I recently picked up an iPad Mini, mostly for the sake of having an iOS device of some variety. It's next to impossible to work in the field I'm in(information technology journalism) without knowing at least something about the Apple side of things, and since all my experiences thus far have been with Windows, Linux, and Android (for some folks those two may be the same thing; for others, not), I figured it was time I got my feet wet.
Some part of me did expect to pick up the iPad and be instantly enveloped by the Reality Distortion Field. I'm not even sure I would have minded all that much if it had been the case. What happened instead was a somewhat milder experience, and in fact an almost disappointing one. While I like iOS and wouldn't say no to other devices that use it, I found my Android 4.1-powered phone to be that much more flexible and useful. (I know, I know: heresy!) Because I'm using the iPad as an adjunct to things and not a centerpiece, I have a bit of distance from it.
It's also hard for me to justify iOS as being technically superior, at least from the outside. Once upon a time, the claim to iOS's fame was that it Just Worked, but as of late, the Android devices I've encountered have Just Worked splendidly too, so maybe that theory also needs to be put to rest. And even apart from one Just Working and the other allegedly not, there are other things that caught my attention:
The pulldown menu in iOS is almost useless. It does little more than provide the kinds of pop-up notifications that come from the bubbles that appear above the Windows system tray. In Android, the pulldown menu is an actual tool, and not just a spot where text appears.
Android lets you install multiple varieties of on-screen keyboards, the better to suit your taste in same. I am no fan of on-screen typing — we only type on screens because we don't have a choice — but Swype is a modest improvement over the stock Android keyboard, and I like having the option to use it. iOS, no such luck.
iOS puts as much abstraction as is possible between the user and the file system, given current computing paradigms. Android lets you fall back to navigating around a file system tree if you really need it, but most of the time you don't. Not so much a case of one being better than the other as a case of me being grateful for the presence of the option if I really need it. iOS is set up so that I shouldn't ever have to need it, and I confess so far I haven't run into a situation where I do, but I can't say I'm entirely comfortable with that.
The mix of applications available to both platforms is highly competitive, and as far as my needs go, functionally identical. I have no incentive to get an iOS device because of the apps. This whole business of mobile devices is becoming less about devices themselves — about portals, really — than it is about the services we access through those portals.
It's this last part that really clinched it for me. Device ecosystems are becoming almost completely irrelevant. We're not using iOS or Android (or, for that matter, Windows); we're using Netflix and Gmail and Goodreads.
The playing field has all but flattened out between iOS and the competition, with most of the real advantages for Apple now in their hardware design. They do make a good machine, but they're not the only ones who do anymore — and in a few years, it will matter so little that we'll wonder why we made such a big deal out of it at all in the first place. Well, I know why: it's because, at the time, we really didn't have anything better, or even as good.