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Apple just walked us throughfor the iPhone, and a few weeks ago Google introduced us to Android O. Combined, this software will power practically every phone in the world. So which one’s winning?
The short answer: Android O.
Here’s why. Google is killing it on AI — that’s everything from its Google Assistant to a cool-looking feature that can copy a Wi-Fi password when you point the camera at it.
Apple isn’t dead in the water by any stretch. It has a chance to catch up if it’s able to make AR — which mashes up virtual items with the actual world — seriously mainstream.
- We don’t actually know which OS is really making the more important strides until we can see the completed software side by side (expect September for iOS 11 and October for Android O).
- Apple and Google may be saving, even more, software revelations for the “iPhone 8” and “Google Pixel 2” phones.
- The best additions aren’t strictly tied to iOS or Android at all.
With that in mind, here’s a look at where Apple and Google are pulling ahead, and where they’re falling behind.
Flashiest new features
- Shrinking a video or Google Maps navigation into a floating thumbnail so you can keep an eye on it while you do other things (called picture-in-picture)
- Auto-selecting a name, phone number, address or business to copy/paste
- Brush up on everything new in Android O
- Paying your friends in iMessage using Apple Pay
- Playing audio on multiple speakers in your house
- Here’s everything new in iOS 11
The winner so far: Android O. Picture-in-picture and the enhanced copy/paste are little things that can go a long way in making the phone more useful day-to-day. And unlike iOS, Android phones could already play music from the phone to multiple speakers (as long as they’re Chromecast-compatible).
However, peer-to-peer payments in iMessage is a great addition to the native messaging app (which Android lacks on all phones).
Apple has Siri and Android has Android Assistant (and Google Voice Search and Google Now). Siri gets a bunch of updates to make it look better, give it a new male voice and guess what you might want to know next. Google Assistant will get a mode that can identify objects (called Google Lens), and the ability to type queries, not just speak them.
Winner so far: Android O, even though voice additions are ho-hum. The underlying platform is so much more expansive, accurate and knowledgeable than Siri. At WWDC, Apple missed an opportunity to showcase the digital assistant it helped make a sensation in the first place.
Messaging: iOS 11 refines iMessage with an app drawer, but adding Apple Pay is the big star. Google lacks an all-in-one messaging app on Android phones. Android Messages is your standard (and basic) texter. Hangouts, Allo and Duo are much more specialized.
(Android does have P2P payment with Google Wallet, but you’ll need to install and set up the app.)
The winner so far: iOS 11. It rewards iOS users with a ton of special features, like text effects, seamless Wi-Fi and SMS texting and now in-message peer-to-peer payments.
Nuts and bolts
Since Apple controls both hardware and software, it doesn’t have Google’s problem of needing to create one OS for hundreds of different devices made by dozens of brands. But that also means Google is more proactive about sharing its plans to make its OS faster and improve battery life.
The winner so far: Android O, maybe. Google claims Android O is more than twice as fast as last year’s OS, and boots up faster, too. It’s also done behind-the-scenes work to preserve battery life. Apple hasn’t highlighted these improvements, but its devices don’t face the same kinds of issues. We’ll have to compare the next iPhone with the next Pixel to see how battery life and speed shake out.
Apple has redesigned iOS 11’s lock screen, Control Center, Siri interface, and app store. Android O has a few visual tweaks here and there, but not to iOS’ scale.
The winner so far: iOS 11. We like what we’ve seen for far — especially with the refreshed Control Center — but we’re dubious about how the new App Store will pan out.
AR and VR
Android is years ahead of Apple with both AR and VR — it has Google Daydream for VR, Tango for AR, and recently announced a standalone headset. Apple is just getting its feet wet with AR, but the company claims it’ll have the world’s largest augmented reality platform when it launches its ARKit developer platform later this year.
The winner so far: Android for VR. AR could be up in the air. Google’s Tango project is still slow to get underway. If Apple makes good on a rumor that the iPhone camera will get AR capabilities, it could leapfrog Google’s progress.
Apple and Google are both pouring a ton of research into AI (artificial intelligence), to make their digital assistants and tools smarter and more context-aware.
Google is also working on projects like Instant Apps, little mini apps you can open without downloading a thing. It isn’t technically part of Android, but will find its way onto phones. I was impressed by the concept of Google Lens, which lets you identify objects on the fly, among other things.
Saving the best for last?
It’s not over yet. Google and Apple are notorious for saving some OS features to reveal alongside their new phones.
Right now, Google’s software for phones pushes ahead in important ways, but Apple has one more chance to wow us. It’s 10th anniversary iPhone is rumored to have sweeping changes. It’s just the sort of debut where you’d want to save the best new software features for last.
So Apple’s AR code could transform into a killer feature on the next iPhone’s camera. Or, if Apple does wind up ditching the iPhone home button, more hands-free Siri tricks could come to the fore.
Those are moves Apple would want to keep tucked away until the big moment when it can stick it to Android O. Unless Android O on the upcoming Pixel phone hits back with a final jaw-dropper of its own.
We can’t wait to see this all unfolds.
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