Android vs iOS: What's the difference?

Last updated: 8 February 2019   By Jo Bailey

They're really the only two choices left when it comes to operating systems for mobile devices, but what's the difference between iOS and Android, and which one is better?

It's one of the oldest questions in the book, but still as relevant today as it was in 2008 when Android was first released. Announced as a competitor system to the iPhone which was released in 2007, it begged the question, which one is for me?

While Android has typically had the most variety and choice in terms of handset cost and manufacturers, iOS remains a top performing system, largely thanks to the superior capabilities of the iPhone.

But with a proliferation of second hand iPhones on the market today, the choice of operating system is no longer constrained by choice.

apple ios vs android smartphone

We take a look at the two systems side by side to see what the differences and similarities are, and which one is right for you.

At a glance

Android iOS
Source model Open Closed
OS based on Linux OS X and Unix
Release date September 2008 July 2007
Availability Multiple smartphones and tables inc. Samsung, Huawei, Google, OnePlus and many more Apple devices inc. iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Handset cost £100 - £900 £700 - £1,300+
App store Google Play plus sideloading from GetJar, Amazon and others Apple App Store
Calls and messaging Google Hangouts, Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype and more iMessage, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp and more
Voice control Google Now, Google Assistant Siri

Handset cost

Apple have always been one of the more expensive brands to buy into, but last year's release of the iPhone XS took things to a whole new level. It was the first handset to break the £1,000 barrier, with the 256GB version pitched at £1,149 and the 512GB at £1,349.

However, not everyone needs the latest and best iPhone on the market. The XR can be snagged for as little as £750 and refurbished iPhone 8's can be found for under £400. Delving into the second hand market can bring these costs down further, but that will come with other risks too.

For more flexibility in choice, the Android market can't be beaten. While there are flagship phones such as the Note 9 and Huawei P20 Pro start to creep towards Apple level prices, there are plenty of lower cost choices which will offer great performance.

The Xiaomi Mi A2 Lite is priced under £200 and still offers decent performance and a gorgeous design. The Honor 10 Lite is also under £200 and has the best battery life of any phone in its class. And the Motorola Moto E5 has lots of great features for a retail price of just £120.

While many are willing to pay a premium to have an Apple device, for those who want a decent smartphone without breaking the bank iOS just can't compete. For range of choice and budget new phones, Android wins hands down.

Downloading apps

What is a smartphone without any apps? Why, its just a lump of plastic, so the ease and security of installing apps has to be considered when choosing an operating system.

Both the Play Store and the App Store can be a crowded and confusing place to spend time, with far too much choice for most users. The App Store does a slightly better job of recommending apps we might like, although the search function is somewhat better on Play.

The Play Store offers a no quibble refund policy if you ask for one within two hours of making a purchase, and that's great. However, they do seem to allow anyone and everyone to offer their apps on there, which means you're more likely to download something utterly rubbish.

The App Store is stricter about who can offer their apps on this platform. Their curation of content means you can pretty much rely on most apps being at least half way decent, so if you like finding new things, it's a better place to be.

On the downside, Apple don't allow any sideloading from third party stores, which can be a bug bear if there's something you want which isn't available in their shop. Android simply requires you tick a box to allow third party apps, but this also opens you up to potential malware installations.

It's swings and roundabouts for app downloading, with Android offering more choice and flexibility, but Apple going for quality first.

Choice of apps

Anyone who's spent any time on either the App Store or the Play store will know there are more apps than you could get through in a lifetime on both.

In numbers, iOS boasts around 2.2m apps, and Play around 3.5m. Most of the popular ones will be available on both stores, and for the majority of us there's only a handful that we use anyway.

The Play store tends to have more free apps than the App Store, but these are often supported by highly intrusive ads or, for games, by paywalls to progress. If you love your mobile games, iOS is often the place where the best new games will land first.

Some games never arrive on Android at all. Rather, there will be a bunch of low performing knock-offs which don't come close to the experience available on iOS. In terms of quality over quantity, iOS is the winner for mobile game lovers.

Operating system updates

Getting the latest version of the operating system is essential if you want the latest bug fixes and security for your device. Apple are renowned for releasing regular updates and security patches, not just to their latest device but to all connected devices.

Statistics from Apple show that 78% of devices are already on their latest release of iOS 12, with 17% still on iOS 11 and just 5% on earlier versions.

Android's latest update is Android 9.0 Pie, but only the very latest smartphones will have been prompted to install it. They don't have a number for devices running this system, but it's expected to be a very small proportion indeed.

In terms of earlier systems, just 7.5% are on Android 8.1 Oreo, and 14% on 8.0 Oreo. 28.2% are still on the previous version, Nougat, either the 7.1 or 7.0 version, and 21.3% are on an even earlier version, 6.0 Marshmallow.

Around 30% of Android devices are still languishing on year-old operating systems; Lollipop, KitKat and earlier.

Some of the reason for this may be down to the handsets still in use, which simply can't accommodate the demands of the newer updates. Apple, on the other hand, have built in the ability for even older handsets to continue receiving updates.

If having the latest system, with all its security patches and bug fixes, is important to you, iOS is the better choice.

Customisation of your device

One of the best things about Android is the ability to change the way your device looks and feels. The layout is endlessly customisable, with home screen adaptations, widgets, shortcuts and more available.

There are even downloadable launchers available which can completely change the way icons, buttons and the entire interface looks. You can alter which the default apps are for things like launching the internet too.

With iOS, the only real customisation available is the addition of wallpapers or backgrounds to the screens. Launch apps are locked down, so only the default functions will work.

If you like to make your device a bit unique, Android is the better option.

Phone calls and messaging

The primary reason for having a smartphone, despite all the other benefits, is to keep in touch with friends and family. As such, both systems offer good functionality for calls and messages, as would be expected.

However, things can get a little confusing on Android. For a while, it looked like everything was being rolled into Hangouts, but now that's not happening. As such, the landscape has become a bit disjointed.

The default messaging system uses Google Messenger (also called Android messages) for making and receiving texts. However, since many manufacturers install their own preferred text message function on their handsets, this can mean there's more than one way to get the job done.

Added to this, many phones come with their own dialler apps in addition to the Google ones, or they supersede Google's pre-installed apps. This can mean users can have a very different experience depending on the handset they are using.

As would be expected from Apple, everything is very uniform. FaceTime and iMessage are installed on evert iPhone and iPad at the factory, so it's surprisingly easy to connect with friends and family out of the box.

However, both operating systems allow third party apps to take care of calls and messaging, so if your preference is for Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, then that's perfectly possible too.

Voice control

With many of us sporting Alexa in our homes (or other smart assistant) we're coming to expect to do more with our voices. Both Android and iOS have voice controlled assistants built in. For Android it's Google Assistant, and for Apple it's Siri.

Siri is well known as a functional voice assistant and is great for doing simple tasks like setting a calendar entry or placing a call hands free. Google's assistant is much more like Alexa in that it can be more conversational and entertaining to use.

There are some big changes coming to Siri with iOS 12, where shortcuts can be set up so that a voice command takes care of a set of tasks. However, for the time being Google Assistant is the best voice control product.


Some people like to make a big deal of the lack of security on Android. The possibility of sideloading from unauthorised sources certainly increases the risk of malware being encountered, but the majority of users don't step outside of the Play Store for apps, so the risk is negligible.

Apple, on the other hand, don't allow sideloading, and take their security very seriously. Improvements like Face ID and Touch ID help to secure the device itself, and their regular updates means most users will always have the latest iOS version installed.

The biggest problem with Android is the lack of timely updates. This can leave devices open to serious hacks, which could be a cause for concern. There are also some worries around how Google store and manage your data, in order to provide AI services, as they've been shown to offer less encryption that Apple.

Clearly, iOS is the most secure platform out there. If privacy and security are high on your list of priorities, and iPhone is the way forward.

You can find out more about keeping your mobile secure in our guide here.


There are clearly pros and cons to both Android and iOS, and the right choice for you will come down to your own priorities and needs. Neither is clearly better than the other, as they both have benefits and drawbacks.

In general, iOS will be a good solution for you if you're keen on high quality apps, superior device performance and better security. However, you'll need to be prepared to pay for the privilege when you buy your device.

Android has a much greater degree of freedom, both when it comes to handset selection and the way you use your device. If value for money and customisation are key for you, Android could be the winner, but be careful about those tardy security patches.

Overall, both systems are high performance offerings, as has been proven by the withdrawal of other operating systems such as the Windows phone and Blackberry. Both assure you of a quality experience; the decision will come down to what you desire from your device.


Find the best deal on a new handset

independent comparison

We are independent of all of the products and services we compare.

fair comparison

We order our comparison tables by price or feature and never by referral revenue.

charity donations and climate positive

We donate at least 5% of our profits to charity, and we have a climate positive workforce.

Get insider tips and the latest offers in our newsletter