iOS 6 vs. Jelly Bean: Which New Mobile OS Reigns Supreme?
June has been a huge month for mobile OSes. The major players, Apple and Google, have both demonstrated and released betas of their latest smartphone/tablet operating systems.
But which OS deserves the King of the Mobile World title? We tossed each new system build into a Thunderdome-style ring to determine which one lives, and which gets tossed into the badlands while Tina Turner sings an epic ballad.
Before we start, a few caveats: Apple’s NDA prohibits Gadget Lab from writing about unannounced features in iOS 6. So, if iOS 6 has a remarkable feature that doesn’t appear in the list, it’s because we respected the developer embargo. Also, neither OS is completely locked down and final, so features can be updated, changed or even removed before the final build. Finally, we’re only comparing new features that directly go head-to-head. For example, Android has much more robust data-management features, but because iOS doesn’t even really try in this area, we didn’t include data management as a mini-battle in this article.
With all that said, release the beta-code hounds!
Siri vs. Google Now Voice Search
Google didn’t give its new challenger to Siri an official name. Instead, the voice-dictation and information-sleuthing tool is wrapped up in Jelly Bean’s Google Now search feature — and it’s just, well, there without a lot of fanfare. Perhaps Google opted out of giving voice search a name because the feature is bereft of personality. The female voice of Android’s search feature is more human-sounding than Apple’s robotic Siri, but there’s nothing very engaging about Google’s new functionality.
Siri is like a friend with a slight hearing impediment. The Google Now voice is a robot that sounds really good.
Voice quality aside, results are hit-and-miss for each system. Siri soars at presenting facts and minutia from Wolfram Alpha, while Google Now hits the more pedestrian Wikipedia for its information. On the surface, both sources are great for quick bites of knowledge, but Wolfram Alpha’s high-precision results and Siri’s presentation make Apple the go-to platform for trivia.
Unfortunately, once you receive your information in Siri, that’s about it. There’s no way to expand upon the information or search the internet unless Siri offers up search in the first place. On the flipside, Google Now presents not only the snippets of information it decided you needed, but also quick access to Google search results with an upward swipe. As for pure voice-recognition prowess, Siri has an easier time understanding natural speech queries, but Google Now was able to decipher the names of our favorite Mexican restaurants. This is something Siri was unable to grasp.
Apple has gone to great pains to ensure that Siri’s sports, weather and movie results are now informative and beautiful in iOS 6. Google calls its equivalent Jelly Bean graphics “Knowledge Graphs” — illustrated cards, more or less, that include photos, maps, and other Googly art conventions. These are informative, but not nearly as pretty as what Apple delivers.
But what really puts Apple over the top is the ability to post Facebook status updates and tweets from within Siri in iOS 6. Try the same thing in Jelly Bean, and Google’s OS informs you, “This device cannot perform the action you requested.” Considering that Android has had Facebook and Twitter integration for a while, this is a disappointment.
The final nail in Google’s coffin is Siri’s ability to open apps with your voice. This is perfect when you have hundreds of apps on your iPhone, but not so perfect if an app has an odd name. For example, when we asked Siri to launch Rdio, she kept informing us that we didn’t have an app call armadillo. Still, the app-search function usually works, and it’s a huge benefit.
Verdict: Both voice-controlled search functions work great if you know the limitations of each service. Siri looks nicer, but its social integration and app launching is what really gives it a leg up over Google Now.
Maps vs. Maps
While Apple’s new, home-grown Maps app has a wonderful satellite 3D view that makes Google’s equivalent look like someone smashed in a bunch of buildings, Google’s feature set destroys most of what Apple has to offer.
Apple lacks any sort of street view for address-by-address navigation and location searching. This is a problem, as real-world images of storefronts will always beat dull, gray overhead views of buildings. And while Jelly Bean pushes turn-by-turn navigation to another app, its turn-by-turn features still blow away iOS 6′s. Google’s offering also provides the ability to create routes that avoid tolls and freeways; user-defined mapping layers (like terrain, traffic and transit lines); and the Latitude service, which helps you geo-locate friends who opt-in.
Perhaps most importantly, Google offers offline map viewing — a glaring omission for iOS 6. Simply select an area you want to view while offline, and then download that map data to your Android device. It’s an essential tool for those times when your carrier connection has dropped out, or you’re not able to access Wi-Fi. And it’s as simple as cropping out a localized map with the drag of a finger. The city of San Francisco ate up a modest 1.5MB on our Nexus 7 tablet.
Verdict: Apple’s first attempt at a home-grown mapping app is nice, but it can’t beat years of Google experience in building out a mapping infrastructure. In fact, we’re waiting impatiently for Google Maps to appear on iOS.
Android had proper notifications before iOS. But just because you’re first, doesn’t mean you’re best. Apple’s notification scheme does one thing that just kills Android: It pushes notifications to the lock screen (and it’s been doing this since iOS 5). Jelly Bean’s audible alert is nice, but it involves too many steps to see what needs your attention. With iOS, the information is presented right on the screen — no need to unlock the device, or pull down to view notifications.
Jelly Bean’s integration with Google+ is stunning when a photo is shared on your G+ account — the image appears full width in your Android notification’s drawer. But the world needs more than just Google+ integration. Facebook and Twitter status updates in the iOS notification screen are perfect for quick updates.
We’re fans of expanded email notifications in Jelly Bean, but even these are not enough to help Android win the notifications competition.
Verdict: Google may have been first to notifications, but Apple has mastered the game. Google needs to look beyond Google+.
Putting notifications aside, Jelly Bean’s deep integration with social media is stellar, and it all ties into Android’s open APIs. For example, Jelly Bean’s Gallery app is totally exposed, allowing third-party developers direct sharing access. In short, any image in your Android Gallery can be shared with Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as well as apps like GroupMe, Dropbox, Foursquare and surely more to come.
iOS 6 has deep Facebook and Twitter integration, but if you want to share something from the Photos app to another third-party network, you need to launch that service’s app.
Verdict: While Google is keen on pushing Google+ to everyone, everywhere, it still plays more democratically than Apple.
Google Play vs. iTunes Stores
Google and Apple have taken different paths when it comes to selling wares to customers. Google keeps all of its stores in one app, while Apple has split the iTunes store into multiple locations. Want an app? Launch the App Store. Need a songs? Launch iTunes. The iBooks app contains books, and even podcasts have recently been given their own app.
Android’s one-stop shop means you don’t have to open multiple apps to find what you’re looking for. However, it does lead to a cluttered UI on the main splash page where users end up selecting the portion of Google Play they want to purchase media from. Apple’s multiple apps approach cuts down on clutter, but reduces discovery. Searching for a movie won’t also lead to a result that contains that movie’s soundtrack.
In truth, both approaches are flawed. Neither is impressive, nor a horrible mess. They both work moderately well in their own ways.
Verdict: It’s a draw.
Safari vs Chrome
The browser battles are back. But instead of Netscape versus Explorer, it’s Safari (Apple) versus Chrome (Google).
OK, it’s not really like the browser wars of old, but Safari versus Chrome is still a nagging debate. When it introduced Jelly Bean Wednesday, Google announced that Chrome would be the default Android browser. Why it took so long? Google only knows.
Chrome features unlimited tabs, and the ability to sync your Google account with bookmarks and currently open tabs on other devices. But the best Chrome feature is still its unified search and URL field.
Safari also syncs bookmarks and open tabs, but it lacks a unified typing field, which is odd considering Safari for OS X will have a unified field in Mountain Lion. Regardless, Safari makes up for unified URL/search with the ability to post photos from the mobile browser to sites like Craigslist. But Safari’s real kicker is its built-in “read it later” feature called Reading List.
Verdict: This one’s tough. We could call it a draw, but even soccer has done away with ties. While a unified field is great, the Reading List gives iOS 6 the edge.
According to our count, the iPhone wins. But just barely.
Before you Apple fans start hectoring your Android-owning friends, remember that both platforms contain other features that are just as compelling as the ones above. iOS’s over-the-air Facetime, photo streaming, VIP email and Passbook are great features. Jelly Bean’s Location-aware Google Now is your new personal assistant, and Data usage is perfect for users on a data diet.
The biggest mark against Android — and something that wasn’t mentioned in the smackdown above — is that Android users are usually stuck with the OS version that came with their handsets. So, while Jelly Bean might be the bees knees, unless you buy a new Nexus device in July, you’re saddled with whatever OS your handset maker feels like supporting. At least iPhone owners get the latest-greatest.