The latest version of iOS has a number of interesting and useful tweaks and changes across all platforms, but as we’re comparing it with Android Honeycomb, a tablet-specific operating system, we’ll concentrate mainly on the ways in which iOS 4.3 enhances the iPad experience.
Apps and Media:
One of the most touted changes from Apple’s marketing and PR teams has been the enhancement of the Airplay and wireless networking capabilities which is a feature present on iPad, iPhone and iPod.
Airplay is Apple’s wireless media streaming technology, which allows users to stream virtually real-time video, audio and photo images direct to Apple enabled TVs, a very snazzy and extremely useful feature which was introduced in iOS 4.2.
Version 4.3 has expanded Airplay to include streaming of web-based H.264 videos.
This feature certainly has a lot of potential but it’s important to note it has its limitations, most notably that web-based content can only be streamed if it is authorised by website developers via permission tags.
Apple has done its best to make permission tagging a relatively hassle free task for web developers but of course this makes no guarantees that what you want to stream will be stream-able.
Another new element of this feature for 4.3 is that it now allows you to stream self-made videos straight from the device, previously this required a video to be transferred to a computer and to be resynchronised first but Apple has now eliminated all the fuss.
Multi-tasking is a continual strength of the Android system and in this version it continues to get better and better as it has been boosted to be quicker and generally more user-friendly.
Honeycomb is more than capable of running high-end apps and content with good performance thanks to integrated OpenGL graphics acceleration and the Renderscript 3D graphics engine.
On iOS 4.3 the Apps interface has had a slight reshuffle, the Updates tab now has a series of large icons for your updatable apps which display little or no information, unfortunately, but instead have a peculiar ‘Installed’ button which, when pressed, takes you to the update page for that app.
It’s difficult to see this as a step forward or back, it simply comes across as change for change’s sake.
The Android browser has, in the past, been something of an awkward beast but Google has made real efforts here and the improvements are considerable. Most importantly, the browser has had additional features pilfered from its Chrome heritage and now includes tabbed browsing.
Contact integration with Facebook, and to a lesser extent Twitter, plus support of native social networking apps have been standing features of both operating systems since previous versions, so in that regard they’re fairly equal.
However, on iOS 4.3 Location Services has received a revamp and is now quickly and easily accessible in the Settings menu.
It’s also been updated with the new Find My Friends utility, part of Apple’s MobileMe service, which pretty much does what the name suggests being essentially Apple’s alternative to Android’s established Google Latitude as a location-based social networking tool.
There are a couple of changes to iOS in this version which are iPad specific – a new multi-touch function keeps up with popular trends in the touchscreen world allowing the use of four and five finger gestures.
Amongst these is a new ‘pinch’ which closes the current application and returns the user to the homescreen, a feature which has created much speculation and some controversy amongst Apple commentators regarding the future of the much-loved Home button.
iOS 4.3 also settles previous controversy over the replacement of the Screen-Lock switch in version 4.1 with the Mute switch – 4.3 rectifies the problem by offering both, the switch now has a toggle allowing you to choose which function to use it for.
Honeycomb has had a more extensive facelift with new features such as the applications and notifications bar at the bottom of the homescreen which allows you to navigate through currently open apps.
Native Google apps such as Gmail have been positioned in the interface similarly to Apple’s presentation of its own apps on the iPad.
The notification system is also a little different for tablets this time with a right-hand pop-up box at the bottom of the screen, which contains both image and text details for the current alert.
The contacts list has been updated with a dual-screen interface and fast scrolling feature and the interface has received changes meaning there is no longer a requirement for physical buttons a given device using the system which could be great for future ultra-thin tablets.
The most important thing to remember with Android, though, is one of its main strong points is the inherent customisation options it has over most other operating systems, Honeycomb is no exception to this.
You really can tailor it to suit your needs where iOS pretty much comes as is.
It will be interesting to see if Apple eventually adopts a similar approach as Android continues to win in this area.
Android continually has the ever present problem of fragmentation across devices, Google is seeking to rectify this with future versions which will be cross-platform but will still no doubt lock out older devices.
As Android tablets are a relatively new occurrence since the start of the year this shouldn’t prove much of a problem with the current version of Honeycomb, however it has been suggested that it will at least require dual-core processors which could rule out the Samsung Galaxy Tab, for example.
Apple on the other hand, having previously been relatively universal in its iOS compatibility, is changing things slightly as it seems iOS 4.3 will leave some older devices lagging behind (notably iPod touch 2G and iPhone 3G) but fortunately again this won’t affect the iPad and forthcoming iPad 2 as these are far too recent to take the hit.
The improvements to iOS in version 4.3 are great and in many cases provide some much needed changes to resolve user issues with previous versions.
By comparison to Android however, which feels like it is really bringing its A-game, Apple’s system feels as though it’s just had some relatively minor fettling under the bonnet.
Android is now much more competitive with iOS than ever before, some of the major gripes with the system have been ironed out and it is really playing to its strengths.
It is testament though to the overall quality of iOS that it didn’t need much changing this time around, and it has taken this long for Android to really get up to scratch.
Overall it’s still very much a case of Android being more customisable over integration, intuitiveness and ease-of-use – iOS really is just pick-up-and-go and that is its major strength, but the point here is that Google are inching ever closer to a similar state – Honeycomb is demonstrative of this and is impressive as a result to say the least.