Apple introduced a slew of new productivity-boosting features with the launch of iOS 8 on the iPhone and iPad this fall. But now Google has responded with a major OS update of its own, dubbed Android 5.0 Lollipop. Both operating systems introduce updated interfaces, new ways to interact with notifications, updated security features and more. So which software release is better for business users? Here's a head-to-head comparison of the new features in Android 5.0 Lollipop and iOS 8.
Design updates are about more than aesthetics. Good design can make a smartphone or tablet interface intuitive and easy to use, making you more productive. That's the main idea behind Lollipop, which represents the single biggest Android redesign yet. Dozens of Android apps have been updated with streamlined interfaces, and apps in general have a more consistent look across the board. And Google's own apps, like Maps, Gmail and Drive, are actually easier to use. For example, the Schedule View inside the Google Calendar app pulls in colors, photos and illustrations to help you make sense of your schedule at a glance. Meanwhile, basic Android features like the Recent Apps menu have been visually redesigned with new animations and drop shadows to give the interface a sense of depth and tangibility.
In comparison, Apple's mobile platform didn't receive nearly as many design changes from its predecessor, but that's because it was overhauled last year with the launch of iOS 7. The iOS 8 update builds on that release, which introduced a cleaner and more sophisticated design, with flatter icons and cleaner layouts. For the most part, iOS 8 looks a lot like iOS 7 – and that's a good thing.
When it comes to alerts and notifications, Android 5.0 Lollipop has a few new tricks up its sleeve that you won't find on iOS 8. Take Do Not Disturb Mode, which lets you control how you receive notifications. Like iOS 8, Lollipop lets you silence your phone at a specified time each day so you're not interrupted – say, during your morning meeting at the office. And both platforms let you whitelist important contacts like family or employees so they can still get through.
But Lollipop gives you a lot more control. For example, you can tweak which individual apps are allowed to alert you when your phone is silenced. Identifying an app as important will also cause that app's alerts to appear at the top of your notifications drawer during regular use. You can also toggle text messages, reminders and phone calls on or off independently. Lollipop's revamped Do Not Disturb mode is a great tool for business users who want to keep distractions to a minimum during the workday.
Then there's another handy feature that's new to both platforms: pop-up notifications. Rather than interrupting what you're doing on your smartphone, both Lollipop and iOS 8 can now alert you with a small pop-up window near the top of your screen when you receive a new phone call or message. Tap the box to pick up the call or respond to the message, or swipe the box to ignore it.
If you use your smartphone or tablet for work, you probably do a lot of typing on that touch-screen keyboard. That's why it's so noteworthy that iOS 8 finally introduces the ability to install third-party keyboards with extra options not found on the basic stock keyboard. For example, the Swype keyboard enables gesture-based typing, so you can drag your finger from letter to letter to spell out a word instead of tapping each button individually. I like this sort of typing because it's faster and potentially more accurate than the traditional method, especially when typing with one hand on a small smartphone screen.
Unfortunately, Apple has maintained some frustrating restrictions on third-party keyboard developers. For instance, the Android version of Swype lets you long-press on letters to easily input numbers and symbols, but that functionality is omitted from the iOS version. Plus, voice dictation is disabled when you're using a third-party keyboard, which is a real nuisance if you appreciate the ease of hands-free text input. On top of that, third-party keyboards don't work within some apps, forcing you to switch back to the basic stock keyboard.
The mobile typing experience on Android, meanwhile, is as good as it gets. Users can choose from a variety of feature-packed keyboards, but you don't have to. The stock keyboard includes swipe-based typing, easy-number input and voice dictation out of the box. Plus, Lollipop's keyboard has been revamped with a fresh look and better text prediction.
Now that Apple has implemented its Touch ID fingerprint scanner on all of its new devices, iOS 8 is the clear king of smartphone security. But though few Android devices have a fingerprint scanner of their own, Google has packed in some neat security tricks that can help you keep your work phone or tablet locked down.
The best addition to Android security is called Trusted Places. Basically, it lets you designate particular locations – say, your house – as secure, then uses your phone's built-in GPS sensor to automatically bypass your lock screen when you're there. That's handy, since it means your phone stays locked only when it needs to be. Meanwhile, Trusted Devices lets you link your Android tablet to a particular Bluetooth device – for example, your laptop, smartwatch or car radio – and automatically bypasses your lock screen when one of those devices is nearby.
But while those are great additions, nothing really beats the simplicity or elegance of Apple's fingerprint scanner. Apple generally has the security advantage when it comes to apps, too, since iOS devices don't let you download apps from unauthorized sources. Android users who play it safe and only download apps from the Google Play store should still be quite safe from viruses and rogue applications, though.
Widgets are like miniature apps that run right on your home screen and update in real time, letting you take in a wealth of information at once without needing to launch an app. They've long been a staple on Android, where I find them invaluable. For example, I love to keep a calendar widget right on my home screen so I can easily glance at my schedule whenever I unlock my phone. Ditto for checking the forecast with a weather widget.
That's why I consider the introduction of iOS 8 widgets to be one of the platform's best new features. They don't work quite like they do in Android, though. Instead of sitting on your home screen, they're relegated to the "Today" notifications panel, which you can access at any time by swiping down from the top of your display. By default, iOS 8 includes basic calendar and weather widgets, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. I particularly like the PCalc calculator widget, which lets you perform quick calculations on the fly – even from your device's lock screen.
So which new mobile OS adds the best features for business users? It really depends on your priorities. Android 5.0 Lollipop is all about new features, with a fresh design, better security and new ways to interact with notifications. Meanwhile, iOS 8 is more about refining the iPhone and iPad experience introduced with iOS 7. It's still beautiful and secure, and it still supports the best library of business and productivity apps on any mobile platform.