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Android beats iPhone in app usability study

How does Apple iOS stack up against Google Android in terms of the usability of their apps? Most people have decided on their favourite, but what does the science say?

A recent smart phone user-experience study suggests Android narrowly edges out the iPhone for the usability of their apps, though it's a close call.

The analysis was conducted by Jacob Creech from IntuitionHQ.com, who works with usability testing and experience design, after he read some disparaging comments about Android. Though he has more experience with Apple iOS devices, he set about devising tests to see which mobile operating system was easier to use and which people preferred.

Including both A/B testing, where a user was presented with an app from either Android or iOS but not both, and preference testing that shows the same app on both platforms side by side, several pieces of software available on both platforms were compared. These included Twitter, Google Translate, Soundhound, Pandora, the official Geocaching app and Facebook.

While not an exhaustive study -- it didn't include standard phone functions, for example, just apps -- it did throw up some interesting results. Some apps are significantly different in layout and styling from one OS to the other. Both accuracy and time taken to perform an action were recorded. Some actions took significantly longer to perform on iOS (inexplicably long in some cases), though a significant proportion of people preferred the way those apps looked.

An important point raised is that of hardware. Apple maintains complete control over the phone and the operating system, and keeps a close eye on the apps that are available. Android, on the other hand, can be installed on a variety of handsets with varying features and overall build quality -- and there's no control over what apps appear. In spite of this, Creech's participants seemed to find Android apps quicker to figure out.

It's very hard to tell from this kind of study how much difference that makes to the overall user experience, though everyone is bound to have used a phone that just doesn't feel right or is a complete pain to use. Of course if the iPhone is that phone, you're not likely to love its apps.

Creech is still accepting test participants, though we wonder if the results might skew slightly now the original findings have been published. If nothing else, it's another study for fanboys on both sides to argue incessantly over. Anyone for Windows Phone?