With all the talk about iPhones -- this new version of iOS, that new iPhone -- it can be difficult to remember that Android, not iOS, is the most popular operating system for smartphones. Why are they so popular?
People have a number of different theories, each one tinged with a bit of bias towards Google or towards Apple. If you ask Google fans, Android and its "openness" is a superior operating system, and will defeat Apple and the iPhone. If you ask Apple fans, Android is a cheap knockoff of the iPhone and is an inferior smartphone operating system to iOS.
As with most complex issues, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. It is worth exploring reasons to buy an Android smartphone before making the leap to a smartphone (whether that be iPhone or Android).
Better Syncing Capabilities
*Note: when iCloud is released in Fall 2011, this argument will be somewhat more obsolete. However, it remains to be seen whether or not Apple's iCloud service for its devices will be equal or superior to iCloud syncing.*
When you buy an Android phone and turn it on, you're immediately asked for your Google ID. Once you insert it, *all* of your contacts, calendar items, and e-mails sync instantly to your phone. For users who are heavy users of Google's products (such as Gmail and Google Calendar), this feature is a godsend.
Contrast this with Apple's manual syncing method, and you can see why many prefer Google's constant wireless syncing. The ecosystem of online, cloud-based products Google has built is very appealing to many who want a hassle-free sync process.
Until recently, the iPhone could only be used on AT&T's network in the United States. Now that Verizon sells the iPhone as well, there are two networks on which to use the iPhone. Contrast this with the fact that you can buy an Android smartphone on *many* networks, including Virgin (which offers very affordable unlimited data, calling, and texting plans that will make many Verizon and AT&T users silently weep).
Some individuals would love to use an iPhone on Verizon or AT&T, but those networks provide shoddy (or nonexistent) coverage in their regions. In this case, these consumers must go to T-Mobile, Sprint, or other mobile companies. If they want a smartphone an Android phone is the only option.
iPhones are not cheap. To buy one outright, it costs $649-$749 (with a plan, an iPhone costs $199-299). Many Android phones have been commoditized, and are therefore cheaper than iPhones, even when purchased outright. While this is not true of the top-of-the-line ones, Android phones can often be much more budget-sensitive than iPhones are, especially for light smartphone users.
So, clearly Android is not just a knockoff competitor of the iPhone operating system. There are valid reasons for buying an Android phone, just as there are valid reasons for buying an iPhone. Think of these phone as tools: there isn't just one type of hammer with which you can build a house. In the same way, there isn't just one "right" smartphone.