We all know the iPhone has a dedicated following by Apple fans across the world, but Android has its fair share of fanboys too. In fact, the Android market is showing huge gains all over the world. Although the iPhone seems to be doing well in the U.S., Android devices make up almost 70% of the global market share, compared to iOS’ 19%. For the first time, the Samsung Galaxy S3 also topped the iPhone in overall sales late last year.
Our Android developers have long touted the benefits of the platform around the Raizlabs offices. Many handy tricks and features exist on Android that iOS fanboys may have no clue exist. Here’s our top ten of awesome Android features that the iPhone can only dream of having one day:
Android users can place widgets from installed applications on their home screens, allowing for quick glimpses into apps without having to open them. They can be resized and placed anywhere on the home screen, allowing for a level of customization not available on an iOS device home screen. Widgets allow for a level of home screen customization iPhone users don’t have on their devices. Instead of having to open apps, think of widgets as a preview that let you see the important information at a glance.
2) Default Apps
One of the major criticisms many have of the iPhone is the inability to delete or replace the default iOS apps such as email, safari, music, etc. However, Android allows for customization. Want to open your Gmail in a Gmail app or Yahoo mail in a Yahoo app? Like Nokia Maps better than Google Maps? Hate Twitter’s default app and use an alternative? All these can be set as default apps easily on Android. Unfortunately, iPhone users are stuck with default email, Safari, and more.
3) Data Sharing Between Apps
The process of sharing via an iPhone can be frustrating, to say the least. Take a picture, tap the share icon, select email, select the size… there’s a lot of steps involved. Sharing between Android users is simplified thanks to Android Beam and NFC technology. By physically tapping two devices together, users can send data and share items such as photos, contacts, apps, map locations, open browser windows, links, etc… we could go on for awhile.
4) Track Battery and Data Usage by App
We’ve all had it happen, you’re out all day texting, tweeting, and chatting away on your phone when the dreaded battery drain finally reaches 0%. There’s not much you can do but watch the percentage dwindle as time goes by. However, you can at least prolong the battery life on an Android phone by tracking battery usage by app. In newer versions, users can also track data usage and disable individual apps from using data on a mobile network. For example, if Facebook tries to download another large update, you can only allow it to do so on wifi. This creates a level of control not possible on the iOS platform.
5) Multiple User Support
If you have an Android 4.2 tablet or above, it is now possible to have multiple user accounts on a device. No more wondering about who downloaded unwanted apps using your account, friends can now log into their own on Android tablets. Even switching between accounts is simple and intuitive by pulling down the quick setting shade and tapping the user icon. This action immediately takes you to the lock screen where users can switch to a new account.
6) Lock Screen Customization
On an iPhone, the most we can do is change the background wallpaper for our lock screen to make it our own. Android device lock screens are fully customizable in looks and functionality. Users can even add widgets for a quick glance to get information or launch right into your favorite apps. Literally hundreds of apps are available in the Google Play store that allow for the lock screen to be transformed into looking like a fingerprint scanner, or even an iPhone for instance. Features such as pattern unlock, multiple screens and face unlock are available as alternatives to the PIN unlock on Android, and allow for further user customization.
7) SD Card Support
On certain Android devices, apps and files on are stored on the phone or tablet’s SD card, along with their data. Some allow plugging in USB flash drives as well. Although apps install to internal storage by default, you can change the settings to set the SD card as default install location. Android is all about having choice — instead of being stuck with only 16GB of space such as with an iOS device, you could add more space by upgrading to a bigger SD card. The other draw is that users simply have to pull out the SD card to grab the files they need like photos or music. Easy and pain free.
8) Google Wallet
Google’s own solution to simplifying payment on your mobile device, Google Wallet, stores payment information for streamlined retail shopping. Customers can now simply click the “Buy with Google” button for straightforward, easy checkout experience. This stored payment information trend seeks to grow as more and more brands add the technology to their applications.
As anyone who develops for Android will tell you, developer freedom is the main attraction. Android’s $25 one-time developer registration fee vs. Apple’s $99 a year developer account fee encourages more programmers to build apps for the platform. The guidelines for publishing apps are also far less exhaustive and restrictive than iOS. A major key to succeeding on Android is to use the attributes of the platform and create something innovative. Keep in mind the unique aspects that separate Android from iOS next time when developing your app or downloading from the Google Play store.
9) Launcher Apps
Launcher apps allow the user to totally change the way the home screen works, functions, looks, etc. They replace the home screen setup of the phone or tablet and are responsible for starting other apps and hosting widgets. Each launcher is unique and has a different environment. For example, Facebook Home, which doesn’t have an iOS equivalent because of the inability to edit home screen options. There are launchers that add features and more control to the standard home screen, but then there are others that transform your phone to look like Google Now or changes based on your interests.
10) Custom Notifications
Notifications on Android usually adhere to design standards, but give a lot of leeway in the displaying of information. Unlike iOS, Android notifications have a simple base layout, and much of the time an expanded layout when the user drags the notification. In addition, features such as the top pull notification drawer came before iPhones even had notification center. Actions can also be assigned within a notification, such as with a calendar event – users can hit the snooze button for the event or email it to guests within the notification. You can even archive or reply to emails directly from the notification. These are useful and make it easier to perform quick actions instead of dive into an app to perform such tasks.
Pulling a notification drawer from the top of the screen was on Android devices from the very beginning. These notifications started with the simple app icon, notification text, and click-to-open features common on many other operating systems today, but have evolved to contain expanded information, such as the most recent messages in your inbox. Actions can also be assigned within a notification, such as with a calendar event – users can hit the snooze button for the event or email it to guests within the notification. You can even archive or reply to emails directly from the notification screen. These are useful and make it easier to perform quick actions instead of dive into an app to perform such tasks.