Interpix Design

iPhone vs. Android: app design

Should you design for both iOS and Android?

Android and iPhone are two very distinct experiences in terms of the market, design guidelines and even end users, Here's a look at some key considerations designers need to know about in designing apps for Android and the Apple iPhone.

The first thing you need to know is that Android and iPhone users make up 75% of the market share in early 2012 and both are growing, Market share for Android, iPhone and Blackberry was expected to be about 30-30-25 (in projections fromlate 2011) but according to ComScore, it is more like 50-30-15. Blackberry continues its precipitous drop from its one -time smartphone dominance. If you ignore either of the Android or iPhone market you lose a significant part of your audience.

Phases of design

In the initial planning stages you don't really need to worry too much, as each of the iOS and Android operating systems strives to (and succeeds at) cover almost all of the same functionality in terms of interaction.

Users

Android users are somewhat different from iPhone users. However, developers of mobile applications might be too easily tempted into grouping users based on the operating system they might be using. I.e. iPhone users might be cool, artsy types whereas Android users are more business-driven or more goal-oriented.

Our research has shown that there is no such thing as a typical iPhone user or a typical Android user. And expert users do not exist for either OS; everyone simply does not use their iPhone the same way and have the same kinds of expertise. In actual testing, we have seen users who do not know the difference between a single finger tap and a two finger tap and many who did not use this variation. There are other differences between Android users and iPhone users that might impact the development of your mobile app.

A survey by emarketer shows that iPhone users are likely to be more social and socially adept. Android users tend to be less social and share less, except when it comes to video. This study shows that Android users are somewhat more likely to use the Web.

These differences between Android and iPhone users again seem to go back to differences between Macs and PCs where Apples users are more likely to be cool and sociable (like Justin Long) while Android users (much like the PC guy – and Blackberry users, for that matter) tend to be more functional- and goal-oriented. (John "PC" Hodgman, much maligned in Apple ads, was at least trying to do things while Justin Long just looked on. Blackberry's signature line in 2012 is 'tools, not toys,' a stab at the iPhone's obsession with cool.) These are contentious generalizations of course but they hold true statistically, according to the eMarketer study.

Another survey from 2011 showed that Android users tend to be lower in income than both iPhone and Blackberry users.

Fundamental differences between the iPhone's IOS and Android, in broad navigation:

The Home function. Android employs a Home function. When you design a header for Android the name of the app is a link to the Home. There is no complementary concept of Home for iPhone applications.

The Back button. iPhone has a back button in the navigation bar. Android employs a left pointing Arrow on the device or at the top of the TouchScreen.

Global actions. iPhone apps focus on contextual actions. Global actions can be placed in the nav bar at the top but this is more likely to be the case for Android which usually allows space for three items related to global.

Design refinements that affect design between iOS and Android.

Some fundamental differences in design refinements may affect your design considerations as well. Here are some examples:

Feature selection: The iPhone offers an on/Off switch for feature selection. Android offers a checkbox (checked or unchecked).

List selection: choose one. In the iPhone, list selections offer the ability to check one. In Android list selections offer a radio button with more space taken up by padding between list items. The padding is great for users with big thumbs. Apple assumes you're a nimble user able to click the right selection efficiently. One other distinction in this is that the Android list selection is a popup or overlay where Apple's will appear in page. That's an OS usability issue but it may come into consideration, again, in deciding the length of selection lists.

These differences are sometimes subtle but all of them may affect design choices. For example, Android's higher cell padding count may mean that you want to shorten some option lists.

Image resolution

Newer versions of the iPhone use Retina display but of course not all iPhones are new. In Retina display, images are 640 x 960. Older phones use 320 x 480. On the other hand Android uses 480 x 854. At the time of its launch, then, this beat Apple but then Apple came back. When the next version of Android arrives will this be a point where it ups the ante? Maybe. We'll see.

You would hope that companies work together to create design standards to make it easiest for designers to create apps without having to worry about differences between what might be a widening spectrum of operating systems. This way, companies can compete for users based only on the usability and features of the phones. We all know that this is unlikely, though. That would require them to get along. And companies are not in the business of appealing to app designers however much applications have become critical to the appeal and usefulness of smartphones.

This is a brief survey that we hope you have found useful.

Of course, we recommend that you perform deep usability testing on your application.

Further reading from the source

You can find more information from each of the major players, who each provide their own user interface guidelines here:

Case Study

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Discover how we worked with Teranet to reach a new audience