Is Apple’s iOS still easier than Android?

by Mark Bradley

It used to be easy to recommend Apple’s iOS products to my non-techy friends and family as an easy, intuitive operating system. Android, my OS of choice for years, on the other hand, had a steeper learning curve and customization options that could be un-welcomed by some.

My thoughts have changed this week as I’ve helped my parents set up their new iPad (from 2,000 miles away).

The Easy iPad

’ll never forget hearing my parent’s excitement about the iPad when they first saw it in an Apple store in the spring of 2010. They quickly bought one for themselves. They also got one for me. While I enjoyed using it, I sold mine long ago as my need for it diminished and my need for a full computer dictated my usage. But their original iPad is still with them and has been used for thousands of hours and traveled tens of thousands of miles around the world.

The beauty of the iPad, and what allowed them to make it a part of their lives so quickly, was its ease of use. Opening the box for the first time, they were greeted by a black slab of glass with no user manual and no real learning curve. For two non-tech people in their 60s, the simplicity of tapping the thing they wanted and having it delivered more than lived up to the promise of the technological revolution that Apple’s advertising would have us all believe.

Over the past few months, though, that original iPad has begun its slow walk toward relegation. Surprisingly, the battery still holds an impressive charge, and the screen and back look brand new under their protector and case. But, it hasn’t gotten a software update for years (still running some version of iOS 5!). The Safari browser will now only load some pages some of the time, and Google has now labeled it an ‘Unsafe Device’ which has prompted a security warning to be sent to my mom after trying to check her mail this week.

As my mom’s need for reading a lot of PDFs and taking notes in her continuing education classes has increased recently, it has become clear that the now eight-year-old iPad simply is not up to the task.

Last week, they bought a new iPad (2017).

The Complicated Nexus

In 2015 I knew that the original iPad that my parents were using was starting to slow down. Even then, there were complaints of some websites not loading, or loading and then crashing, as the outdated version of Safari no longer supported plugins.

Because I’ve long been an Android user and knew that long-distance trouble-shooting should be reasonably easy for me, I got my Dad a Nexus 7 (2013) for Christmas. It’s feather-like weight, pure Android interface, and steep retail discounts made it a great gift. I also knew I would be able to keep it updated past Google’s scheduled OS releases with Cyanogen (now Lineage OS) – a task I will be performing next month when I visit home. This gift was not particularly well received. Despite my comfort with Android, the operating seemed foreign and alienating to my parents, who had been looking at the same iOS screen for five years.

While I was disappointed in the device’s lack of use, I could also understand it to some extent. Android was second nature to me, but not to my folks. The app drawer alone was a sticking point. While I enjoy having only a few home screen widgets and my top four of five apps displayed, this type of setup meant for him that other apps were hidden, even if it was only one tap away. I worked with the extra real estate of the tablet screen to get my dad his most needed widgets (news, weather) and nearly all other apps he would need right on the home screen. I demonstrated swiping to Google news feed for all the sports, news, stocks, and weather info that I had preloaded for him. But still, the familiarity of the iPad was too much of a draw, and he ended up using that much more often than the Nexus.

Interestingly, as my mom (who is more tech-adventurous) began to mess around with the Nexus more, she began to appreciate some of its abilities (video calling, the addition of my family subscription to Google Music, and it’s portability over that of the iPad became highlights for her).

But still, as I would help her navigate some of the more complex settings and options to help her get the most of what she needed out of the Nexus, even I realized that Google’s way of doing things just is not for everyone, and it was almost always harder than on that original iPad.

The New iPad

Enter, the new iPad. My mom was very excited to get the new device, but that excitement quickly dampened. At the store, she spent nearly two hours with the salesperson working to get it set up. For some reason, this involved taking some unnecessary steps, including creating a new email address, creating a new iCloud account, and some circular conversations about whether to set it up as a new device or not.

Once she got home, I was able to help her fix these issues (using Hangouts’ video chat on the Nexus!), and we were able to get her real email set up, get her properly signed in to the right iCloud account, and begin working through navigating the Pages app. But then she asked me why she couldn’t download PDFs.

For two hours, I worked to help her get the PDFs she needed for her classes. At the end of that time, I was only somewhat successful. It took another two hours with friends of hers who use iOS exclusively to help her get things squared away. This process should have been easy, but a combination of quirks got in the way. For one, the source website didn’t communicate well with the latest iOS update. For another, the iPad forces the default use of iBooks as a PDF viewer. There was also a hidden menu system for downloading a link as a PDF and sending to various sources (iBooks, a printer, or other apps).

Indeed, on my Android phone or the Nexus, one taps a PDF link on a website, the file automatically downloads and opens in Android’s dedicated PDF viewer or the default app of your choice, and you can easily find it again in downloads.

Now some of this confusion may merely be because neither my mom nor I have evolved with iOS. Neither of us has used a new iteration in 4 years since her last iPad was updated (iOS 5), and I am sure that if she had bought a couple of new iPads in the eight years, these processes would have been learned in small steps throughout iOS updates. But this just highlights the beauty of the original iPad that seems to have been lost since that original tablet was released.

Part of this may also be that my mom is now doing more advanced things with this iPad than she did with the original. Similarly, the new iPad can do more things thanks to advancements in the tech under the hood. Nonetheless, there seems to be a steepness to the learning curve that simply was not there in the original unit.

Case in point: if she had never picked up an iPad before, and this was her first time using a tablet (just like back in 2010), she would have no idea how to do anything intuitively.

The old ‘ease of use’ argument may not hold up anymore

Ultimately, I think that for a person who has used iOS for several years, and especially the newer versions, a switch to Android may still be a bit rough at first. But with the enormous improvements in Android over the past few years, that transition period may be much shorter than it would have been when Google’s OS was first hit the tablet scene.

I would venture to guess that the main issue for an iOS-to-Android convert would be in having to learn the Google ecosystem after (presumably) having been a part of the iCloud world. For example, my mom is now navigating iCloud settings and functions to help her manager her PDFs; meanwhile, as I work through this process with her, my brain is constantly thinking, ‘Between Drive, Docs, and Keep, everything you are asking to do would be done already on Android.’ Neither is right or wrong; they are just different ways to get to the same point. But between the last week’s hassles and anecdotal stories from her long-time iOS-using friends who get frustrated that every new version of Apple’s operating system presents new abilities – but also new frustrations – my mom is regretting the iPad purchase.

The new iPad will still get plenty of use I am sure, and they will both come to learn its ins and outs. Still, a part of me keeps thinking that maybe all my mom needs is a nice external keyboard for the Nexus, and that the Android world is no longer quite so complicated compared to iOS.

Obviously everyone’s experience with iOS and Android is going to be different. That said, in 2018 Android and iOS have evolved considerably to the point where they both have different complications and advantages. It’s no longer a world where “iPads are for ease of use,” and Android is simply “for power users”. |

For us tech nerds it might be high time we stop instantly recommending Apple as the choice for those that “want something simple and easy to use”. What do you think, do you feel that Apple’s iPad (and iPhone) lineup is still super user-friendly or has the ease of use gap lessened between the world’s two biggest mobile platforms?

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