iPhone 5S vs. Android: Two Fanboys Fight it Out

An Apple advocate and an Android enthusiast discuss the launch of Apple’s iPhone 5S, iOS 7 and the iPhone 5C

The iPhone 5S is official alongside iOS 7 and the not-so-cheap iPhone 5C. Apple’s mission for the rest of the year has been outlined. As always, opinion is divided on what the Cupertino-based company has come to the table with. 

In the wake of Apple’s big iPhone launch we decided to try something a bit different: get two tech-writers – one a thorough Fandroid, the other immersed in Apple’s iOS ecosystem – and get them to argue out the finer points of yesterday’s launch. 

Damien McFerran is a freelance technology journalist and regularly contributes to some of the world’s most foremost technology sites – including KYM. Michael Grothaus is a London-based technology journalist. He writes for Fast Company, The Guardian, and TUAW, amongst others.

KYM initiated things with an opening statement: 

“Not everybody seems all that impressed by what Apple came to the table with last night. Has the company lost its magic?” 

And the discussion began… 

Michael: “I think it's easy not to be impressed anymore – and that has little to do with Apple. There are so many leaks out of China nothing is a surprise anymore. Everyone saw the iPhone 5C days before it was announced. It takes the surprise and magic out of these events now. The same thing happened with the iPhone 5s and the same this will happen with the next iPads. With all the leaked parts you can practically assemble the next iOS devices before they're ever announced.”

Damien: “Leaks are one thing, but in the cold light of day I think the launch of the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C was something of a disappointment.

“For me, the iPhone family just looks confused. The 5S is clearly the premium choice and comes with decent specs and features. I personally think the fingerprint scanner will be copied by every Android smartphone from this point forward (even if it did appear on the Motorola Atrix ages ago). But the iPhone 5C is way too expensive for what it is.

“I'm not entirely sure who it is marketed at – surely anyone who can afford the 470 quid for that device would be better off putting a bit more cash towards the superior 5S? Claims of it being a ‘budget’ iPhone now seem laughable - it's like Apple is content to offer an ‘Expensive’ and ‘REALLY expensive’ option, rather than an entry-level handset which would easily destroy the lower end of the Android market.

“iOS 7 looks neat, and I personally like the colourful icons, but it's not all that new – we knew about it months ago. It doesn't seem to offer the massive strides that Android's OS has, but then again, Google has completely changed the way Android looks several times in the past, which is perhaps an admission that Android is a bad OS which is steadily getting better. 

“From my perspective, Apple has shown nothing which would make me want to ditch my Galaxy S4 and pick up an iPhone. What was shown yesterday feels very much like preaching to the converted: the 5S will be lapped up by the hardcore fans, while the 5C will appeal to those who like a bit of colour in their handset. Neither will tempt devoted Android lovers away from Google's teat, and I think Apple has missed an open goal by not pricing the 5C lower.” 

Michael: “What's funny is we actually disagree on a point I thought we would have agreed on – iOS 7's icons are horrible. They look like Apple gave a box of highlighters to a five year old and said, "Draw us something." That being said, the rest of the look and feel of iOS 7 is growing on me. 

“I agree with you about the cost of the iPhone 5C. It is still quite high. However, Apple never said they were building a low-cost iPhone – everyone else did. What Apple has done with the iPhone 5C is to make those that can't afford the latest and greatest iPhone stop feeling like second class citizens by selling them last year's model at a lower price. 

“From an engineering perspective, it's also quite a marvel. A unibody plastic body that actually feels good in the hand is something no other smartphone manufacturer has ever done. 

“As for the iPhone 5s, no Android fan is ever impressed by the incremental updates Apple pushes out (3G to 3GS, 4 to 4S, 5 to 5s). That's because the devices don't physically look different. However, the iPhone 5s is leaps and bounds ahead of any other iPhone or Android phone. It's what's inside that counts: the world's first 64-bit mobile processor (the A7), the worlds first motion co-processor (the M7) that will allow for a new generation of fitness apps, the new iSight camera with an f/2.2 and two LED True Tone flash. That's not even to mention the fingerprint scanner with Touch ID.

“Yes, other phones have had fingerprint scanners before, but the difference between those and the one on the iPhone is that the iPhone's one actually works – and will continue to. Every fingerprint scanner that has appeared on a smartphone to date has been a POS, made of cheap materials, poor scanning functions, and a very limited lifetime. Those scanners usually burn out after 500 scans! As usual, Apple waited to introduce the fingerprint scanner until their engineers could get it right, where it will last and work flawlessly every time.”

Damien: “Now you've explained it, I can sort of understand the positioning of the 5C now. I guess with the iPhone 5 there was always the stigma of having "last year's tech", but a new design solves that.

I'd disagree that the iPhone 5S is a significant improvement over rival phones - if you look at the raw power being put into some of the latest Android handsets, Apple continues to operate within its own little sphere; it compares the performance of its products to previous Apple products, rather than with competing devices. Not that it really matters, as comparing iOS to Android is a largely pointless exercise - one is locked down and smooth, while the other is more open but prone to performance issues - no matter how powerful the hardware is that it's running on. 

What irks me most about iOS right now is that Apple seems perfectly content to continue selling to their existing fanbase. Part of me actually wants them to produce a device which takes on Android directly, a more open platform which better customisation, a larger display, expandable storage and so on...I'm a big fan of Apple's build quality and will readily admit that there's no better constructed handset out there than the iPhone." 

Michael: “I think Apple doesn't usually do direct hardware comparisons to other smartphones because of the very point you mention. The iPhone is locked down and smooth – often times using much less raw processing power – than competing Android handsets. For example, there are some mobiles that have twice the RAM that the iPhone does, yet the iPhone runs much faster and smoother. Again, that's due to excellent software optimization. Apple can get more with less, but if they compared spec to spec, to the average consumer it would appear if the iPhone ran slower because it had less raw horsepower. 

“As I appreciate many of the features of Android, I hear and agree with those that wish Apple would make iOS more open. However, people like us are the exception in the billion-unit-plus smartphone market. Most consumers just want a smartphone that works and is easy to use. That's much easier to do in a closed, secure ecosystem.

iOS 7

“The reason Android is now winning as far as units sold goes is that it hits a note with something else that most consumers want: a cheap phone. There are tons of free or very low cost Android handsets that are more than good enough for your average user (their build quality is usually crap though). Apple still needs to figure out how to break into that low cost market, or else it will continue to lose ground to Android in a specific subset of smartphone buyers.” 

Damien: “I think you've hit the nail on the head, and that's my point - Apple had the chance with the 5C to enter the low-cost market, and it decided against it. I know that Apple never said explicitly that it was making a budget handset, but all the signs were there: cheaper body, last year's internals. Had they pitched this as a 400 pound (or less) device, then I'm sure many Android manufacturers would have been very uncomfortable. The cheap end of the market is the only area Apple hasn't conquered, although many will argue that the 4S is now capable of filling that space.

I guess from an Android perspective I'm always going to compare with what I know, and when you can pick up the Nexus 4 for less than 200 quid - a phone, which is technically superior to the iPhone 5 - I fail to see how the 5C makes sense. However, I'm sure it will sell well, especially if Apple's plans to expand into China come to fruition.”

And that’s it folks. Michael and Damien could have gone on all day, but we wanted to keep it in the context of yesterday’s launch. What are your opinions about yesterday’s announcement? 

Do you agree with Michael or Damien? 

Give your thoughts in the comments below. 

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