Will an iPhone make you more productive than an Android phone, or vice versa? The two platforms are ultimately pretty similar, with most apps available for both iOS — the operating system that powers iPhones — and Android. But there are also some real differences in terms of security, hardware, cost and software features. If you’re looking for a new mobile business companion, here’s a breakdown of what to look for.
Want a smartphone with a huge screen, or one with killer battery life? What if you just want something that won’t break your business budget? Android phones come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, with a wide range of feature sets. Whether you want the latest flagship device, such as the Samsung Galaxy S7, a big-screen phablet such as the 5.7-inch Google Pixel XL, or just something dirt cheap such as the Moto G4 Plus, Android has you covered.
In comparison, Apple's selection is limited to just a handful of different devices. There’s the flagship 4.7-inch iPhone 7, as well as the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus. Apple also still sells its previous generation of phones, which include the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, which are pretty similar but aren’t quite as fast or durable, and have less fancy cameras than the newer iPhones. Finally, you can buy the iPhone SE, a compact 4-inch iPhone that’s more affordable and easier to physically handle than the other models, particularly for users with large hands.
The wide range of available Android devices can be both a blessing and a curse. In theory, the big selection lets you pick out just the right device for you. In practice, it can make buying a new business phone more confusing, since you’ll need to sort through dozens of options to find which phones are worth buying. That’ why the majority of Android users stick to the most popular phones from Samsung’s Galaxy line.
If you plan to use your Android phone for games or virtual reality, you'll want a phone with a Snapdragon 821 chip or the latest Snapdragon 835 platform. A Snapdragon 600 series is fine for midtier phones.
In contrast, buying an iPhone is easy. Just decide how big you want it to be, and then decide how much internal storage you want. The A10 chip inside the latest iPhones is very speedy and shouldn't give you any performance issues.
There are only a couple of confounding factors, like deciding whether you want to shell out for the latest iPhone 7 or settle for a slightly older iPhone 6S model. But while picking an iPhone is relatively simple, it can also feel limiting. For example, some Android smartphones come equipped with microSD card slots for expanding the internal storage, and other models have super-durable and waterproof designs. You won’t find those options on any iPhone model.
Regardless of which operating system you choose, be sure to pick a model with at least 16GB of storage. For a display, color quality and brightness matter more than resolution. A 4K screen is nice, but might be overkill. AMOLED is better than LCD, for instance. And HDR means you'll see more colors on the display. Also, look for a battery capacity of at least 3,000 mAh to ensure you'll get through a whole day on a charge.
Strong security is crucial for keeping your work phone locked down. So which platform is more secure: Android or iOS? The answer isn’t so clear cut.
There are two main advantage for iOS security. Apple tightly controls the entire ecosystem, from hardware to firmware to software. That means the company closely screens every app that appears in its app store, which greatly reduces the danger of downloading buggy or malicious apps.
Also, iOS devices have very good legacy support, meaning older iPhones continue to get firmware and security updates for many years after their release. That means that your device is guaranteed to be running the latest software with the newest security fixes.
In contrast, the Android platform is extremely fragmented — there are dozens upon dozens of devices from many different manufacturers on the market. Each device ships with a specific version of Android — and it’s usually not the latest, greatest version. Many flagship devices will get upgraded to the newest version of Android eventually, but even that can be months after the software upgrade is officially launched. And it can vary depending on the carrier.
There are some theoretical downsides to this model, the biggest being that security patches must be dispatched across a much wider range of hardware and software. That could leave greater potential for security holes to go unchecked. On the other hand, the open-source nature of the Android platform actually means that security holes are generally discovered and patched very rapidly.
Google has also taken some steps to make its app store more secure. In the latest versions of Android, apps only ask for individual permissions — say, to access your phone’s internal or camera — when those functions are actually needed, which means you won’t have to approve a slew of permissions before you install the app. And the newest version of Android — Android N — is slated to get a new update system that patches apps automatically in the background.
Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that Android phones made by Samsung are compatible with Knox, a software suite that lets you set up separate workspaces for business and personal applications. That helps ensure that your work files can’t be compromised by a rogue application.
For daily security options, you’ll find fingerprint readers on all modern iPhone models, and most mid- to high-end Android phones. A fingerprint reader is a really nice perk for workers who want to keep their smartphone locked down without having to fuss with a password or PIN every time they power their device on. Again, you’ll have to check to make sure that the Android phone you choose has one.
So Android and iOS take very different approaches to security — so which is better? The answer is that both platforms offer very strong security most of the time. Occasionally, security vulnerabilities are discovered in one or the other, making that platform a bit less secure until the problem is fixed. Overall, though, business users should feel comfortable using either one.
Apple’s iOS used to be boast the best app store, but Android has made huge strides in matching it in recent years. These days, nearly every app you can think of is available for both platforms.
However, the iPhone still has a slight edge here, because the platform generally gets new apps first, and those apps tend to be updated with new features more quickly. In a few cases, the iOS version of a given app can look a bit better than the Android version, seemingly with more care put toward their designs — but that’s becoming less and less common.
It’s also true that iOS apps are generally better optimized for tablets than Android apps, with scaling interfaces that work really well on an iPad. Any Android app can be used on any Android tablet, but they don’t always make the best use of the extra screen real estate.
All that said, there isn’t a huge difference in app offerings between iOS and Android. Our favorite productivity applications — such as Microsoft’s excellent OneNote notes apps, as well as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint — are equally good on either platform.
Software features and interface
Both Android 7.0 Nougat and iOS 10 — the latest versions of both mobile operating systems — are chock full of productivity-boosting software features, most of which are shared. But there are some key differences that will appeal to different kinds of workers.
Historically, iOS has been thought of as a more user-friendly operating system compared to Android. These days, that’s not really true — both platforms are extremely polished and easy to use. But as a general rule, iOS is slightly simpler and more streamlined, while Android offers more features for power users.
For example, phones running the latest version of Android 7.0 — as well as all Samsung Galaxy devices — allow you to view two apps in a side-by-side split screen configuration. Admittedly it’s not always a terribly useful feature on a small smartphone screen, but it is handy for certain tasks such as referencing a document or web page while drafting an email. No iPhone will let you do that.
One area where iOS handily trumps Android is its ability to integrate with other devices. Using Apple’s new Continuity features, you can beam email drafts, documents and files directly to or from your phone or tablet to your Mac computer with just a couple of taps. Android doesn’t offer anything quite like that, though cloud storage apps such as DropBox offer similar (but clunkier) functionality.
Both platforms have useful voice-activated personal assistants baked in. Siri on iOS lets you save notes and reminders, draft emails and fetch driving directions without ever lifting a finger, among dozens of other tasks. Google Assistant (previously known as Google Now on older versions of Android) offers a similar feature set.
Ultimately, which platform you prefer comes down to personal preference, and there are far too many features to run through for just this one story.
Workers on a budget will probably want to stick with Android. The cheapest Android phones cost around $240, or as little as $5 per month when you sign up for a monthly data plan. And some very solid mid-range devices can be purchased unlocked — that is, compatible with any carrier — for around $300. In fact, there’s a huge range of Android devices at nearly every price point, all the way up to the priciest flagship phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, which will run you around $700 (or about $30 per month through a carrier payment plan.)
In comparison, iPhones are just more expensive. The cheapest iPhone is the 4-inch iPhone SE with 128GB of internal storage, which will run you $400. The priciest model is the iPhone 7s Plus, which costs $650. Again, those payments can be spread out over the course of several years if you buy through a carrier, but the fact remains that Apple doesn’t sell any iPhone at a budget price.
So which mobile operating system is better for business? That’s a difficult question to answer, but the two platforms do have some different strengths. The iOS-powered iPhone is a good pick for Apple fans who use Mac computers, since the devices can integrate seamlessly. Plus, iPhones are extremely polished and easy-to-use devices with strong security and handy features such as Siri.
Android, on the other hand, is a good pick for users who want more options. Android phones come in more shapes and sizes than iPhones, so you can purchase just the device you need. Plus, budget-priced Android phones are more affordable than any iOS-powered device on the market.