught up to Apple’s in size. In October, Google Play said it also had more than 700,000 apps.
The user experience will be more varied depending on the smartphone you pick, as most major manufacturers have their own custom skin on the device. For example, the Nexus 4 is a stripped-down pure Android experience managed by Google, while the Samsung Galaxy S III has some Samsung flair to it.
That being said, because of the massive number of phones and proliferation of technology, apps likely won’t come to Android devices first if they aren’t launching at the same time on the Apple App Store. It will also take some time to learn your way around an Android smartphone, because of how deep the customization options are.
The two other major smartphone platforms — Windows Phone and BlackBerry — also have individual perks, but realistically it is too early to call whether they will be successful because they haven’t reached the level of app proliferation of Android smartphones and the iPhone. You can check out the Digits guide to smartphones for the individual advantages of those two platforms, but in short, the best option might be to hold off on buying these phones.