Although Apple and Google are located about 9 miles away from one another in the heart of Silicon Valley, their philosophies are worlds apart.
Google's Android OS is about openness (but that can lead to fragmentation) and Apple's iOS is about making a tight system work well (but many services only function within Apple's relatively narrow device ecosystem).
Now that both have had a chance to unveil the next versions of their operating systems, we can look at their current features side by side. However, since both Apple and Google like to save some surprises for the actual phone launch, this won't be a final evaluation by any stretch.
We expect the first iPhones with iOS 12 to touch down in September and the first phone with Android P to arrive in September or October.
Notches and gestures
Advantage: iOS 12
The iPhone X wasn't the first phone to sport either notches or swipe gestures, but was the first to popularize both. (The Essential Phone was the first with a notch, and the Palm Pre in 2009 introduced gestures with WebOS.)
Now, Google has officially embraced notches and navigation gestures in Android P, even though Android phonemakers have already off-roaded with their own experiments. Google's official support is a pretty good indication that use both notches and gestures are coming.
Android P isn't fully gestural, though -- it still relies on the back button -- which makes the experience feel less fully formed than it is on the iPhone X. Since Android phonemakers like to leave their own mark, gestures and notches will have less uniformity on Android than on future iPhones. Case in point: Android P supports a central notch, a corner notch and a notch on both the top and bottom screens -- you know, just in case.
Voice Assistant: Google Assistant versus Siri
Advantage: Android P
Siri's upgrades in iOS 12 focus on making your iPhone predict what you want before you seek it out. A new app called Shortcuts lets you set up profiles that run through a step-by-step routine when you say certain keywords. For example, "Headed home" can text your spouse, play your preferred radio station and start navigation to the day's least trafficked route.
While Siri Shortcuts scootches Apple's devices closer to Google Assistant, which supports routines, too (so does Amazon Alexa), Apple still hasn't done anything to close the gaping chasm between Google Assistant and Siri.
Siri was already dragging behind. The quality of information and the way it's presented pales in comparison to Google Assistant. But after Google's I/O developer conference in May, Siri is barely limping along. Google has developed six new voices for Google Assistant. It can handle a string of questions or a grouped command, and teach your kid manners.
Google is also working on ways to make Assistant sound human enough to maintain a short conversation with other humans, while making a reservation or appointment on your behalf.
In 2011, Apple rocked the mobile industry when it backed Siri into the iPhone 4S. This race was Apple's to win. As of late, it's doing anything but.
Messaging: iMessage versus...er?
Advantage: iOS 12
Apple's iMessage app keeps getting better and better. In one corner we have Animojis.(Animojis you make of your own face). Peer-to-peer payments. FaceTime video calls you launch from the app, Wi-Fi texting with other iMessage users, cross-platform SMS texting between the phone, iPad and Mac.
And in the other corner, there's…. what, exactly? Google Hangouts is extremely limited and underdeveloped. The Android Messages texting app is phone-only and doesn't have an app or a website for your computer (e.g. it's not cross-platform). Google Duo does good video calls for your phone, but won't open on your desktop or Google's other messaging apps, like Hangouts, or Messages.
Playing in the same AR app with friends
Advantage: Android P
iOS 12 is getting a really cool multiplayer feature that will let you and your other friends with iOS 12 interact in the same AR environment at the same time. Imagine building something out of Lego together, or playing virtual ping pong.
Google goes further, giving Android and iPhone users the ability to play together no matter which OS you have. Cloud Anchors, as it's called, isn't tied to Android P, but Android P phones will also benefit from it.
Face unlock: Secure versus convenient
Advantage: iOS 12
Android's version of Face Unlock is noted to be convenient, but not as secure as a fingerprint. Secure face unlock through Face ID is Apple's world, and its iPhone X was the first phone to use a 3D front-facing camera.
The iris-unlocking that exists in Samsung's phones like the Galaxy S9, is considered secure, but also exclusive to Samsung phones (iris-scanning on Microsoft's Lumia 950 predates Samsung).
Read: iOS 12 reportedly supports a second scan of your face in Face ID
Maps: Apple Maps versus Google Maps
Advantage: Android P
Apple The iPhone Maps app is functional for turn-by-turn directions; but Google Maps goes far deeper, with layer after layer of information you can use if you'd like. Google is also thinking about ways to take maps into the future. Last month it demoed how a virtual guide could one day.
Managing your smartphone 'addiction'
Advantage: Too soon to tell
iOS 12 and Android P both added features to help you get sleepy at bedtime by deemphaiszing the apps that might otherwise grab your attention. Both platforms also came up with features that let you manage how much time you spend on your device.
iOS 12 gets:
- Do not disturb will turn off most notifications at bedtime.
- Screentime gives you weekly reports of your usage.
- You can set usage limits for yourself and your kids, for any app.
Android P gets:
- Wind Down mode will fade your phone to grayscale at bedtime.
- A dashboard shows you how often you use apps.
- You can set app limits, and apps gray out to remind you of your goals.
- Turn your phone face-down to trigger do-not-disturb mode.
So, who's winning?
iOS 12 and Android P are unfinished, so I really can't say which is actually better -- or even which one I prefer -- until they're on phones in their final forms. The software can change, and Apple and Google could surprise us with even more features than they mentioned.
But from where Android P and iOS 12 are now, it certainly seems like Google's got the momentum behind some of the most cutting-edge software we'll use: voice assistant and multiplayer AR that works with any phone.
I'm disappointed that Apple so far doesn't appear to fix Siri's biggest flaws, and that the most interesting new feature, Memoji avatars, is currently limited to the iPhone X. But I am excited that Apple is embracing multiplayer AR in its own way -- maybe 2019 will be the year that AR sticks. Apple also continues to lead when it comes to gesture navigation and secure face unlocking.
Again, Apple and Google are almost certainly holding back some of their juiciest features, and the competition between these two giant corps is both raising each other's game. Let's hope these two mobile titans give us even more to talk about when the first Android P and iOS 12 phones arrive.
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