Android vs. iPhone: 5 Battlefields

The two smartphones will go the rounds on functions, options, apps and other features

Apple's iPhone and Google's Android smartphones are getting set for another epic battle next week as these two titans of the smartphone industry show off their latest devices.

First, on June 23 the Axis of Don't Be Evil composed of Google, Verizon, and Adobe will announce the next wave of Android-based Motorola Droid devices. Then a day later on June 24, the Tenacious Tandem of Apple and AT&T launch the iPhone 4, the latest iteration of the popular smartphone, in the United States (the device will also launch internationally on June 24 in France, Germany, Japan and the U.K.).

Apple already sold 600,000 iPhone 4 devices in one day despite severe technical problems with ordering systems in the United States. Motorola Droid is the most popular smartphone in the Android army, and the June 23 announcement is expected to bring significant upgrades to Motorola's popular Android brand.

The stage is set, and the next battle is about to begin as Google and Apple compete over who will become the number one contender to compete for Research In Motion's smartphone crown.

So, as we get ready for next week's showdown, let's look at some of the key areas where the two smartphone platforms will compete, as well as some quick and dirty predictions over who has the advantage in each category.

Devices

The new iPhone 4 is boasting some impressive specs, including a front-facing camera, high-definition 720p video recording capability, 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, longer battery life, three-axis gyroscope, and a 960-by-640 resolution 3.5-inch LED display.

On the other side, the big news expected to come out of the June 23 Android announcement is the recently-confirmed Droid X. The Droid X features a 4.3-inch display , HDMI output, and 720p video recording capability. The new Droid device is also said to sport an 854-by-480 resolution screen, and 8-megapixel camera with flash. The Droid X is likely to run Android 2.1 (Eclair), according to Engadget. It's unclear whether the new Droid device will be capable of running the oft-hyped Flash Player 10.1 for mobile devices.

Both devices sound impressive, but Android appears to be missing one key feature present on the iPhone 4: the front-facing camera. But on the other hand, there's already an Android device that boasts this feature on Sprint's network: HTC's Android-based EVO 4G.

While Apple typically brings out some nice hardware every year, a new and better Android device appears on the market every few months. Apple simply can't keep pace with the multiplicity of different Android devices being produced, with each one typically being better than the last. Advantage: Android

Sales and Market Penetration

One Morgan Stanley analyst believes the iPhone is headed for 100 million total users worldwide by the end of 2011. That's a pretty big jump from the 30 million iPhone users said to be around today. Right now, Nielsen says that Apple owns about 28% of the smartphone market in the United States, while Android makes up just 9% of U.S. smartphone users. Both the iPhone and Android, however, grew equally by 2% year-over-year during the first quarter of 2010.

Earlier, NPD Group released a report saying that Android sales had outpaced iPhone sales during the first quarter of 2010, while Gartner said that Android grew by 707% during that same quarter.

So Android appears to be coming on strong, but the iPhone still has a much larger share of the smartphone market despite the plethora of Android devices. If Google wants to beat the iPhone it will have to sustain its phenomenal growth over the long term, but it's difficult to keep up enthusiasm when you're announcing a new Android device every few weeks. Also, despite Google's successes with Android, it still hasn't been able to replicate the iPhone mania that occurs around every launch of a new Apple smartphone. In fact, there's already one brave soul camping out for the iPhone 4 in Dallas six days before the new device is released. Advantage: iPhone

Carriers

There's an in the United States, but if you want the iPhone you have to go with AT&T. This has been the state of affairs since the iPhone's launch in 2007, and the exclusive relationship shows no sign of ending despite rumors of an iPhone on Verizon or T-Mobile, and even speculation about Sprint.

Apple can withstand the calls to move to multiple operators for the moment, but if Android keeps growing quickly Cupertino may have to consider making its device available in the United States on more than one network. Advantage: Android

Operating System

Apple has just one operating system available for sale at a time, and until recently it made iOS updates available to almost all of its older hardware. Android, on the other hand, suffers from a multiplicity of available devices with new and old versions of the hardware, including Android 1.6, 2.1 and the upcoming 2.2. That can get to be confusing for users, since you have to figure out which operating system you're phone has, whether it's going to get upgrades, and which features you may be missing.

Apple's approach is much simpler since it makes available (and supports) only two versions of the iPhone -- currently iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 -- at once. Even better, the feature difference between the two phones is not that great and immediately obvious. Advantage: iPhone

Apps

You would think that apps would be the biggest battleground for these two smartphone platforms, since most critics agree that available applications are what attract new users. Both companies love to boast about how many apps each store has--Apple has more than 200,000 and Google has some 30,000. But the truth is, both smartphones have reached a level that will serve the needs of most consumers. Sure, if you're looking for something like a specialty medical app you owe it to yourself to do the research and figure out which platform is best. But for most users, there are plenty of apps to go around.

The key here will be whether Apple's recent policies on banning cross-platform app-building tools will sour developers' attitudes over the long term. Conversely, will Google's embrace of things like Flash and Android's perceived openness woo more developers to work on the Android platform? For now, both sides appear to have an equally aggressive application library regardless of the total number of apps in each store. Advantage: neither

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).

This story, "Android vs. iPhone: 5 Battlefields" was originally published by PCWorld.

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