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Apple iOS 7 vs Google Android Jelly Bean: the biggest mobile OSes compared

How does iOS 7 stack up against Android Jelly Bean?

iOS 7 hero

In the smartphone wars, there are two clear winners at the moment. The iPhone has millions of loyal fans and so does Google Android in its many guises. Take a look at Macworld's: iPhone vs Android: Why the Apple iPhone beats Google Android.

Since the iPhone's launch in 2007, not much has changed in terms of the look of iOS. In that six years, a fair few iPhone owners have become bored and either jailbroken their smartphones in order to add features that Apple wouldn't allow, or jumped ship to Android, which was more open in the first place.

Will iOS 7 relieve the boredom? Does it make an iPhone a more attractive proposition than a Galaxy S4 or Xperia Z? Is iOS 7 better than Android 4.2 Jelly Bean?

We'll try and answer some of these questions here. See also: iPhone 5 review

Let's compare the headline features of the two OSes (we can't make every possible comparison here - this isn't meant to be an exhaustive discussion).

iOS 7 vs Jelly Bean: interfaceiOS 7 home screen

Quite obviously, the interface is the major change in iOS 7. Some say it's radical, while others see it as merely a variation on a theme. Whichever camp you're in, iOS 7 definitely looks fresher and more modern.

You still have the same fundamental home screens, with four docked apps at the bottom which remain on every home screen.

Gone are the wooden bookshelves and leather-bound diaries, replaced by cleaner lines and a more coherent colour palette. Everything is lot flatter, with the faux gloss and lighting effects consigned to history.

What you get instead is a lot more transparency, which Apple says helps to give you more context in just about everything you do. For example, when you're scrolling up and down an email, you can see text and images disappearing behind the on-screen keyboard, lending a less cramped feel.

If anything, iOS 7 takes a few leaves out of Android's book, and the two operating systems are arguably more similar looking than ever. One addition to iOS 7 is the Control Center, which Android has had for a long time.

When you swipe up from the bottom of the screen in any app, you get a panel of frequently accessed controls. This means you can enable Bluetooth or Wi-Fi faster, adjust screen brightness, use the rear LED as a torch (so you don't need to find an app any more) and more.

Less practical but prettier is a new parallax effect where your wallpaper moves slightly behind your app icons as you rotate your iPhone. In Jelly Bean, as with previous versions, the wallpaper scrolls slowly as you scroll between your home screens.

The interface of a smartphone running Jelly Bean differs depending on whether the hardware manufacturer has added any overlays or skins on top of the basic Android OS. Samsung has Touchwiz, HTC has Sense and others add their own enhancements.

Android Jelly Bean home screen

One difference is that Jelly Bean allows you to place widgets on your home screens, while iOS 7's home screens remain grids of app shortcuts.

iOS 7 vs Jelly Bean: notifications

Jelly Bean is an iteration of Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), which was a major update from the previous Android version: Honeycomb. That means an Android phone running Jelly Bean will look very similar to one running ICS.

One big new feature in Jelly Bean was Google Now. Put simply, this is a selection of 'cards' which appear on your screen in an attempt to give you the information you want before you ask for it.

Jelly Bean Google Now

That means you'll get a map and traffic information just before you leave home for the office in the morning, get a reminder of an upcoming appointment, the status of a flight you're booked on, weather reports and sports scores.

Google Now isn't exclusive to Jelly Bean any more, though. iPhone owners can download Google's app which replicates some of the Now functions, but it lacks the tight integration with iOS. You won't see cards appear on your lock screen, for example.

iOS 7 Notification Center

Jelly Bean Notifications

Both iOS 7 and Jelly Bean have notifications, such as incoming text messages, emails, reminders and calendar appointments. Jelly Bean lets you expand the some notifications, and swipe to dismiss notifications. Many manufacturers also add controls and settings to Android's notification screen.

iOS 7's Notification Center builds on iOS 6 by adding tabs at the top so you can see everything for today, all and missed notifications. It replicates Google Now a little by giving you a weather forecast on the 'today' tab.

iOS 7 vs Jelly Bean: NFC and AirDrop

Apple is keen to highlight AirDrop as a big new feature, and it's something many iPhone and iPad users will appreciate. Instead of sending photos and documents via iMessage, email or shared photo streams, AirDrop allows a direct connection to be made between two iOS 7 devices. It doesn't matter if the other person isn't in your list of contacts: you can still allow an AirDrop connection if you choose to (but you can restrict visibility only to friends). All transfers are encrypted.

iOS 7 AirDrop

There's no sign of NFC support in iOS 7, so it's reasonably safe to assume the next iPhone and iPad won't have this technology.

Not all Android devices have NFC, of course, but those that do may be able to send small files, such as photos, but touching the two devices together. It's also a quick way of pairing a device with an accessory like a speaker. In theory, NFC can also be used for other things, such as making payments using your phone, but we're yet to see this being embraced in the UK, so it's not a good reason to buy an NFC-equipped smartphone right now.

AirDrop doesn't require the devices to be touching (since it uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) but read the small print on Apple's website and you'll discover that, of the many iDevices that will be upgradeable to iOS 7, few will be able to use the feature. It will be available only on the iPhone 5, iPad 4, iPad mini and fifth-gen iPod touch (plus newer devices which Apple will probably launch along with iOS 7).

iOS 7 vs Jelly Bean: Multitasking

Multitasking in iOS 5 and 6 has always been tricky to manage. Once you've mastered the double-press of the home button (or the four-finger swipe up from the bottom of your iPad) you have to long-press on an app in the list, then tap the tiny 'x' to stop that app.

In iOS 7, Apple has adopted an approach that's much closer to Google's way of doing things. The multitasking windows now occupies the whole screen and in addition to the app icons, you see a thumbnail of what you were last looking at within the app. You simply swipe to dismiss the apps you want to close.

iOS 7 multitaskingJelly Bean Multitasking

Many Android devices require a long press of the home button to see the list of running apps, while others have a dedicated soft button. Swiping an app off the screen is all that's needed to close it.

iOS 7 vs Jelly Bean: Web browser

IOS 7 tabbed browsingSafari in iOS 6 was pretty good, but iOS 7 adds a few nifty features that should make it even better. One is the long-overdue combined search and address bar. Quite why Apple didn't introduce this in iOS 6 (or earlier) is anyone's guess.

A new 3D view of your open tabs makes it easier to switch between sites (you're no longer limited to eight), and the introduction of iCloud Keychain means you can choose to save all your usernames and passwords for websites you use regularly and be automatically logged in when you visit them.

A password generator is useful when you sign up for new accounts and services, and Keychain will remember the new details of course. As it's encrypted, you might also want to enter your address and credit card details so you don't have to type those when making an online purchase.

It's easier to browse through your bookmarks and history from the main Safari screen, and a new tab brings in the URLs from your Twitter feed.

Jelly Bean tabbed browsingThe browser you get in Jelly Bean depends on the manufacturer and device. Some phones come with both the native Android Browser and Google Chrome, but you may get only one of those. It's good to have the choice, but our preference is for Chrome, especially if you use Chrome on your desktop.

As well as bookmark synching (which Safari also supports), you can use the Chrome-to-Phone extension to send a link or web page to your smartphone from your desktop. Being able to swipe between open tabs is a nice touch, one that's matched by Safari in iOS 7 now.

Both Chrome and Safari support private browsing.

iOS 7 vs Jelly Bean: verdict

Until iOS 7 is released, it's impossible to make any definitive conclusions about it. There's been little mention of updates to the Maps app, which was a major thorn in Apple's side at the launch of iOS 6. However, the inaccuracies did little to dissuade users from upgrading and - now, at least - you can install Google Maps on your iPhone if you prefer it and want Street View back.

Certainly the updated interface and new features make iOS 7 a compelling upgrade although, as ever, not all features will be available on all devices that support it.

Jelly Bean is already a year old, so we wouldn't be surprised if Google rolls out an update by the time iOS 7 hits. Whether that's version 4.3, or a bigger jump to Key Lime Pie remains to be seen.

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