July 3, 2010

Android's Froyo vs Apple's iOS4

It's a tricky proposition to compare these software platforms without discussing the real devices but let us give it a try! Both platforms carry major improvements in their latest releases and are rapidly emerging as 2 poles in the Smart Phone OS battle.

Lest the fanboys flame me, lets start with what iOS4 is good at. User experience and improved power management come to mind. The camera app has received great reviews, specially the digital zoom and tap-to-focus features of the video capture. The unified e-mail inbox is a very good idea and Android lacks it. Since iPads also would be getting an iOS4 update later this year, the iBooks app is a good one too. Stacking up apps into folders is a neat idea. But the user has to now remember where a certain app has been stored.

The iOS4 has at long last added multitasking support. But hang on, that's just a headline. It allows 3rd party apps to push certain kind of (mostly Audio, GPS and VoIP related) apps into background. That's about it. So you can listen to music and send text or e-mail but you cannot do either of those if you are buffering a Youtube video. This pales in comparison to what Android has to offer. All in all, I think iOS4 is a decent improvement over its predecessor, but doesn't quite get the multi-tasking part going still (and covers it up saying that "full" multitasking drains battery power).

Coming to Froyo, the first impression I got running it on my Nexus one was - Froyo is fast, thanks to JIT compilation. Even the browser has quickened up. Also the soft "call key" is a good addition, however I still believe hard keys do the job better. It is good that Froyo is Flash 10.1 enabled, something which iOS4 discarded outright citing security and speed concerns. There is a new media framework, called StageFright, used for streaming and it may eventually replace the existing OpenCore. Froyo also allows us to install apps on the SD card and thereby save space on the phone memory.

The USB and Wifi tethering are both great (and geeky) ideas but penalize the battery. Froyo's Media Player is still disappointing as is the power management and hence battery performance. FM radio is still not enabled. There aren't many compelling multimedia applications (video editor for example) on Froyo and with devices with large screen sizes, multimedia should be an area to address. In terms of user experience, Froyo still has some work to do and it is good that Gingerbread - the next version- is focusing on user experience.

Given that both platforms have specific concerns to address, I think it is a tie! I hope Gingerbread would give Android a definitive edge and it is about time Google improved Android's Market place experience as well.

P.S.: It seems that Froyo would be "the" Android distro for slightly lower end Android devices and Gingerbread would find a place in higher end ones. We need to watch how this pans out in terms of App development, App portability across devices and device software upgrades. Watch this for more info.