WHO HAS THE BETTER APPS STORE GOOGLE PLAY OR APPLES APPS STORE
Back in the day, a "smart" phone was one that let you manage a calendar and e-mails. Now, the IQ test is more rigorous. Ask anyone carrying an iPhone or Android phone these days what makes their phones brainy and they'll quickly tell you, "It's the apps, dum-dum."
Apple has a commanding lead over all other smart phone platforms with 230,000 and counting in the App Store. But Google's Android platform now claims 70,000. There may be a big difference between the two, but it's not felt in all categories. In 10 of the most important app categories, iPhone and Android duke it out. Surprisingly, it's not a total rout, not on either side. Each platform takes its fair share of victories.
The iPhone's huge app count doesn't help it in certain situations. After all, Apple only just bestowed multitasking to its development community, something programmers have been working with on Android for a couple of years. Also, iPhones don't run widgets — an extension of an app that appears on an Android phone's home screen. When it comes to music and social networking, widgets mean a huge advantage.
But Android suffers in other ways. Because the OS is freely available to anyone who builds hardware, carriers sell Android phones with a variety of screen sizes and processor speeds. This makes game designers in particular kinda twitchy, especially since they know that a new iPhone will only come out once a year, setting a new top-bar standard when it does.
Another developer concern is the overwhelming number of free apps in Google's disorganized Android Market. According to the mobile apps tracking firm Distino, free downloads account for well over half the apps, including nice ones made by Google itself. If you're trying to convince people to pay actual money for your apps, it's better to flaunt wares in the iPhone App Store, where freebies only account for just over a quarter of listed apps.
The iPhone has a huge lead here, and most game developers appear to be hanging back from committing to Android for the time being. The biggest exception is Gameloft, which has already published a considerable lineup of Android games including the platformer "Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles," and the first-person shooter "NOVA." Ironically, Gameloft said last fall that it was scaling back on Android development, and still refuses to sell apps through Google's embarrassingly chaotic Android Market, opting to sell through its own website instead.
While there are lots of casual games for Android, there's nowhere near the momentum of iPhone, with marquee titles like "Sims," "Mass Effect" and "Plants vs. Zombies" (at right) already being downloaded by the masses. Though one imagines that Android's explosive growth this year would spur game developers, there's mostly just a lot of vague optimism. "We don't race to anything," said Garth Chouteau, a spokesman for PopCap, which publishes "Plants vs. Zombies," "Bejeweled" and other popular mobile games. "We are working on games for Android, adapting some of our most popular games. But we haven't announced which games or when they will ship." Winner: iPhone
Perceptive reviewers have taken the iPhone to task for not being a very friendly social networking platform. You can set up your phone to get alerts from Facebook and Twitter — sometimes through third-party apps that charge money, like Boxcar — but you can't really browse your feeds in a comfortable way without diving deep into the apps. Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 7 is built around the idea that your feeds should be visible as soon as possible, with panels that you can assign to your friends, that will aggregate each person's updates across multiple social media services into one easy-to-find square.
Nevermind that Motorola and others have developed software for Android that's specifically geared to feeding you social updates quicker, all of the new Android phones have Facebook and Twitter widgets that let you browse your people quickly without making you launch any apps. Winner: Android
Music, photos and movies
When it comes to basic media playback, the iPhone still is what Steve Jobs called his "best iPod yet." Syncing songs, playlists, TV and movies — even rented movies — through iTunes is easy despite the program's famous bloat. And once the media is on the iPhone, it's easy to access and manage (as you can see in the presumably familiar image at right). For people who own their own music and movies, it's unparalleled. Though photo syncing is best performed through Apple's iPhoto, another bulky Mac program, it too provides unparalleled organization.
For Android users, media help for the moment has to come via third-party software. My favorite for now is DoubleTwist, sort of an iTunes "lite" that runs on Macs and PCs and syncs music to most phones, and even helps organize movies and photos too. Meanwhile, the DoubleTwist app for the phone itself acts like the iPod app on iPhones. (Both the computer program and the phone app are free.) Winner: iPhone
When it comes to streaming music and new music-on-demand services, Android suffers no disadvantage. All the popular iPhone music apps — Pandora, Slacker, Rhapsody, Mog, and even utilities like SoundHound and Shazam — they're all available on Android too. The difference is, most of them get widgets in Android. Pop open your phone and flip through tunes, ditch one service for another, hell, play two or three songs at the same time from the same screen in some freaky mashup performance piece, all without dipping into an app. You can't do that on an iPhone, but if you're half crazy, you'd definitely do it on an Android phone.
Now, Apple's newest OS release does give most of those apps the ability to be played from the iPhone's multitasking menu, but only once they're launched. And if you launch a new one, you have to go back to another app to get it to play again — there's no way to switch from, say, Mog to Pandora, without going in and launching Pandora to take precedence over Mog. Winner: Android
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