Switching to Android: Comparing the core iOS vs Android apps

Switching to Android hero image
Switching to Android hero image (Image credit: Android Central)

Updated 3/10 Updated to mention that Apple Pages does have tools for online collaboration without an iCloud account. I apologize for the error.

As part of my Switching to Android journey, I'm documenting the differences between the two operating systems, exploring the Android features that you might take for granted, but which iOS users may find are a compelling reason to switch sides.

Switching To Android Badge Green

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

When I asked readers what made them choose iOS vs. Android phones, their reasons varied — Android for price, customization, more innovative hardware, and Windows connectivity, or Apple for privacy, long-term updates, better backups for annual upgrades, and simple competency. Many readers described using one for work and one for casual browsing. Some still regularly customize or root their Android phones, but a few readers said they'd grown tired of bothering with that and preferred Apple delivering things to them on a safe, boring platter.

I really appreciated people's perspectives! So while I followed up that post with a discussion of how Android launchers put iOS 14 to shame, I knew that for many people, customization matters less than the core apps and functionalities that each OS ecosystem offers.

So for today's column, I thought I'd focus on the core iOS and Android apps, seeing how they compare with one another. Obviously, Apple apps sync really well with Macs, while Google is the obvious choice for Chromebooks (and Windows, to a lesser extent). But beyond that, which apps are actually better in 2021 for productivity or daily use? Is there something about Apple's apps that make daily use better or easier? We'll scratch the surface and compare a few of the biggest iOS vs. Android apps.

Apple Photos vs. Google Photos

Apple Photos Vs Google Photos

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Google creates such reliable apps for iOS that a ton of Apple users, myself included, rely on them instead of Apple's core apps for productivity and general information. But Apple Photos was one app where I never felt tempted to switch, despite some annoying flaws, because it actually holds its own against Google Photos.

Not in every area, mind you. For starters, cloud storage with Google Photos is obviously better, thanks to its 15GB of free storage (plus unlimited photo storage for Pixel owners) vs. 5 GB with iCloud that's shared with your app backups. There's a reason Google Drive is our best cloud storage service pick while iCloud isn't on the list.

Sharing photos on Google Photos is a breeze, but it's more like walking into a gust of wind with Apple Photos.

Google is also leaps and bounds ahead of Apple when it comes to creating a shared family album. Apple does have shared albums and AirDrop, but different users can't access and edit the original photos unless you all login to the same iCloud account. My family tried shared albums for a while but ran into so many issues that we now just text each other photos instead. Google, meanwhile, has shared albums where every linked Google Account has full access to add or edit photos, plus a Partner Sharing tool that lets you send all photos of particular faces from a certain date onwards to another account.

So why am I arguing that Apple stands toe-to-toe with Google in this area? Because Apple handles photo editing just as well as (if not better than) its rival, it is the only one to offer a desktop app, and it does AI categorization surprisingly well given it's Google's forte.

Google Photos Web App

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Between Google Photos' new photo editor and Apple's editing tools, there wasn't too much difference in quality after testing them out. Both have filters, cropping, and various adjusting tools, some of which can be done automatically using AI recommendations. How "good" they end up will only be limited by your own skills and tastes.

Apple Photos App

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Meanwhile, the Mac Photos app has some extra tools like removing red-eye and adjusting curves that are more robust than the app version and don't exist in Google Photos. Google Photos for Web, meanwhile, is pretty milquetoast, even with its new navigation features. It gives you more space to look at your photos than a tiny phone screen, but otherwise, it doesn't do anything that the mobile app can't. It mostly exists to find and download photos to your computer.

Apple Photos AI Search

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Both Apple and Google use AI to detect faces or text in your photos and organize them automatically. However, Google's Live Albums make it much easier to share particular photos of a person with that person. You probably know that Google has image detection AI for letting you search your photo library by other parameters, such as recognizing the "beach," "food," or "sports" and pulling up every beach vacation or little league game all at once. What you may not know is that Apple does this too!

I did basic searches for both apps and found that both did a pretty good job finding what I was looking for. They both had a tendency to mischaracterize things — like assume that a blue sky was a "lake" — but I'd rather get false positives than miss some photos entirely.

There's a whole other discussion to be had about iPhone camera quality vs. Android cameras'. But strictly talking about whether iOS handles photos better, I'd argue that it's a toss-up and depends on whether you're someone that would like to share your photos with others regularly or just add your personal collection to an online photo book service. Thankfully, Apple users can easily transfer their iCloud photos to Google Photos now if the latter service appeals to them.

Docs vs Pages

Google Docs Vs Apple Pages

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Apple Pages Screenshot

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

I was tempted to just skip past this comparison. Google Docs is by far the more popular of the two services for professional or personal use, while Pages tends to be ignored. But Apple's word processing app has some surprisingly robust features!

  • There are a ton of templates to start with that make building pretty, printable documents fast
  • You can turn on tracked changes that Microsoft Word will recognize if you export it as a .docx
  • You can embed personal photos and videos, as well as YouTube or Vimeo videos, right into the document.
  • You can scribble notes, drawings, or annotations directly onto the page.
  • It auto-saves any changes pretty much instantly.

Google Docs Screenshot

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

The Pages desktop app obviously has more to offer, but the mobile app is surprisingly complete. Apple users can comfortably edit their Pages projects offline, then view them instantly on their Macbook because the files save to iCloud. And so long as you turn on iCloud Drive, you can edit your files online and make them available for others to edit, including people without an iCloud account. You can even access these files on a Windows computer if you end up switching.

For comparison, Docs doesn't need much explanation because statistically, almost everyone reading this post uses it. You can share them with anyone, even people without Gmail accounts. Docs plays nice with Office files, and Smart Compose can be handy for saving time, especially when tapping away on a small screen. It's a popular collaborative tool for a reason.

When it comes to these apps, Numbers vs. Sheets, or Slides vs. Keynote, each company has its own unique features and strengths that justify using one or the other. It's simply the case that Google Workspace apps have been adopted widely, while iWork apps haven't achieved the same level of notoriety. And because Apple users can access Google Workplace apps on iOS, that means they don't need to switch to Android to take advantage of them.

Google Calendar vs. Apple Calendar

Apple Calendar Vs Google Calendar

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

There are plenty of great Android calendar apps and Apple calendar apps, but most people stick with the complementary apps from Google and Apple. In my case, I took advantage of the two companies playing nice and imported Google Calendar directly into Apple Calendar, then set Google Calendar as my default iOS calendar. So whether I access my daily schedule on my phone, computer, or the web, there's no discrepancy between them.

The one perk of Apple Calendar that I love is the default alert option to let you know when it is time to leave for an event. You can also set specific alerts X minutes, hours, or days before, but it's the automated "get going, you idiot!" warning that most often saves me from disaster.

Otherwise, my Calendar set up piggybacks off of Gmail's very effective data mining, sending me automatic event invites based on what it finds in my private data. If Google didn't already know me and my browsing habits better than I know myself, I'd probably be uncomfortable about this, but I mostly just try not to think about it too much.

Apple Calendar Vs Google Calendar

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Apple and Google Calendars are so interchangeable that I basically forgot they were different apps.

Google fans would probably point out that Google Assistant integration makes adding or checking calendar invites a breeze, but believe it or not, Siri Calendar commands are surprisingly easy to use, either on your phone or Apple Watch. You can only access Google Calendar events on a Google Assistant speaker; but again, if Google Calendar is the default on iOS, then your iPhone-created events will instantly appear there.

This was all a long-winded way to say that iPhone and Android users can mostly get the same experience calendar-wise if they rely on Google, so there's nothing worth switching operating systems over here. You'll notice this is becoming a trend. Moving on!

Google Maps vs. Apple Maps

Google Maps Vs Apple Maps

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Like many iPhone owners, I've pretty much exclusively used Google Maps for the entirety of my smartphone-owning life. Anytime Apple took me automatically from Safari to Maps, I'd moan and groan until I could get the address pasted in my map app of choice. For years, Apple's version looked worse and felt less accurate than Google's, built off of years of satellite data. I knew that Apple had revamped its app in iOS 13, but at that point, all my saved addresses were in Google's system, and I didn't pay attention.

So unlike the other iOS vs. Android app showdowns, I had to spend more time with Apple's app to see how they actually compare. The most obvious and immediate difference is aesthetics and information delivery. Apple text and icons are smaller, which makes them much less accessible, but also tend to crowd the map far less while delivering more information. In contrast, Google makes its location icons larger but more generic, and many (non-sponsored) buildings remain empty blocks until you zoom in really close.

Google Maps Vs Apple Maps

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Everyone's taste is different, but frankly, Google's maps are just ugly and noisy compared to Apple's, which does particularly well-rendering buildings, the inside of malls, and landmarks to show the size of places and what you're looking for as you walk or drive.

Beyond the aesthetics, much of Apple's recommendations rely on Yelp, whereas Google can pull from its own reviews and search engine for recommendations and show more information like reviews and popular menu items in Google Maps without pulling you away to a separate app. It would be wonderful if Apple finally ditched Yelp for its own ratings and information sharing, but until then, I trust Google Maps more for just scrolling around local shops looking for something.

Google Maps Vs. Apple Maps

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Google is also the only one to offer the option to download offline maps, which is useful for people living in or driving to more isolated areas. On the other hand, Google is notorious for storing and profiting off your search history, including driving directions. In contrast, Apple does a much better job of keeping your searches anonymous and only storing saved information on your device, not on the cloud.

Of course, Apple plays into stereotypes a bit when it comes to adding "new" features to Maps. It took far longer than Google to add cycling directions and only just added the ability to report hazards in Maps last month, about a year after Google Maps.

Android Automotive Home Screen

Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

I could do a whole separate breakdown on Apple CarPlay vs. Android Auto, but the gist of that comparison is that both systems work perfectly well, but can be more distracting than drunk driving. The main difference is that Android Auto gives you Google Assistant so that you can keep your eyes on the road during long road trips.

Overall, Apple Maps still may not be the best map app, but it's no longer worth avoiding like the plague. Google Maps still works well, but it also doesn't have any exclusive features on Android that make it worth switching over for.

iOS apps vs. Android apps: what's different?

This comparison only scratches the surface of the differences between these ecosystems! I plan to dedicate a whole other column to how Siri and Google Assistant compare to one another, but there's a reason why Assistant has a better reputation. Then you have RCS vs iMessage, and the simple fact that people are always trying to find ways to bring iMessage to Android. And there are particular tools that both ecosystems offer exclusively or much better than the other.

Stepping outside of the core apps, iOS apps have a reputation of being generally safer, more polished, and more bug-free than Android apps. There are a few reasons for this: developers can make their iOS apps optimized for just a few screen sizes, while Android apps have a ton more configurations to code for; there's allegedly more money to be made in the US app marketplace, and Americans generally prefer iOS to Android; Apple's Bionic SoC chipsets can arguably outperform comparable Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets in app loading times, and other reasons too technical to dive into here.

When it comes down to Apple and Google's first-party apps specifically, Google generally comes out on top. I could have continued to compare other apps for messaging, payments, music, and so on, but I decided to cut myself off once I realized that these comparisons didn't necessarily matter in the context of switching to either iOS or Android.

Android users aren't missing out on much when it comes to first-party software...but then again, neither are Apple users. Google is so good at porting its apps to iPhones that Apple fanatics won't see any perks for buying Android either! Everything Google has to offer, it places for free online regardless of platform so anyone can access it.

Google's iOS apps make iPhone owners more complacent and less likely to consider switching to Android.

Basically, Google steps in wherever Apple's apps don't hold up to scrutiny, providing a worthy alternative; by doing so, it makes sure that Apple's users remain comfortable where they are. Yes, switching to Android would mean a cheaper phone. But iPhones generally last longer thanks to consistent updates and thus have greater resale value if you want to upgrade — though Samsung phones may come close now that they get four years of updates.

There are other reasons to leave Apple behind and buy the best Android phones — and I'll be talking about those in upcoming columns — but software may not be one of them.

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, VR/AR and fitness

Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.

  • I think you cherry-picked a bunch of apps to support your thesis that apps aren't a reason to switch. But I think there are a lot more apps on which to base a decision. Notably left off the list is iMessage v. Google Messages, which would be an overall plus for Apple, although RCS has given Google a bit more in the way of features as of late. There's also the obvious app comparison of Siri v. Assistant. I think Assistant gets the clear edge here. Also, if you're comparing truly apples to apples, you would mention the Pixel app features to go against iPhones, like the Phone app. Google's Phone app offers screening and "Hold for me" and also provides the built-in captioning feature. The Recorder app on Pixel also has kickass transcription features now along with a way to store those for access via the web. Pound for pound, iPhone's Dictation has yet to catch up. It's also probably worth comparing Facetime to Duo, where Facetime would probably win on features, but Duo, like other Google apps, wins because it's available on all platforms. There's no mention of entertainment apps that are built-in with each phone either. Does Apple even have an analog to YouTube? I would definitely give Apple's music and podcast offerings the win against Google's YouTube Music. Nice article, but it really should have gone further with the apps.
  • Thanks for your thoughts on the piece. I plan to dedicate an entire article to a Siri vs Assistant breakdown, esp. since Siri isn't an "app" in the strictest sense, but I agree that their absence here makes it seem like I'm ignoring their relevance. As for the rest, you're right that I didn't dive more into other categories that would be really important here, so that's definitely on me. I'm sorry the post didn't get as thorough as it should have with the timeframe I had.
  • Hi, "Unfortunately, iCloud is the problem here. Everyone you're working with needs to have an Apple ID and Apple device in order to accept an invitation to edit a Pages document." That is incorrect on two counts. First, you can easily share Pages Documents and the recipient can enter a nickname and join the document without signing in. Second, iCloud.com allows for live collaboration from a web browser much like Google Docs without signing in through a shared link. Do basic research before writing this low-quality stuff.
  • I've updated the piece to make it clear this is an option, and I apologize for the error.
  • Not sure how aware you that the "time to leave " for an event has been part of Google Calender I do believe way back when Google Assistant was known as Google Now. As far as maps is concerned I hate when people put in subjective personal preference and claim it as fact. You may like Apple's aesthetics and that's fine, but is it better? Depends on the person. I personally like the more clean look vs the cartoony look of Apples and the fact the Google Maps shows almost all all the streets including alleyways, like here in Boston vs. Apple Maps gives you a much better feel when driving especially when not knowing a particular area. Another nice feature I haven't seen on Apple maps is the lanes, and the directions of the turn lanes when you get off a highway. Google Maps nails it, so you know which lane to be in , It's awesome. That is a big feature and all the gas stations and destinations near by. Though Apple Maps have righted it's ship from it's crash and burn rollout, it's still pretty far behind Google maps in many features , features that may not stand out, until you need them. Also what version of Google Maps are you using? Is that an IOS version? My directions always show green for parks, blue for bodies of water , not just basic gray and the lack of of detail makes it looked gimped. If you are truly going to compare use the Android version. Also not sure if Siri does this or not but a nice feature of Google Maps is is when using a Google Assistant like a Google home you can ask " Hey Google how long of a drive to Logan Airport" it'll say the traffic time plus send the directions to your phone or Android Auto .
  • As someone who likes both, iPhone and Apple is my main ecosystem, but I also use android ( Samsung and Google flagships). If I was not into tech and gadgets, I probably would just go with apple ecosystem.
  • The problem is Apple doesn't make its apps for Android, whereas Google makes its apps for both iOS and Android.
  • The "it just works" thing is lost on me anymore. My S10e just works...just works.
  • You haven't mentioned Files on either platform. I've been on Android from the early days and file management is so straightforward. But I've had an iPhone for 2 years now. And I still can't get my head around Files on iOS?
  • This article didn't mention the YouTube app on both platforms, the iOS version lacks a few features from the Android version such as PIP and the ability to search YouTube channels in landscape mode but the overall stability and optimization is better on the iOS version, for example, when I scroll through the comments section on the Android YouTube app, it'll go straight back to the top of the comments section after coming out of the replies section, it's the same when I search through a list of videos and its the same thing with Instagram as well which is so annoying, Google needs to optimise the Android apps better in this regard but overall the Android YouTube app is superior apart from a few Android querks.
  • I just tried to switch from an S21u to a 12 pro max, and I feel like a lot of key elements were missing from this article. First, the Apple keyboard is terrible and I found myself constantly trying to correct errors. When I tried to use Swiftkey, which I have on my Android, iOS kept trying to switch it back to the Apple keyboard. What's more is that Swiftkey, which has spent years learning my writing habits, doesn't work correctly on iOS. I can mistype almost any word on my Android and it corrects it. On iOS, the same program with the same information about my typing history made writing a sentence without an error nearly impossible. And there were other issues - no way to delete by backswiping, no way to re-size the keyboard. A keyboard is a key decision maker when choosing a phone, and I'm dinging iOS right off the bat. The notifications on iOS are an absolute joke. Android has a shade that you pull down to easily manage your notifications. With an iphone, you can't even tell if you have a notification unless you manually check by pulling down from the top of the screen. And don't even get me started on the difference between lockscreen notifications and regular notifications. If you clear a lockscreen notification, it's often still in the regular swipe down notifications panel for no apparent reason, creating confusion re: what you've deal with and not. Widgets. OMG, widgets. The iphone is an abomination. Half the widgets don't work correctly. They can't be resized. You can't scroll within them. I tried the 'stocks' widget on the iphone and it maxed out at six stocks. Who only has six stocks? On my Android, I use the webull widget, extend it to full screen, and can then scroll through all my stocks without ever opening an app. Generally speaking, iOS has a lot of head-scratching features. Why not have a button that takes you directly to the app drawer like on Android? Instead, a user has to swipe all the way to the last screen? That's not convenient. Why can I only do 4x6 icons on the homescreen? Why can't I re-size a widget to fit between my apps? But Apple does have some advantages over Android. iMessage is far better than any Android app. And i'll admit that it sucks almost everyone has it and I don't. It's cleaner in every way. Facetime integration is also a killer app. We can all argue over whether google Duo or whatsapp provide a better experience, but that doesn't matter. Almost everyone has an iphone and it's slick to be able to hit a single button and know that it's going to video call 95% of your friends and family. Face ID - big advantage over android (if you take masks out of the equation). It's much quicker than using a thumbprint. Battery - My S21u has a huge battery, but the 12 PM gets at least 2-3 more hours of screen time in average daily use. This is a major blunder on Samsung's part. But overall - the "it just works" iphone experience has been anything but for me. When I try to use the cool feature of sending my phone to my macbook, it instead hangs up on the caller 99% of the time. And when I asked for support, they ask stupid questions like, "did you set it up correctly?" Or, "did you restart?" And iOS simply requires at least twice as many swipes to do average tasks when compared to an Android. As noted above, accessing the app drawer takes many swipes, finding notifications and clearing all of them takes numerous swipes - everything is less efficient and it feels that way. I will say this, after spending the last two weeks trying to get Samsung to stop erroneously charging my credit card, it was refreshing dealing with Apple's US-based support. I really only want the top of the line phone, which is the S21u. But I cannot talk to another incompetent person based out of a foreign call center. In the longrun, I'm sticking with Android. It's not only much more customizable, but it's more efficient. I do like the idea of my texts showing up on my computer, but Android can do that with Pushbullet, albeit, not as smoothly as Pushbullet. Both phones have their merits, but most people choose Apple because their friends have it. If they saw how efficient Android was, and how much it simplifies your life, I doubt they'd go back to Apple.