Should I buy an iPhone or Android?

The raging battle between Apple's iPhone and Google's Android
Photo used by permission via Creative Commons from Tsahi Levant-Levi

For our inaugural post here, I thought I'd tackle one of the most common questions that I get from friends and clients and clients-that-are-friends-too:
Nick, I need to get a smartphone and/or replace my outdated Blackberry, and I don't know whether I want an Android phone or an iPhone.  Which is better?
There are two answers here, and this is the simple one:
If you are asking this, you probably want an iPhone. 
The reason being that iOS is the most popular unified experience in the smartphone realm.  It gets most of the interesting apps first, it is the easiest to use, and it's what all your friends have.  You'll have a much easier time working out what you want to do, discussing that cool new app that makes grandma look like she's in olden times, and connecting with every piece of software your office uses.

Now, if that answer doesn't satisfy you, things get more complicated.  Android does many things much better than the iPhone, and vice versa.  Android is also more complicated (the industry word is "fragmented", but I think that's unfair); the iPhone is a hardware platform that has an operating system, whereas Android is a software platform that manufacturers build hardware for.  The iPhone is necessarily more unified, while you can get Android phones in a thousand different flavors.

I'm going to give you a set of screening questions.  If you answer yes to one or more of these, you probably want an Android phone (which one we'll cover later):

  • Do you hate iTunes?
  • Do you want a "back" button?
  • Do you want a physical keyboard?
  • Do you want the biggest screen possible?
  • Do you have a lot of mini-USB cables around?
  • Do you want turn-by-turn voice GPS navigation?
  • Do you need to spend less than $199, but want up-to-date hardware?
  • Do you want to be able to use alternate default apps, like Swype or Touchdown?
  • Do you tinker with things, and care about freedom to do whatever you feel like to your phone?

If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might want an Android phone.  If you've answered "yes" to most or all of them, you almost certainly want an Android phone.  If it's just a couple, then here are some followup questions that might push you back the other direction:

  • Do you need super-long battery life?
  • Do you own a lot of Apple products?
  • Do you want the hands-down most attractively designed products?
  • Do you need accessibility options for the vision- or hearing-impaired?
  • Do you want to use your phone as a gaming device (not just play the occasional game)?

If any of these is a dealbreaker for you (especially battery life), then you need an iPhone.  If you answered "yes" to more of these than above, you need an iPhone.  If they're about equal, you probably still want an iPhone, because that's my default recommendation to everyone, despite the fact that I use an Android.

Next time, I'll follow up with some tips on which Android to buy, if you're buying one. Which iPhone is easy: buy the newest if you have the cash, and buy it refurbished if you don't

Couple of questions I know will come up:
What about Windows phones?
Windows Phone is all right.  It's a nice OS with very few apps compared to The Big Two.  If you find one and like it, you'll probably have an enjoyable experience, but I wouldn't recommend one.
What about a Blackberry?
Just, no.  RIM has abandoned shooting themselves in the foot in favor of driving their feet over and over into a wood chipper.  Their technology is terrible, and if your office doesn't provide Blackberries for you, your IT department will hate you for being the exception that makes them install RIM's awful add-on software to redirect your email at your horrible, horrible phone.  Don't.