I’m writing a book on supporting special needs teens and adult independent living with a smartphone. I’m covering both iOS and Android in the one book (if Microsoft pays me I’d do them too :-), so I had to write a chapter comparing them. Except that’s not what I had to write, when I started I realized that I wasn’t comparing iOS to Android as much as I was comparing the Google Way (Android, iOS) to the Apple Way (iPhone).
I’ve done a very rough draft below, I’d love to get comments here or email to firstname.lastname@example.org (or email@example.com if you prefer). By way of context we’re an iPhone/Mac family who do most things the Google Way, and while I do appreciate my iPhone 6 (screen pop!) I’ve been quite impressed by an ultra-cheap Lenovo moto-e phone I bought for this project. I think Apple used to do great software, but they lost that knack around around 2006, when Steve Jobs killed iMovie 6/iMovie HD. So it’s a fair fight now.
Life would be simpler if either the Apple Way or the Google Way were clearly better. Unfortunately, life isn’t like that. So there’s no simple answer to the question “What phone should my Explorer use?”.
In general Guide and Explorer should use the same smartphone. Very few people will want to know learn the ins and outs of two devices. So if you and your Explorer favor the same solution you can skip the rest of this discussion.
School experience doesn’t help much. Most schools, even those that favor iPads over Chromebooks, use gCloud services. This tends to favor Android phones, where gCloud is the only option. On the other hand, as we noted earlier, iPhones can be used with Google’s solutions — it’s just a bit more complicated.
There’s a cost advantage to Android phones, but it’s not as big an advantage as it first looks. If you disregard the deceptive cell phone contract “costs” and look at the real cost of an unlocked phone, you can buy a remarkably powerful Android phone for as little as $100. The least expensive iPhone currently costs about $450. That’s a big difference, but even a good mobile phone plan will cost $40 a month (more below on saving money there). Over two years the Android device will cost $1,920, the iPhone will cost $2,270 or 15% more. At the end of that time the iPhone probably has 2 more years of useful life, but the Android phone will be obsolete. Of course if your Explorer tends to lose or break phones, that $100 phone is awfully appealing.
The iPhone has other advantages that justify some of that price premium. Apple Stores provide excellent technical report and service. iPhones get regular and reliable software updates and are much less vulnerable (so far) to malicious software attacks (malware). If you stick entirely with iCloud iPhones are significantly simpler to use than Android phones.
Apple’s software is typically easier to use and learn than Google’s software. It’s also easier to restrict and control an iPhone. Those are real advantages for our users.
In theory, for a vulnerable population, the iPhone with iCloud (not gCloud) has other advantages. Google makes its money from advertising and selling information about its software users, Apple makes money from selling goods and services. In practice I’m not sure how much different this makes … so far.
There’s one last consideration. If you choose an Android device and gCloud it’s not hard to switch to an iPhone. Google wants your advertising attention regardless of what device you use; you can bring gCloud with you. If you choose an iPhone and iCloud though, a move to Android will be more painful.
The good news is that whatever choice you make, you can easily defend it! Both Android and iPhone will work. Just try to avoid supporting both and Android and an iPhone. That’s too much work.