Apple vs Android may not be a fair fight when it's a fruit taking on a robot, but in the world of phones it's the ultimate battle royale. We've matched up the latest versions of Apple's iPhone operating system, iOS 4, and Google's software, Android 2.2 Froyo.
Both operating systems have more features than you can shake a smart phone at, so since it's iOS 4 launch day, we're putting a laser-like focus on what's new in the Apple operating system. We couldn't include every feature, so we picked the ones we deem iOS 4's biggest and best. Don't think that means we don't love the little green robot -- check out our full Android 2.2 review to peruse its fantastic features, including the big kahuna of Flash Player 10.1 support.
How iOS 4 does multitasking
Apple has introduced multitasking with iOS 4, and Android has had it from the start, but it's not what you'd see on your desktop computer -- apps can only do a limited number of things while they're in the background. This is because neither the battery nor the processor in mobile phones can handle the pressure of too much happening at once.
In iOS 4, app developers can take advantage of a list of background processes we've already come to know and love in Apple's own system apps. You could always listen to music in the iPod app while you used other apps, such as the Web browser. Now developers of other music apps, such as Spotify, can also build their apps so you can listen to them in the background.
Other processes that are allowed to continue behind the scenes are voice over IP -- which opens the door for Skype calls any time -- and location, so sat-nav apps can update your spot as you move around, for example. But we'll have to wait for updates to our favourite apps before they'll actually take advantage of these abilities.
iOS 4 also lets an app take its time to finish what it's started, after you go off and do something else. In our tests, that meant you could start a Web page loading, hit the Home button to launch another app, and then go back to the browser to find the whole Web page pops up fully loaded.
Twitter and IM fans may be disappointed, however, because multitasking won't let apps update while running in the background. Instead, they'll have to implement Apple's push-notification service, which manages all apps' data queries through one system, so that lots of separate data requests don't drain the batteries.
You open the list of running apps by double-tapping the iPhone's home button -- a menu opens along the bottom of the screen. Because apps are basically frozen, and not using any battery or memory, there's no task manager to close them down and they will pile up as you open more apps. You can manually close apps from the menu, in the same way as you remove apps from the home screen -- but only if you want to quieten their notifications or just tidy up.
How Android 2.2 does multitasking
Apple is playing catch-up here -- Android users have been basking in multitasking goodness from the beginning. Android still offers more flexibility than Apple. Like iOS 4, apps in the background don't keep running, they're just held in suspended animation. But apps can run a service that allows them to keep certain activities going -- such as playing music, syncing email and updating news feeds.
This gives more power to developers, but there's a downside. Even Larry Page, the founder of Google, blames poor battery life on apps running rampant in the background. And most Android users are familiar with restarting their phones to purge a plethora of crashing apps and start afresh.
In Android, you open the list of running apps by holding down the home button, and in version 2.2, the list of apps fills the centre of the screen, over a the greyed-out home screen. Because apps can use power when running in the background, Android has a task manager that will kill apps that aren't being used to free up memory. This all happens automatically, and you can't close apps from this menu, although it is possible to kill apps through the phone's settings menu.
We're glad Apple has found a way to bring multi-tasking to the iPhone in a way that doesn't ruin the phone's biggest strength -- its straightforward usability. If you never press your home button twice, you may never know that it's happening, and you shouldn't see any affect on the speed and battery life.
Both Android and iOS 4 make accessing the apps easy and fast, although as compulsive organisers, we do like how Android automatically bins unused apps, and iOS 4 gives us an easy way to close them ourselves.
Android's version can lead to a bumpier ride, as apps occasionally trip over and slow things down, and battery life can suffer. But combined with the fact that Android apps can access more of the phone's built-in features, and work across other apps, it gives much more power to developers.
Apple's caught up on what we think matters most, which is day-to-day multitasking such as pausing in the middle of an email to look something up online, and coming back to your email to find it still in mid-flow. But Android's method means some types of app you can bolt on the little green robot will never come to the iPhone 4. If that's important to you, go for an Android phone such as the HTC Desire or Samsung Galaxy S.
Click 'Continue' to check out how iOS 4's new email features measure up.