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I have a confession: I’m a trained Microsoft IT professional, but I love the Apple aesthetic. Their devices are beautiful, their displays dazzling, and their interfaces slick and intuitive. That said, I’ve never been a big Apple fan, mostly owing to their outsize prices and limited software selection. But personal feelings aside, Apple is absolutely a pioneer in the field of mobile and portable computing, and the industry owes them big time.
As the mobile patent wars unfold, we may find that Google did indeed “steal” Android (or at least parts of it) from Apple’s iPhone and iOS; and perhaps Samsung did copy valuable Apple IP. I’m a bit interested in both the legal and ethical ramifications of these court battles, but I’m more concerned with something more central to my daily life: Whose products work the best? The answer to that question is far simpler to me than the legal catfights currently gripping the industry. The newest Android devices beat out the iPhone and iPad in almost every comparison that’s important to me (and most other on-the-go professionals I know). Don’t believe me? Take a look at what follows, and let me know where I'm wrong.
Both Android and iOS support a broad selection of office productivity apps. Apple’s App Store and Google’s Marketplace offer great apps like Evernote, QuickOffice, Olive Office, and Documents to Go, but the full version of all of these apps cost money and don’t always integrate well with synchronization features.
What Android has that iOS can’t come close to matching is full (and free) Google Docs and Apps integration. Without any set-up other than a username and password, Google Docs/Apps users have full access to Google’s Microsoft Office challenger, along with viewing support for a variety of popular file formats, including PDF and PSD. Changes in Google Docs instantly sync across all devices, and users can share files with others with just a few swipes of the finger. Another plus: Google Docs comes with 1GB of free cloud storage, with additional storage priced quite cheaply at $5 per year per 20GB. (Sadly, neither Android nor iOS have any useful Office 365 apps.)
If you’re a Google user, all of your email, contacts, calendar events, etc., sync across all of your Android and PC devices. Steve Jobs may have coined the phrase, “It just works,” but Google’s syncing features are downright magic.
I have both a Gmail and Google Apps account on my new Android 4.0 phone, and with just the entry of my login information, both accounts sync quickly and accurately with my Outlook (on three different computers), web apps and two Android tablets. All of my email, contacts, Chrome bookmarks, and calendar events are everywhere, all the time, in almost real time. I also have an Exchange hosted email account. It works beautifully, too, and setting it up was a breeze.
What about folks who aren’t already Google users? There’s no reason not to be. Google Apps is free for up to 10 users. There are no iCloud or other special fees like those Apple hoists on its customers. As for Apple, you're still stuck with iTunes or a bevy of somewhat clunky third-party wireless syncing apps.
Google Service Integration
Google Talk, Google Voice, Google Maps, YouTube and more all work seamlessly on Android devices. The majority of them come pre-loaded on most phones and tablets. It’s almost eerie watching a video on my home PC and then seeing that video show up in both my tablet’s and phone’s YouTube history. Even better is Google Voice. When I receive a voice or text message, it shows up instantly on all of my devices. Messages are transcribed, searchable, and sortable, and I can respond to text messages from any device using my real phone number.
App and Interface Flexibility
Whether iOS or Android has more apps available for download is open for debate, but there’s no question that many more portals exist for downloading Android apps. Starting with the official Marketplace and Amazon Appstore, many companies and online communities offer a variety of snazzy apps. Apps also don’t have to be downloaded. Users can “side load” them with SD cards, a physically or network connected PC, or even a USB hard drive. If there's an app I can imagine but can't find, I either create myself or hire someone else to do it. No Apple approval required.
The default iOS interface might be slicker than the stock Android one, but it's your own fault if it stays that way on your Android device. Between hundreds of widgets and themes, Android offers a level of visual customizability unmatched by iOS. I love the fact that the first thing I see when I turn my phone on is the time and a calendar of events for the day. That setup might drive others nuts, but that's fine: They can change it to whatever their preferences are.
Don’t forget Flash support. HTML5 may eventually supplant Flash, but don’t count on it anytime soon.
If you're not fond of the iPhone or iPad form factor, you’re SOL. As for Android, I have a phone with a 4.3-inch screen, a 7-inch Android tablet, and another 10.1-inch Android tablet. They all serve their purpose, but none of them are perfect for every occasion. Apple continues to be absent in the oversized phone and undersized tablet markets even though there’s certainly a demand for low-ounce, high-inch devices.
My favorite Android hardware feature? Full USB support. While not every Android tablet offers a full-size USB port, many of them do. For folks who want to make the most of their tablet (at a reasonable price point) this feature is invaluable. I can hook any standard USB keyboard, mouse, or flash drive into my Android tablet. There’s no need for any expensive—and sometimes quirky—Blue Tooth devices. I’ve even had my tablet working with USB speakers and a Clear 4G mobile modem.
If someone wants to argue that Apple's devices are more beautiful or have interfaces that are just that extra bit smoother, I'm happy to cede the point. But that's not what I'm worried about. I want a phone (or a tablet) that makes my work—and life—as easy as possible, and that's what, in my opinion, Android has to offer.