iOS and Android have been battling it out for almost a decade.
In that time, they have each developed their own design systems and direction. Each have significant user experience research resources at their disposal. Therefore, you would expect them to have come to implement similar systems. This is not the case, and the mobile operating systems having multiple differences in every aspect. From the operating system to the apps, iOS and Android both have their own way of implementing the same featureset. This poses the question: which has the better UX? Is it simply a case of them differentiating from each other, or do both sides truly believe that their solution is better than the other?
In this article we’re going to break down and analyze each aspect of the two mobile operating systems. We’ll declare a winner for each category and conclude with which of the two has the overall better user experience.
Unlocking is a difficult aspect to analyze for Android. As it’s the operating system for a number of different devices, there are a wide range of ways to unlock the device. Samsung offers the likes of an iris scanner, though with inconsistent reviews and results. Then there are fingerprint scanners and pattern unlocks and so on. There’s a real lack of consistency here due to the nature of Android and – apart from the Pixel line – its general lack of control over hardware.
iOS is far simpler. For newer devices, it’s unlocked using either a fingerprint scanner or Face ID. The fingerprint scanner is now at a point where it’s incredibly fast and convenient to use. Face ID looks to take this a step further, seeming to create a near-perfect user experience. No input will be required from the user and unlocking will become a thing of the past as far as the user is concerned. It will all occur automatically and in the background.
OS user interface
The operating system user interface contains aspects such as the app drawer, icons, controls, and notifications. For Android, the issue once again is consistency. The stock Android issued on phones like the Pixel, Nexus, and Moto lines, is impressive but does not show the whole picture. Just 0.2% of devices currently run on the latest OS, Android Oreo. This means 99.8% of devices in circulation are using outdated software with differing user interface designs, skins, and features.
Overall, Android and iOS are very similar in terms of the OS user interface itself. They both use similar approaches for displaying notifications, accessing apps, and navigating the OS. Its iOS’s consistency across its entire ecosystem that makes it the winner here. You can switch from a 10-year-old iPhone 2G to an iPhone 8, and there is incredible consistency in how the operating system is used. With Android’s bitty releases, carrier bloatware, and manufacturer skins, it varies considerably from one device to another.
Back, home, and multitasking
Apple’s solution with the iPhone X is a simple swipe up from the bottom to return home. Holding this swipe halfway will allow access to multitasking. Back navigation is contained within the apps only. While this will initially require a learning curve, it’s likely to become second-nature to most users. It’s simple and doesn’t use an ambiguous back icon like Android.
The main differences between the two operating systems’ navigations is the placement and the use of a hamburger. Android uses a hamburger icon for secondary items and actions. The keeps the interface clean of any less important items and compiles them all into one consistent place. The primary navigation is situated as tabs at the top of the screen. It tends to use large written labels for each tab. It’s easy to understand and makes sense in terms of visual hierarchy.
iOS tends to add a tab titled ‘More’ in their approach to secondary items. Primary items are displayed in a tab bar at the bottom of the screen, making it easier to reach when holding a mobile device. However, the icons tend to be inconsistent and can sometimes be ambiguous. The text labels are also small and the ‘More’ tab feels more of an afterthought than Android’s hamburger approach.
Floating Action Button (FAB)
This is the primary circular button that is found in most Android apps. It’s typically brightly colored and situated in the bottom right of the screen, as in the example below. It warrants its own section since it is one of the most defining user experience aspects in Android. It adds considerable value to the operating system, making it incredibly simple to conduct tasks within apps. Whether it’s uploading, composing, or tweeting, the FAB calls for your attention at all times.
iOS doesn’t even come close to such an effective approach. It often relies on an unassuming icon in the title bar. It’s really missing out on a key component which improves the user experience of almost any mobile application.
While visual are typically considered to be separate to user experience, the reality is they make a significant impact. Android’s approach is highly visual with plenty of differentiation of elements through depth, color, and contrast.
A design system is incredibly important. It allows for greater consistency from designers and developers, producing an overall more cohesive experience. Android’s Material Design is both comprehensive and a pleasure to use. If offers detail on every aspect and provides resources like icons which can then be used across all app designs.
Source: Material Design
iOS lacks this comprehensiveness and leaves much more open to interpretation, including icons. While this can produce some exciting and highly visual results, it can also lead to the opposite where apps aren’t quite up to standard. It also means a lack of consistency between designs.
It’s is a pretty even split with iOS being a clear winner in terms of the operating system user interface. Android achieves the same result but in the app design category. Overall, if we are comparing the best each has to offer then Android comes out on top. Apps are the main component of a mobile operating system, and those with the best user experience are going to be the most natural to use.
Overall Winner: Android
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