iOS 12 is finally official, after a lot of betas and feedback from developers. Android 9 Pie has been out for more than a month, also after several betas for the curious. Obviously we're talking about different universes, but both systems seem to have taken a common path that is bringing them closer than Google and Apple want to admit.
More fluid, faster…
Android and iOS updates focus heavily on system optimization. There are a few changes that cannot be shown in videos or screenshots but that make users' lives better. Apple, for example, has improved the speed of opening the camera from the unlock screen by 70% in iOS 12. The keyboard opening time is reduced by 50% while applications can open in half the time when the iPhone is under heavy use. This data is calculated based on benchmarks from an iPhone 6 Plus, and improvements will reach all devices going back to the iPhone 5S and iPad Air. Not only improvements then, but improvements for (almost) everyone.
In addition to these changes, the interface and navigation have been fine-tuned to improve the overall user experience. In this respect, Android 9 Pie has introduced a new gesture navigation system (now optional), improvements to the quick setup menu, the Always-on display (which now shows weather and calendar events) and a text selection mode when viewing open or recent applications.
None of these changes will radically affect how you interact with your smartphone, but they are small tricks that are nice to find on both systems. This shows that Apple and Google are not only in introducing new features, but also in improving existing ones.
...and less recharging!
Some of these optimizations also have a positive impact on battery life. Android 9 features a new, more granular power management system and the ability to "freeze" applications with excessive battery consumption in the background. There's a mode called Adaptive battery that will learn how to use your smartphone to save battery power intelligently, by working out at which times of the day you use your smartphone less and which apps you use less frequently.
iOS also has some optimizations in this area. You can now check the battery health of your iPhone and there are more detailed statistics of battery consumption by applications.
You will use your smartphone less (perhaps)
Both Apple and Google have shown their interest in our digital well-being. Both have introduced a control center for monitoring the use of smartphones in their latest versions. Apple calls it Screen Time, whilst Google calls it Digital Wellbeing: the idea is the same.
Both systems now take into account the usage time of individual applications, the number of notifications received and the number of times these applications are opened. It is then possible to act on this data by limiting the total time you can use them device during the day. Also, during the night, both systems will learn to silence notifications to avoid disturbing your well-deserved rest. Google takes a step further in this direction thanks to the Wind down mode: during the night the system desaturates the entire display of your smartphone until it displays only a grayscale. It is supposed to make your device "less attractive" to use.
Notifications under control
The way we use our smartphones depends a lot on how we receive notifications. Android has boasted better notifications than iOS for a long time, with more freedom to customize incoming alerts, sounds, and by grouping together several notifications of the same app. Pie once again improves the interaction with the phone by suggesting quick answers directly when you decide to respond to a notification or by keeping recent conversation alive to allow the sending of subsequent messages without ever leaving the notification area. Smart.
Apple has also worked on customizing notifications, allowing more freedom to choose which notifications to ignore. In addition, iOS 12 can finally group similar notifications together, tidying up the Notification Center and the iPhone and iPad lock screens.
"Slices" of apps for quicker access
Updates to iOS 12 and Android 9 Pie have one last important aspect in common: the presence of quick links to specific functions of third-party applications. On Android 9 Pie they are called Slices and on iOS 12 they are called Siri Shortcuts.
The former appear inside the application drawer and suggest actions based on the context. For example, they can suggest that you listen to a certain album on Spotify every time you sit on the train in the morning or they can advise you to send a message on WhatsApp to Mom if that's what you do every day at a certain time or in a certain place.
Siri's shortcuts are created in a similar way to Google Assistant's Routines, allowing you to program precise commands for the voice assistant that will perform one or more specific actions accordingly. Unlike Google Assistant, Siri will be able to go much more in detail thanks to the support of third-party developers who seem to ignore both Slices and Assistant, at least for the moment. It’s hard to blame them, given the expected adoption rate of iOS 12 compared to the "zero point something" figure for the number of phones that currently have Android Pie…
The best system is the one that makes you happy
What really differentiates the two operating systems is the ecosystem that has been created around them.
Those who use a Mac, a HomePod or love the look of Apple Watch will hardly be able to go for anything other than an iPhone. Not to mention the number one functionality of Apple's system, iMessage and FaceTime. Those who have been trapped in the network of the messaging system of the bitten apple (maybe together with friends and relatives) will hardly adapt to moving their entire group of loved ones to alternative services, giving up Animoji, Memoji and video calls with up to 32 participants.
Do we need to talk about apps that can be downloaded from the App Store? Apple's quality controls are unsurpassed, virtually any application you decide to download to iPhone follows the guidelines of the company so as not to be excluded from the virtual store of iOS.
Google, on the other hand, uses the opposite strategy to Apple's. If iOS is an exclusive club with special rules to follow, Android seems to embrace everything and everyone. It's true, the perfect smartphone doesn't exist. There is, however, an Android smartphone for everyone with special and unique features and in every price range. The choice is endless, unlike the hardware produced by Apple that does not leave too much freedom. Moreover, this is a flag that we fans of Android have flown high since the dawn of time. The Google system allows a freedom of use and customization that iOS will never allow because of its closed and conservative nature.
Having said that, it is obvious that in this clash there are no winners or losers. They are two sides of the same coin. Two different roads that lead to the same destination. They have different values depending on who is asked the question but which, in the end, have the same value and the same purpose: to allow us to bring with us an entire world and have it always ready at the tap of a finger. ☮