iOS 8 vs Android L comparison preview

Both Google and Apple have shown off upcoming operating systems for mobile devices. Apple has its much-lauded iOS 8 operating system with Extensions, Continuity and Handoff, while Google has introduced a whole new look called Material Design

Here we are going to take a look at Apple's iOS 8 announcements and Google's Android L operating system. Apple’s iOS is designed for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch while Android L will update the array of Android smartphones and tablets on the market.

But which upcoming operating system for mobile devices offers the best feature set? Is it Apple's iOS 8 or Google's Android L? What is clear is that both operating systems will make their respective devices more functional, but in quite different ways. Let's see what Apple and Google fans have to look forward to.

iOS 8 will be available in Autumn 2014

Update, 10 November: If you're wondering what Apple will come up with next, why not read our article about iOS 9?

iOS 8 vs Android L: availability and release date

If you're an app developer, you can get hold of both iOS 8 and Android L right away. Apple's iOS 8 was made available to developers on 2 June 2014 from Apple's developer connection website. (Membership is required, at £59 per year, which might make it a better idea to wait for the official launch and the free public upgrade.)

Android L meanwhile was made available to developers on 26 June 2014 on the Android developer site. That doesn't cost anything.

Both developer editions require compatible devices. For iOS 8 you need to be running an iPhone 4S, iPad 2 or iPad mini (or later editions of all devices). To run Google Android L you need to be running a Google Nexus 5 or Nexus 7.

iOS 8 vs Android L: interface and design changes

Android L Material Design

Apple gave iOS a major refresh in the previous major update to the iOS operating system. In iOS 7 Apple moved away from a realistic design, known as skeuomorphic, to a new design known as 'flat'. So don’t expect any major revisions to the iOS operating system's visual style. There is a new style keyboard with contextual entries coming in iOS 8, and new shortcuts to the people you interact with most on the multitasking window, but on the whole Apple made all the big visual changes already.

Android L, on the other hand, introduces a new whole look that Google is calling Material Design. This new style moves closer to the space vacated by Apple (which abandoned realistic design for a layered approach). Material design is somewhere between the flat, layered style used in iOS 7 and the skeuomorphic design used in iOS 6 and earlier.

Material Design has a layered approach to interface elements (like iOS). But introduces other elements from the previous design like shadows, gradients and tiles that slide over one another. Google is going to make the design elements available to developers so they can easily incorporate the same style in their apps.

iOS vs Android L: key new features

Apple introduced a huge range of new features to both iOS and its Mac OS X operating system at the WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) 2014. Each one received a rapturous round of applause from an enthusiastic developer crowd.

iOS 8 new features including Continuity and Handoff

The new features found in iOS 8

With iOS, 8 Apple will be moving all the photographs you take on every device straight into the cloud.

  • iCloud Drive. Apple is introducing a new iCloud Drive service that enables you to access files directly within apps. It will also enable apps to open, and insert files created by other apps.
  • AirDrop. You will now be able to AirDrop files from Mac OS X to iOS devices.
  • Health. Apple is also introducing a new Health app with iOS 8. The Health app collates all the health information gathered by the devices you wear. Health is open to all developers so they can make devices that measure your vital statistics and share them with the iOS.
  • Home. There is a companion service to Health that we believe will be called Home. The HomeKit SDK is already available to developers so they can control home devices using iOS devices (although this may arrive later than Health).
  • Spotlight. Apple’s Spotlight search is going to be much more powerful in iOS 8, and will combine online results with the items on your iOS device. So it will return Wikipedia articles, trending news and places nearby.
  • Handoff. Perhaps the biggest deal for iOS users will be the new Handoff and Continuity features. Handoff means that working on a document in iOS or Mac OS X you will be able to pick up any of your devices (running the same Apple ID) and carry on working directly from that device.
  • Phone calls and SMS. This aims to bring different iOS and Mac OS X devices together. When you sit next to your Mac with an iPhone you will be able to make phone calls and send SMS texts from the Mac;
  • Instant Hotspot. You will also be able to share the data connection from your iPhone with your other devices (like iPad and iPhone more easily). Devices will automatically connect to each other when in range, and the data connection will be shared seamlessly.
  • Developer tools. Finally, there is a lot for developers to love behind the scenes in iOS (there was a reason developers were cheering even louder than usual). Developers will be able to create extensions to apps (both Apple apps and each other’s apps). Apple is opening up TouchID to developers for implementation in their apps, and there will be direct integration with the Camera Roll so apps can edit photos. Apple is introducing over 4,000 new API (Application Programming Interface) elements to iOS 8. Developers are having a field day.
  • Swift. Apple has also created a whole new programming language for iOS that is much easier to learn than the old Objective-C language. Swift means developers can work faster, and will be able to create better apps with the same resources. It’ll even make it easier if you want to start creating apps for yourself.

The new features found in Android L

Android L doesn't have quite so many new features as iOS 8, but some of them are quite interesting. Here are some of the best features to be found in Android L:

  • New notification screen. Android L has a vastly improved notification centre. This borrows some elements from iOS. Notifications now appear at the top of the screen as pop elements.
  • Phone dialer. Android L has a new Phone app that makes it easier to call people.
  • New lock screen. Android L features a new Lock Screen that brings notifications and unlock in the same place. The idea is that you see what is going on when you pick up your phone, and swipe up to start from there.
  • Bluetooth Unlock. Android L unlocks when it is around other Android devices you own (and connected on Bluetooth). The idea seems to be that if you are wearing an Android Wear watch you won’t need to unlock your Android phone. It will unlock automatically.
  • Interlocking Apps. Apps in Android L are able to take advantage of APIs in other apps. The idea is that apps can talk to each other, and installing apps will extend the functionality of other apps. It's an interesting feature that will depend on developer support.

OUR VERDICT

Both iOS 8 and Android Lhave much to offer. Taking both operating systems at face value: iOS 8 introduces more features, and more interesting ones at that. Android L is introducing a whole new look and style that blends the best of skeuomorphism with flat design. Android L also integrates with the Android Wear phone, and we are impressed by some of the ideas that Google has, such as app sharing and auto unlock. But not as interested as we are by iOS features like Handoff and Continuity. Both Apple and Google have given developers plenty of new toys to play with; a lot will depend on what they make with the new tools.