Does iOS 5 Bridge the Gap Between Android and the iPhone?

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Apple’s new iOS 5 is expected to bring a lot of new features in, many of them inspired at least partially by their competition. From Android’s notifications to Blackberry’s messaging system, the latest version of iOS appears to bridge the gap between iOS and their biggest competitor, Android. But does it, really?

First, I’m a strong believer in experience over everything else. I’ve been extremely happy with Apple and the iOS since prior to the App Store and so many other developments throughout its history. Android has never appealed to me as much as iOS in terms of being something I would see myself using as my primary mobile platform. As with many things, there are some obvious pros and cons to it and any operating system that make it more appealing. iOS 5 has made great strides towards bridging the gap between it and its biggest competition, and several of the key features that bring many users to Android and Blackberry are finding their way to the iOS – at least in a similar form, function, and purpose.

One feature that remains virtually exclusive to Android phones (some of which have it on by default) is Swype. Through Swype, users are able to type in entire words using a single touch gesture. For some Android users, this is a must-have feature that makes sending out quick messages a snap. While there is a learning curve, several members of the community have commented at one point or another how easy it makes typing things out on the go, especially on such a small surface. iOS 5 doesn’t include this functionality, at least not yet. For now though, you are able to take advantage of Swype-like input if you have a jailbroken device through apps like iSwype.

Another feature Android has that isn’t currently present on the iPhone are widgets. Widgets allow you to see a limited display of information from apps without having to actually enter the app and make it fill the screen. For some applications such as search, weather, and Twitter, this can certainly serve a useful purpose. This experience can be hampered a bit by the combined processing power used to power these widgets. Where you might otherwise enjoy a fluid and fast transition between pages and/or apps, a screen leaded with widgets has the potential of bogging down the experience. Again, this depends entirely on what exactly those widgets do and how well they’re optimized for the operating system.

Admittedly, Android users still have a more open development environment allowing their developers the freedom to create apps that bend the rules of the OS. This can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it. While one person might say this environment inspires creativity and ignites the passions of their development community, another might say it opens the door for 100 bad apps for every 1 good one.

Apple’s new iOS 5 is on its way and ultimately it’s up to the consumers to decide if the changes made are enough to drive more people to (or back to) iOS devices from the alternatives. It’s been said time and time again on this blog and others that competition drives innovation. I’m curious to see where this will take the industry, moving forward.