The UX personas that iPhones and Androids are built for

26 August 2014

A few months ago, I finally switched over from an Android phone to an iPhone. This was supposed to be a trial - I was no longer happy with my older, laggy Droid Razr Maxx, got really burned by the short battery life of an old Galaxy Nexus, and found access to a used iPhone 4S. I've resisted getting an iPhone for many years now, but after using the iPhone, it's hard to go back.

There are endless articles out there about the differences between Android and iOS. Instead of focusing on specs or specific features, I thought it might be more helpful for me to highlight some of the "personas" (to borrow the UX term) who might be interested in each.

Android: Great for no-nonsense phone users, Google product power-users, and tinkerers

First, I have to caveat my Android experiences by saying that the phones I was using were older and less powerful than the phones of today. I'm betting that some general themes about Android have remained consistent over the years, however.

The Google power-user

Android is obviously well-integrated with Google products. The one way in which my Android experience completely crushed my iPhone experience was with Gmail. Checking my Gmail inboxes (both personal and work accounts) was seamless on Android using the native Gmail app, while on the iPhone I've already tried a few different apps, none of which are great (including the official Gmail app).

In addition to easy Gmail access, you also get very simple contact syncing, easier access to your Google Drive, a slightly more powerful Google Now, and other small integrations with Google products. I used so many Google products already, and my Android was a great portal to those products.

The no-nonsense phone user

Android is also great for more targeted and conscientious phone users, users who know what they want to do and don't spend a lot of time wandering from app to app. This point is kind of tongue-in-cheek, as it means that I found that my Android phones had more limited processing capabilities and couldn't multitask as well.

If I ever wanted to do just one thing, like check my email, make a call, or look something up online, that would work fine. As soon as I tried to do many things in a row with apps running in the background, my phone would lag noticeably, and apps would occassionally crash. There are dozens of task manager apps, task cleanup apps, and battery management apps out there for Android, which might speak to how widespread this problem is.

The tinkerer

Android phones are more customizable than iPhones. For the home screens, there are all kinds of widgets that are almost substitutes for full-fledged apps. Instead of the native weather app on the iPhone, for example, the Android has a weather widget that will just live on your home screen, always open.

Another cool point of customizability which iOS is only now starting to catch up to is the keyboard. There are lots of keyboard apps in the Google Play store, which range from smart keyboards that use your typing history to help text completion, to keyboards with completely new modes of entry.

For those who are really into tinkering, it's possible to root your Android and gain master privileges over even more aspects of your phone. There's a large community out there tinkering with all models of Androids, and it's easy to find instructions online about how to root your phone. Rooting opens up access to all kinds of other apps and hacks, so Android is great for more tech-inclined users who want to explore the limits of their phone's capabilities.

iPhone

The app power-user

If you like apps, iOS has a much wider selection of apps. Many apps are iOS only, and many more apps come out first for iOS and only later for Android. Also note that often the same app will be designed slightly differently for iOS versus Android, to accommodate each system's capabilities. For all the apps I use, except for the Gmail app, the iOS version of the app is at least as good as, if not better than, the Android version.

The app browser

As a converse to the corresponding Android point above, the iPhone is much better able to handle multitasking. Having many apps open in the background doesn't seem to impact the performance of the phone at all, except for possibly a slightly faster battery drain. Also, when an app crashes (which is a rarer occurrence than on Android), the operating system gracefully isolates the crash to just that app, and I can just try to restart that app. On the Android, if one app crashed, there was a chance that the whole phone would get laggy or that the home screen would freeze as well, necessitating a restart.

The combination of the above points has led me to use many more apps much more frequently on my iPhone than I ever did on my Android. My iPhone, though from the same generation as my Android phones, is much better able to handle having more apps installed, opening apps quickly, keeping apps in the background, and managing the intersection of apps (e.g. when I'm listening to music and the phone rings). The iPhone wins, hands-down, on the overall app experience.

The user who doesn't want to worry

There is no doubt that Apple is obsessed with the design and user experience of its products, and the iPhone continues to be a very sleek and easy-to-use product thanks to that. What iOS lacks in customizability, it makes up for in terms of being much more straightforward and worry-free. Battery management apps? The iPhone doesn't need it because it already does it as best as possible behind the scenes. Widgets on your home screens? Nope, don't worry about that clutter, just pop open apps when you need them.

Operating system updates are also handled a lot more gracefully for the iPhone than for Android phones. When a new version of iOS comes out, it pretty quickly becomes available for download on all iPhones, including older models. The iOS will alert you to this and encourage you to upgrade. With Android, it was always a guessing game as to whether a new version would be available for your model, and if so, whether that version would be downloadable six months from now, a year from now, or even later.

The iPhone has a bunch of smaller features that just make many other experiences a lot more enjoyable for users. For instance, text messages all get funneled through Apple's iMessage, which allows for transmitting texts via data connection and not your traditional SMS, and also allows for free group text messaging (try to loop an Android user into a group iMessage, however, and they'll quickly tell you to stop, before you use up all of their picture texts). As another example, you also have a Control Center, where you can easily toggle system-wide options like Wi-fi and airplane mode, pop open common apps like the flashlight or the calculator, as well as control any media that's currently playing.


Overall, I've completely gone from the Android camp to the iPhone camp. Although I like the customizability and better integration with Google products, Android phones have just been slightly less reliable in my experience. I also rarely actually get around to spending lots of time customizing or tinkering around with my Android phones. iPhones, on the other hand, are just incredibly comfortable and easy to use, and the better performance and stability have allowed me to use my phone even more, without a lot of the worries that came with Android.


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