Following their respective developer conferences, Google and Apple have shown us what's coming with the updated versions of their phone software this year. Both Android 12 and iOS 15 are major updates to not only the look and feel of each operating system, but also to how you'll interact with your smartphone.
From Android 12's new Material You design language to iOS 15's modified notifications and new Focus mode, rest assured that whichever device you use, you can expect great things later this year.
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We'll have to wait a few more months for the final versions of both updates. Android 12 is arriving toward the end of summer, while Apple says iOS 15 will come out in the fall. But we've seen enough from the respective previews to stat making some initial judgments about these software updates. In some ways, Android and iOS are closer than they've ever been, but on others, they're still incredibly distinct.
But which one has impressed us more? That's a great question that comes down to how we think each new version will impact you the user the most. As usual, the iPhone vs. Android debate hinges on your preference, but it's exciting that this year, whichever camp you fall into, you have plenty to look forward to when the updates hit your phone.
Here's how the iOS 15 vs. Android 12 battle is shaping up.
Android 12: Material You and privacy dashboard
Google dropped a bombshell on the Android community May's Google I/O conference when it unveiled Android 12 and the new Material You design language. Material you takes customization to a new level for Android — something that Google's OS has always lorded over iOS — and it's altogether a huge shift for Android's look and feel.
The last time Google did something this drastic when it moved from the Tron-inspired Holo design language to Material Design. It was a huge change and it slowly spread across all of Google's products, not just Android. Material You is an evolution of that, a core re-imagining of how you interact with Google's massive suite of software and hardware offerings.
Android 12 is all about smoothing out your interactions with the OS. From making notifications more responsive to the incredibly suave animations and transitions, Android 12 looks and feels incredible. (We've had our hands on the beta since Google released a developer preview earlier this year, and we really like it.)
Google is also shifting how Android handles privacy in Android 12. Though it's not quite on the level of Apple's privacy push with iOS, it's still a step in the right direction.
Google and Apple take very different approaches to monetization and data collection (even though both are invasive in their own ways), but Android 12 introduces a new privacy dashboard. It's not only easy on the eyes, but it's also insightful.
iOS 15: Notifications, Focus, and core app updates
Although Android 12 has a host of new features to be excited, Apple has arguably more in store for iOS 15. We have a great breakdown of the top 15 iOS 15 features if you want to check that for more details. I won't tread old ground here.
What gets me excited for iOS 15 is that Apple took a look at the notification problem that keeps me from really enjoying iOS. I wish Apple would just acknowledge that Google is on the right track and just mimic its betters, but at least iOS 15 gives notifications a needed face lift, with bigger app icons and contact photos for conversation notifications.
Apple also wants to help address fatigue with a notifications summary, which gathers your less important notifications into a little digest for you to deal with later. Conversation-style notifications will still always surface so that you don't miss an important message, but news headlines, Reddit alerts, and the like will get tucked away so that you don't get overwhelmed.
Along with this new approach to notifications is Focus, which is basically an intelligent Do Not Disturb. It allows you to customize profiles for work, personal, and other things (like gaming). You determine which notifications come through and how your home screen is laid out. It could be a huge boon for work-life balance.
iOS 15 adds sweeping changes for many of the core apps. FaceTime, for example, will see more options to make conversations feel more natural. Safari is getting an overhaul to be more in line with the macOS version. Weather has a new design with more animations and infographics.
iOS 15's Maps is getting a ton of new features that offer a serious competitor to Google Maps and Waze. Even Wallet didn't escape, with it getting support for digital car keys, smart locks, and hotel keys (where applicable and supported). You'll even be able to store your driver's license in Wallet, assuming you live in a supported state.
iOS 15 vs. Android 12: Which OS update stands out?
There is no simple answer to this question. My own personal bias leans toward Android 12 because of how big of a change Material You is. I like the look of iOS 15's new changes, including the notifications, but iOS still looks the same as it has for a few years now. Apple's iPhone software needs its own Material You moment.
That said, iOS 15 is a huge update. We couldn't even list the whole suite of changes here, but a huge number of the operating system's core parts are getting at least a touch up. In the case of others, like Maps and FaceTime, Apple will introduce new features later this year.
From looks alone, Android 12 is the most impressive. It's a total overhaul and places more customization options in the user's hands, something that iOS cannot (and probably never will) match. How your Android 12 phone looks will differ greatly from mine. That's a beautiful thing.
But if we look at the amount of core feature updates, iOS 15 is the more impressive OS this year. Apple is leaving no stone unturned, which means that your iPhone will become more powerful this fall. Trying to process everything that's new in iOS 15 is daunting task, whereas many of Android 12's updates beyond Material You are to the underlying OS itself. And Google updates its apps outside of platform updates, so it doesn't need OS version updates to change most of the core suite. The teams responsible for each app usually introduce new features separately.
Both iOS 15 and Android 12 are incredibly impressive and we can't wait to play with more both as the months progress toward the final releases. That said, I think the combination of iOS 15's sweeping changes to its core apps and services and the fact that even something as old as the iPhone 6s will can run the update makes it the most impressive. Android 12 looks way better and continues with giving the user more choice, but Apple didn't pull any punches with iOS 15.
Stay tuned for more on both operating systems in the coming months, including our final assessment of both Android 12 and iOS 15 as the full releases take shape.