It may seem like an eternity but modern smartphones have only been around since 2007, when the original iPhone came out. The sleek, beautiful device was an instant hit, but what really set it apart was the operating system, then called iPhone OS. The OS was simple, easy to use and beautiful, and the arrival of the App Store in 2008 established it as the best phone OS by a long shot. When Android came out in 2008 it was obvious that Google’s OS was nothing more than an experimental half-baked mess. Only with the arrival of Android 2.2 (Froyo) in 2010 did the operating system became a competitor to Apple.
There was a clear divergence of approach between Android and iPhone OS, now known simply as iOS. Apple’s OS was a walled garden, with a sleek design and responsive interface while Google offered a highly customizable OS that allowed phone makers and users to tweak the OS to their specifications. iOS lacked proper notifications and useful widgets but Android was clunky, unstable and really ugly. Gradually though both companies began to chip away at the other’s advantages with regular updates to their OS.
iOS 8 and Lollipop
This year though Google and Apple took some bold steps with Android Lollipop and iOS 8. Both systems, it seemed, were designed to close the gap with the competitor and shut up detractors. The tables are turned when it comes to features. While Lollipop is all about refining existing functionality, iOS 8 takes major steps forward.
In terms of design, Apple hasn’t strayed far away from the flat design it debuted with iOS 7 last year, but Google has come out with a swanky new design language it calls "Material Design."
Comparing Android 5.0 and iOS 8 is a huge surprise, because for the first time in Android history it has become more design focused than iOS. The ugly duckling is finally a swan. Its design is both visual, instructional and altogether more ambitious. While the flat design introduced with iOS 7 is very pretty, Material Design blends form with function better.
iOS 8 helps Apple take a giant leap when it comes to notifications something that has been Android’s forte for a long time. iOS 8 replaces annoying pop-ups with more discreet notifications. The notifications are also now actionable like in Android (for example, you can reply directly from a new message notification). It also supports widgets like Android but only within the Notification Center and has song recognition built into voice searches like Google Voice Search.
More importantly, iOS, which has historically shunned third-party keyboards, now offers users the ability to download them from the App Store and use them system-wide. Android has had this ability for years.
What has set Google and Apple apart from competitors like Microsoft in the smart device arena has been they have constantly evolved and have tried to expand their presence beyond a singular device. iOS 8 and Lollipop offer a glimpse into the future both Apple and Google want to build where the phone is simply a conduit to a much larger tech ecosystem running either Android or iOS.
The ultimate battle between the two tech giants will take place on every electronic device with a screen you will buy from now on. Everything from your smartwatch, phone, tablet, TV and even your car’s entertainment system will soon run scaled versions of Android or iOS. The battle to rule everything in your digital world is just getting started.