iOS vs. Android: which wins in 2021?

The first iPhone OS came out in 2007, the same year as the first version of Android. Over the years, they’ve both evolved. They both still have a lot of growing up to do, but in the last 14 years they’ve become the dominant ways we interact with the world. For a while, it was a pretty big fight, along the lines of Coke vs. Pepsi. You were one, or you were the other. Is that still true?

State of the cellular world

Right now, there are two companies that make phones for nearly everyone. Apple and Samsung dominate, and I mean dominate. According to this article, Apple and Samsung together accounted for 81% of the market in the last quarter when data was available. Apple consistently wins, although that’s misleading when you look at the whole picture.

Apple definitely holds sway as the top manufacturer, the one everyone wants. But when you look at the operating system, it’s Android that wins out. Its 72% market share tops iOS by a factor of roughly three. This tells you that there are a lot of non-Samsung Androids out there as well. Apple may have about 65% of the share of new phones, but every phone that isn’t an Apple, is an Android. Simple as that.

Which operating system is better?

The trick here is not to fall into the old tropes. If this were 2011, you’d say that Androids always get the new features first and Apples have new features that are better. If this were 2016 you’d say that Androids can have malware and Apples can’t. But really in 2021 that’s not as true as it used to be.

Today, the answer’s a lot harder. A lot of times, Androids do have better technology. Samsung’s cameras, along with those of other Androids, are consistently better than even the top-end Apples. That means the camera apps can work better. Siri, although it was first, is really inferior to “OK Google,” if you’re really still using that functionality. Apple’s messaging app is still better than Android’s but of course text messaging is only one way we get messages now. If you’re more of a WhatsApp, SnapChat, or Facebook Messenger person you won’t care who has the better native texting app.

The phone emperors have no clothes

OK folks, I’m going to tell you the honest truth. Both iOS and Android are stuck in a rut both visually and in terms of features. Neither has had a real visual upgrade in about five years. Sure, there are incremental changes to the functionality. Sure, I like those changes. But when was the last time you looked at something new on a phone and went “wow?”

That’s a dangerous place to be in because it invites market disruption. Sure you can say people are happy with what they have. That will let you sleep at night. But, the tech world is littered with the shells of companies that thought their tech didn’t need improving. Remember GeOS? Amiga? Netscape? What about Motorola? They were practically synonymous with cell phones until they underestimated demand for smartphones. What about Blackberry? Their name was literally a synonym for phone at one point.

Both Apple and Google need to get off their respective duffs and do something transformational. I know it’s important not to leave millions — or billions — of users in the dust. But if those companies don’t bring us something really worth drooling over, someone else will.

And so the winner is…

Surprisingly the winner in the iOS vs. Android battle isn’t iOS or Android. It’s the next phone OS, the one that someone is cooking up right now. And the makers of the world’s most dominant software better watch their backs. If we don’t see some real evolution soon, it could be time for a phone revolution.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.