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Are Android apps harder to use than their iOS alternatives?

Android and iOS have dominated the mobile operating system market for the last decade in a large part thanks to the App Store and Play Store and the millions of apps each has on offer. Both stores offer many of the same apps, but are apps easier to use on Android or iOS?

“It just works”

Year after year Apple visionary Steve Jobs exclaimed that his company’s products “just work”. A large part of the success of the original iPhone was just how easy it was to use this computer in the palm of your hand. People with experience of Windows CE or PalmOS were used to many of the same features that were available in the iPhone in 2007, but those operating systems were clunky and difficult to get around for new users. Apple’s iOS was different. As soon as you switched on the iPhone you intuitively understood how to set up your email account, how to use the camera, how to use the Maps app, and critically how to use the mobile web browser – there was no manual to read because you did not need one to use an iPhone. And the continuation of this focus on ease of use can be seen today, with most people still recommending iPhones and iPads to their elderly relatives as the easiest way to get themselves online – it still just works.

Android had a few more idiosyncrasies in its earlier versions, with the platform far more open and developers able to configure more of the smartphone’s features, but at the cost of ease of use. Over the next decade, however, Google focused greater resources on Android and with release of Material Design in 2014, Android now had its own design language to better compete with the look and feel of iOS. Those who buy a new Android smartphone today will find the on-boarding process as simple as for an iPhone, and whilst Android does let the more geeky amongst us tweak more settings, most users will never see or need these advanced features. Today, both mobile operating systems are very easy to use from the start, and there is not a lot to choose between them on the looks front – they both look similarly polished.

Android “skins”

Whilst Google’s “stock Android” that comes installed on Pixel phones looks and works as well as iOS, the same is sadly not always true of the skins and customisations various manufacturers add on top. As Apple has a unified ecosystem with control of both the hardware and software on its phones there is no variations in the OS between devices, but Android can look very different depending on whether you have bought a phone from Google, Samsung, or Xiaomi. Some of the changes are small variations or a few extra apps, but others can be quite annoying, such as Xiaomi’s introduction of ads within the OS itself.

Headline apps

The most popular few apps on both iOS and Android are the same, with the likes of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp and TikTok generally dominating the top downloads lists each month. Most large companies offer similar apps for each platform, from social media behemoths like Facebook to restaurants and pub chains like Wetherspoons. Even gaming firms like Betfair offers an android app for their customers as well as an alternative for iOS.

These apps generally offer the same features on each platform, but do work slightly differently due to the design limitations of the phones, such as Apple’s decision to only have a single button on its phones, whilst Android phones tend to also feature a back button. They also vary as to where they put their menu buttons and the general design rules to follow whether that is Apple’s Human Interface or Android’s Material Design.

Smaller independent apps

In contrast to the social media apps that are available on every platform, smaller independent developers may not have the resources to create an app or game for both platforms simultaneously and so smaller titles do vary between each platform. iOS generally generates more revenue per user than Android, but Android has a significantly larger userbase, so which platform to target first can be a tough decision. And which platform they target first may be how they design their app, so you do sometimes find smaller developers following Apple-esque rules in Android apps or Android-esque rules on iOS.

In general, apps are similarly easy (or hard) to use on both operating systems, but the difficulties come when moving from one platform to the other as the change can be quite confusing.

Photograph by Lobo Studio Hamburg