June 16, 2013 at 10:54 AM ET
Six years after the first iPhone launched, Apple has finally made some major changes to the look and feel of its mobile operating system. Most of these improvements — including the new Notification Center, quick multitasking and Wi-Fi direct transfers — have been available on Android devices for years. So, if you wanted to transfer files quickly between phones, you could have done that just by tapping them together as long ago as 2011 . If you wanted to move quickly and easily between open apps, Android has provided a really great task-switching menu since version 4.0.
Perhaps sometime in 2014, Apple will get around to providing support for common Android features from 2012, such as NFC, floating windows and custom keyboards. Fortunately, there’s no need to wait for Tim Cook and crew to play catch-up. Here are 10 ways Android beats iOS 7 today.
By default, both iOS 7 and Android 4.2 show only one app on the screen at a time, and with Apple's operating system, that's all you'll get. However, Android allows developers to either create floating apps, which appear in their own windows on top of the primary app, or to split the screen between two different apps.
These multi-window and floating modes are so popular that Samsung, LG and Acer have built them directly into their versions of Android. There are also over 20 floating apps that anyone can download from the Google Play store.
No matter what app you're using, Android provides the same Share menu with the same list of options in it. You want to share to Pinterest from within Dolphin browser? That's no problem, because the list is independent of the app, and the Dolphin developers don't have to think of Pinterest when they write their app.
On iOS, however, every app has its own unique Share menu. So if the makers of your favorite photo-gallery app haven't thought to include Google in their Share menu, you can't share to Google from within that app. For example, neither Safari nor the iOS Photos app can share to Google, Pinterest or any of 100 other services.
With iOS 7, you can use any keyboard you want — as long as it's Apple's stock keyboard. Android, on the other hand, allows you to replace its default keyboard with any of a dozen third-party alternatives. Our favorite of those keyboards is SwiftKey, which learns from your typing patterns and then uses that knowledge to predict what word you'll type next and offers it to you as a suggestion. Want to swipe from one letter to the next in iOS? You're out of luck.
iOS 7 has a neat new feature called AirDrop that lets you transfer files from one phone to another via Wi-Fi Direct. However, you still have to use software to identify the phone you want to share files with. On Android devices, NFC chips allow you to send files with just a tap, using Android Beam or third-party transfer software like Samsung's S Beam.
In addition, having NFC allows Android phones to participate in tap-to-pay programs, tap to enable audio on NFC-enabled stereos and headphones, and tap to get information at NFC-enabled kiosks. Still no sign of NFC from Apple.
Widgets and homescreens
When you unlock your iOS 7 device, you get nothing more than a list of icons for your favorite apps. However, on Android, you get several desktops, with your choice of wallpaper and, more important, your choice of widgets.
With Android widgets, you can put important dynamic information front and center, including your social feeds, latest emails or favorite photo galleries. There are thousands of widgets available from Google Play, giving you a ton of flexibility that iOS 7 can't match.
Working file system and attachments
Whether you plunked down $699 for a brand-new iPad or got an old iPhone 4S for free on special, it's your device. Too bad Apple doesn't think so, as the company hides your file system from you, making it difficult to attach documents to email and impossible to browse the folders.
On Android, you can attach any type of file you want to your email, whether you compose them in Gmail or a third-party app like K-9 Mail. However, in iOS, you can only attach photos and videos from directly within the email app. If you want to send an Office doc, PowerPoint presentation or some other file type, you'll need to send them by using the Share function of another app, such as iWork.
When you connect your Android device to a PC, you can browse its file system as you would with any USB flash drive. When you plug an iPhone into your computer, you'll only see the folder with the photos, and nothing more.
Install non-market apps
Apple's App Store is the ultimate monopoly. Not only is it the only app store you can use to purchase software for your iPhone or iPad, but it's also the only way users can install new software. Yes, iPhone users can jailbreak their devices to install third-party apps, but that's a somewhat risky process that voids your warranty, and the number of jailbroken apps is relatively small. In contrast, Android has at least a dozen legitimate markets and the ability to sideload apps built right in.
Why should you care about installing apps that haven't been blessed by Apple or Google? Having freedom of choice means more selection, no arbiter banning apps it deems offensive or competitive with the company's other services and more places to shop around for the best price on paid apps. In addition, if you want to write your own app in Android and send it to friends, all you need to do is email the install file. On iOS, you can only install self-made apps with a developer's license or by putting it up for evaluation by Apple's App Store censors.
More:Best apps 2013
Whether you think your iPad is too slow or your iPhone just doesn't last long enough on a charge, there's nothing you can do to make the processor work harder or cut back. However, if you take control of your Android device by rooting it, you can overclock your CPU for faster performance or undervolt it to save juice and extend your battery life. In fact, we were able to extend the battery life of the Nexus 4, Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II by over 2 hours each through this process.
Variety of screen sizes and form factors
iOS 7 is made to power just a handful of devices. If you want a new iOS phone, you have just two choices: the 3.5-inch iPhone 4S and the 4-inch iPhone 5. If you're in the market for a tablet running Apple's operating system, I hope you like the 9.7-inch iPad, the outdated iPad 2 or the 8-inch iPad Mini, because those are your only options.
If you're interested in an Android device, step right up, because there are thousands of them. You can get a phone that's as large as 6 inches or as small as 3 inches. You can find tablets that range in size from 5 inches to 13 inches. You can even buy an Android desktop, an Android laptop or a tiny Android Mini PC that turns any monitor into an Android media center.
If adding custom widgets to your home screen seems passé, there’s another option: Android allows you to change its launcher, which controls everything from the app drawer to the icon styles to the animation that occurs when you move between desktops. There are at least a dozen popular third-party launchers, ranging from the ornate Go and Apex launchers to the speedy, stripped-down lightning launcher. Facebook even has its own launcher, which puts your news feed front and center but makes your app shortcuts less prominent.
With iOS, you have only one way to navigate through the home screens and just one look for the default icons.
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