In tackling the Android tablet vs. iPad debate, there are a number of factors one can consider, from screen size, build quality, performance, and price to customization options, features, and ease of use. We are going to willfully ignore the question of price along with the differences in hardware; the variety of Android tablets makes a direct comparison to the iPad a challenge, plus Apple is rumored to have started production of the iPad Mini, which will further cloud the waters.
With pricing and hardware considerations removed from the discussion, we can focus in on the differences in software between the two platforms, chiefly the new features that Google’s Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and Apple’s iOS 6 introduce.
We’ll focus on how each operarting system works on a tablet, so you won’t find any discussion of iOS 6’s promising Passbook app here, for example, which is only available on the iPhone. For this comparison, we used a Google Nexus 7 and an Apple iPad 2.
Since the release of iOS 6 last month, much of the focus has been on Apple’s new Maps app for better or worse (better if you are Google, worse if you are Apple). So, let’s start there. Simply put: Apple has a ton of work ahead of it to bring its Maps app to the level of Google Maps.
Apple’s Maps app features visually stunning 3D flyover views of some major cities and introduces turn-by-turn navigation. The problem is the new Maps app has been plagued by problems, including inaccurate directions and error-ridden satellite imagery. Making matters worse for iPad users, is Google has yet to release a Maps app for iOS. You can access Google Maps via Safari or another mobile browser, but many features are disabled. If you expect to use your tablet for getting around town, right now, the clear choice is Android and its Google Maps app.
Google Maps also has 3D maps of many large cities, and it has been providing turn-by-turn spoken directions for years. It’s offering is far more mature than Apple’s.
iOS 6 brought Siri to the iPad, while Jelly Bean introduced Google Now to Android devices. I’ll confess, I cheated a bit and used an iPhone for this portion of the review since the iPad 2 lacks a built-in microphone needed to talk to Siri. You need to plug in a headset with microphone for this feature.
With the latest update, Siri is more conversant with sports, movies, and restaurants, and you can ask her to open apps for you. Even so, I can report that Siri was less helpful than Google’s assistant, dubbed Google Now. You can type or talk to Google Now, and Jelly Bean allows you to use voice recognition without an Internet connection, something Siri can’t do.
Google Now was faster in returning results, while Siri was often too quick to serve a page of Web search results instead of directly answering my question. Google Now supposedly learns your habits (I say “supposedly” because I haven’t used it long enough for it to come to understand me) from your GPS coordinates, calendar, and search history, so it can predict answers before you even ask them, dropping Google Now cards in the notification tray for you to find. It’ll provide directions to a meeting on your calendar, going so far as to suggest when you might want to leave based on current traffic conditions. And it does this without you having to ask. Siri sits silently on standby until you engage her. And while she can be humorous and sassy, she doesn’t make an effort to get to know you as Google Now does.
Apple seems to be in a perpetual state of catching up to Android’s notification abilities, and the situation continues with iOS 6 and Android 4.1.
Apple’s latest mobile OS introduces the ability to post to Facebook or Twitter right from the pull-down Notification Center, but Google’s offering still sports greater functionality. It offers the ability to expand items to preview them before jumping out to an app, and it lets you delete single items. With email, for example, you can swipe to delete a single email with Jelly Bean, but with iOS 6, you must tap an impossibly small X to delete all of the emails listed in the Notification Center.
Mail and Web Browsing
iOS 6 greatly improved Mail app. Now you can flag emails, classify certain contacts as VIPs, set different signatures for various accounts, and can attach photos and videos to a reply. These features help bring the iOS Mail app in line with the features you get from the Gmail app on Android 4.1.
The browser debate is largely irrelevant because you can use Chrome on iOS. But with iOS 6, Safari now features iCloud tabs, which lets you access the open tabs you have on another iOS device or from your Mac (should it be running Mac OS X Mountain Lion). You get a similar feature on Chrome on Jelly Bean, accessing the open tabs on your other devices where you’ve signed in to Chrome.
Part 2 of this comparison covers Android Beam vs. Shared Photo Streams, App Store vs. Google Play, the different homescreens, and the conclusion.
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