iOS 13 vs. Android 10: How Apple and Google compare
When it comes to mobile software, iPhone and Android phones are neck and neck.
Clifford ColbyManaging Editor
Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
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Without the software that powers them, iPhones and Android phones would be high-priced pieces of glass, metal and plastic. So let's see how the new mobile OSes from Apple and Google compare, now that iOS 13.1 is already here and Android 10 -- previously codenamed Q -- arrived early in September for Pixel phones.
On one side of the table, iOS 13 includes a systemwide dark mode, more control over privacy settings and a bushel of improvements designed to make the iPhone more secure and easier to use. On the other side, Google's Android 10 also brings on dark mode, a focus on privacy and useful AI enhancements.
With the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Max Pro now out, we are seeing how the iOS software is doing on the new hardware. And if you have a Pixel phone, Google's new software is your reality.
That means we're basing this comparison on the shipping versions of Android 10 of iOS 13.
One final note -- this piece doesn't cover every feature that Apple or Google announced. It focuses on the main elements that we think are the most interesting, useful and important to everyday people. Here's a more complete list of the key features in iOS 13 and more on Android 10.
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Minding your privacy
Advantage: iOS 13
Over the years, Apple has made keeping user data private a selling point. And unlike Google, Apple's business is not dependent on targeted ads based on user data, instead making money on the hardware, apps and services it offers. At WWDC, Apple said it would give users greater control of location permissions with apps, choosing to share that info once and then have the app request it again if it wants it. Apple also unveiled a new sign-in method that lets you anonymously sign into websites and apps without being tracked. The feature, Sign in with Apple, will be mandatory for apps to include this fall. Apple isn't perfect: Google did recently point out a security flaw on iPhones.
Google also talks up protecting user data, such as in a New York Times opinion piece where Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that "privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services." But Google has a tougher case to make because a major source of revenue is its ad business, based on what users search for, for example, and which videos they watch. The search giant does take a big step in the right direction with the next version of Android: Android 10 gives users more control over what information they share through apps and services.
Apple has more experience in this area. It went moody on the desktop first and rolled out a dark appearance in MacOS Mojave in 2018. In iOS 13, Apple brings a dark theme to its mobile OS. Apple lists a broad collection of places that display the dark mode theme -- from wallpaper, widgets and notifications to Calendar to Messages -- and for now, iOS 13 should offer a more uniform dark experience.
Taking, editing and sharing photos
Advantage: Android 10
Google Photos offers almost everything you'd want in a photo service. It combines effortless backup and photo sharing with powerful, easy-to-use editing tools to create an essential photography tool for an Android phone. Night Site mode on Pixel phones almost by itself is enough to tip the scale to Android. Because it's from Google, you can search for people, places, things and even text to see all the images Google Photos has assigned the tag to. And the first 15GB of online storage is free. (And if you use Google's high-quality compression setting to store your photos, you get unlimited storage.)
Apple Photos comes with a rich of editing tools, and in iOS 13, the app gains even more, including the ability to adjust the intensity of portrait lighting with a slider. (And paired with the new iPhone 11 cameras, it should pack a punch.) Apple Photos excels at recognizing faces, objects and scenes to help you sort through your images. Unfortunately, much of the app's power is available just to Apple's users. And the first 5GB of iCloud storage is free.
And now, iPadOS developers can bring their own iPad apps to Mac in the upcoming Catalina. The move should benefit developers -- who will be able to more easily create an app that can run on Apple's mobile and desktop platforms -- and Mac users, who potentially get access to a richer selection of apps.
Google also lets app developers move software between platforms by giving owners of recent Chromebooks access to Android apps through the Google Play Store. But the limitations of Chromebooks -- they require an Internet connection, for example, and they lack popular Windows and MacOS apps such as
Photoshop -- also limit the usefulness of this option.
Google's messaging approach on Android is, err, more varied, with Duo and Hangouts for voice and video calls, Google Voice for dedicated voice calls, Hangouts Meet and Chat for business communication, and Messages for text messaging. You can use the Hangouts website to continue messaging on your Mac and Windows device, and you can keep up with your Messages texts via the web version of the app. The web version is handy but not flawless, and it sometimes seems to forget it's connected to the mobile version of the service.
But Siri doesn't perform nearly as well as Google Assistant at recognizing and understanding different voices and commands. It's this basic functionality that's at the heart of the issue, but Google assistant is also integrated tightly into everything you do on your phone, and can proactively make recommendations by looking at your calendar and Gmail account for upcoming reservations and appointments.
Siri is also widely available -- working on iOS, MacOS and WatchOS devices and the HomePod. Siri shortcuts can create personalized tasks that Apple's smart assistant can perform for you. However, Siri is still underwhelming, mostly because the database it draws from is limited, while Google rules search.
There is a lot to like about Gboard, especially, beyond its swiping capabilities. I like being able to apply different themes, use different languages and easily insert GIFs. Apple's demo of QuickPath Typing, the swiping part of the iOS 13 keyboard, looks good as well, but it's so far behind the competition, it's hard to see this as anything but long overdue catch-up.
Mapping and exploring
Advantage: Android 10
If you just need to get from here to there, Apple Maps is up to task. And with iOS 13, Apple is rebuilding Maps to include better road and pedestrian information and more precise addresses. Apple's updated Maps app will also have a Look Around tool that lets you see a 3D view of a location.
Google Maps has had these features for a while, however, including its own 3D mode called Street View. But Google has much more, constantly updating its Maps app to make it even more useful getting you places, in part by folding in the useful bits of its other map app, Waze. But Maps is also useful after you arrive. For example, its Explore tab lets you find a seemingly endless list of places to eat and things to do, wherever you are.
Shara Tibken contributed to this report. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Originally published earlier this year and updated with new information.