iOS 13 vs. Android Q: Apple and Google fight for your mobile love

iOS 13’s dark theme.

Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

In an effort to win you over, Google made the first move in March, releasing a public beta of Android Q that gives Android owners more control over their privacy and offers a dark mode everywhere. Apple made its move this week, announcing iOS 13, a significant update to Apple’s mobile OS that includes a systemwide dark theme and a basket of changes designed to make the iPhone easier to use.

For more than a decade, the two tech giants have released annual updates to their mobile operating systems, vying for your attention with helpful voice assistants and smart devices, powerful camera tools, updated map and messaging apps and ways to curb phone addiction.

Google said Android Q — renamed to whatever Q dessert Google comes up with — will ship by fall. As for Apple’s mobile OS, iOS 13 is also expected in fall. Based on what we’ve seen of Android Q and what Apple unveiled about iOS 13 this week, here are our first impressions of the two mobile OSes, side by side. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Applying a dark theme

Advantage: iOS 13

Besides letting you switch it up from a bright white screen, turning on a dark mode can offer the benefit of preserving battery life by lighting up fewer pixels on the screen. Google folded a dark mode into an Android Pie update earlier this year, but the company didn’t use the theme everywhere. In the early betas of Android Q, the dark theme is more evenly distributed across the mobile OS. Some of Google’s mobile apps, including Gmail and Chrome, still lack a dark mode option, however.

Apple went moody on the desktop first and rolled out a dark appearance in MacOS Mojave in 2018. In iOS 13, Apple will bring a dark theme to its mobile OS. At its Worldwide Developers Conference this week, Apple lists a broad collection of places that display the dark mode theme — from wallpaper, widgets and notifications to Calendar to Messages  — and from the brief glimpse we got of it, iOS 13 should offer a more uniform dark experience.


iOS 13’s dark mode in action.


Running mobile apps in other places

Advantage: iOS 13 (and MacOS)

At last year’s developer conference, Apple said it would start moving some of its own iOS apps to MacOS using a developer tool reportedly named Marzipan.

This week, Apple said it would start letting iPadOS developers bring their own iPad apps to Mac, an initiative called Project Catalyst. The move should benefit developers — who will be able to more easily create an app that can run on Apple’s mobile and desktop platforms — and Mac users, who potentially get access to a richer selection of apps. 

Google also lets app developers move software between platforms by giving owners of recent Chromebooks access to Android apps through the Google Play Store. But the limitations of Chromebooks — they require an Internet connection, for example, and they lack popular Windows and MacOS apps such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop — also limit the usefulness of this option.


An Android app on a Chromebook.


Arcade vs. Stadia gaming

Advantage: Well, it depends

With Apple Arcade, you’ll be able to play games on your iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV devices. Interestingly, Apple at WWDC said Arcade will work with Xbox One S and Playstation DualShock 4 controllers.

Google with its Stadia service is all about streaming games and will let you play them anywhere you can find a Chrome browser. Google Stadia will have its own controller and work with third-party controllers.

With both services not expected till later this year, we have little to go on beyond studying video demos of each service (and playing with Stadia for a bit at the recent Game Developer Conference), but we’d suggest if you like console games and have a good internet connection, Stadia might be a good fit with its controller-driven service. If you’re a casual gamer who likes playing mobile and indie games in your spare time, Apple’s approach might be a better fit.

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Apple’s Messages and FaceTime or Google’s Duo and Hangouts and Messages and …

Advantage: iOS 13

Apple puts its messaging focus on FaceTime and Messages, which are hard to beat for video and text chat. Communications are encrypted end to end. The messaging handoff between iOS and MacOS devices is seamless. And you can create Memoji.

Google’s messaging approach on Android is, err, more varied, with Duo and Hangouts for voice and video calls, Google Voice for dedicated voice calls, Hangouts Meet and Chat for business communication, and Messages for text messaging. You can use the Hangouts website to continue messaging on your Mac and Windows device, and you can keep up with your Messages texts via the web version of the app. The web version is handy but not flawless, and it sometimes seems to forget it’s connected to the mobile version of the service.


Messages and Memoji.


Google Assistant vs. Siri voice assistant

Advantage: Android Q

Apple was first out of the voice assistant gate in 2011 with Siri. Siri is widely available — working on iOS, MacOS and WatchOS devices and the HomePod. And with Siri shortcuts in iOS 12, you can create personalized tasks that Apple’s smart assistant can perform for you. (Read about new features in iOS 13.)

Google waited until 2016 to release its own voice assistant with the Google Home smart speaker, but it didn’t take long for Google Assistant to not just bridge the gap to Siri but leapfrog past it. Since that first smart speaker release, Google has put its assistant on Pixel phones, in the $49 Google Home Mini and $299 Google Home Max, and into cars as Assistant Driving Mode, and at its recent Google I/O developer conference, the company showed off a range of Google Assistant personalization features.

For some time, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant have been beating Siri in the usefulness discussion. But Apple today at WWDC announced a handful of useful additions to Siri, including searching for WatchOS apps on the Apple Watch and being able to read and respond to incoming messages through AirPods and stream radio stations. iOS 13 will also come preloaded with Siri Shortcuts.


Google Assistant.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Minding your privacy

Advantage: iOS 13

Apple definitely talks the talk on guarding user data. Going back to 2014, with CEO Tim Cook’s open letter on privacy, Apple has made keeping user data private a selling point. And unlike Google, Apple’s business is not dependent on targeted ads based on user data, instead making money on the hardware, apps and services it offers. At WWDC, Apple said it would give users greater control of location permissions with apps, choosing to share that info once and then have the app request it again if it wants it. Apple also unveiled a new sign-in method that gives you more control over your private data.

Google also talks up protecting user data, most recently in a New York Times opinion piece where Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that “privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services.” But Google has a tougher case to make because a major source of revenue its ad business, based on what users search for, for example, and which videos they watch. It does take a big step in the right direction with the next version of Android: Android Q gives users more control over what information they share through apps and services.

But the two companies’ approaches to privacy show up in different ways. For example, Google is working on an update to its Chrome browser that developers say may hobble ad-blocking and privacy extensions. In contrast, Apple last year announced Safari would prevent third-party trackers from monitoring your activities across the web.

Swipey keyboards

Advantage: Android Q, maybe

If you swipe instead of type, iOS 13 gaining a swipable keyboard is a big deal. Google has its own swipable keyboard, Gboard. There is a lot to like about Gboard beyond its swiping capabilities — I like being able to apply different themes, use different languages and easily insert GIFs — but Apple’s demo of QuickPath, the swiping part of the iOS 13 keyboard, looks pretty cool.


 In iOS 13, you can swipe in addition to type.


Shara Tibken contributed to this report.

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