The state of Apple versus Android
It has been a while since I have given my personal view on where we are at in terms of evolution, so far as Apple and Google's Android are concerned. Every year I tend to reflect on how much more each of the companies have provided in terms of a complete solution, for consumers, as well as developers. I must disclose, I have been an Apple user and developer for quite some time, so my point of view may be skewed slightly in Apple's favour, but it isn't in my best interest to stick my head in the sand and say Apple will rock forever, ignoring any competition, because that would be quite silly really...
Yes, Apple has set the benchmarks with it's iOS and iPhone, and despite many gripes I have had with the operating system, it has been for some time the most polished of the two, but that status is gradually changing, with each Android iteration. The status quo at this rate cannot continue I am afraid, for Apple. They continue to keep a lot of legacy UI, such as pin stripe, the Alert notification that is so 2007, whereas Google has not been inhibited with consistency through each year, has allowed itself to find new and innovative UIs.
The Operating System
Sure, each phone manufacturer skins their own version of Android, which in itself I am somewhat against, because it means you are forced to use sometimes inferior and rushed UI, that slows down your phone and prevents timely operating system updates, but it does allow for consumers to choose what UI makes sense to them, what is most attractive. Apple unfortunately, whilst maintaining consistency, relies on only one un-customised design, which has not changed a hell of a lot since the operating system's inception in 2007.
Apple has added things like notification-bars (taken from Google no doubt) in iOS 5, but besides that, you still get the same chrome and look-and-feel. Whether it's better to have consistency and ease-of-use, or inconsistent yet innovative and differential UI, might be debatable, but I can always state that UI does have a fashionable expiration-date, and Apple's UI is surely close to that.
Google has also made use of widgets, on both it's Phone and tablets, to allow users to have third-party apps show up in real-time on your device home-screen, exposing interesting and customised content, something Apple lacks in it's devices. I am somewhat surprised, since Apple's Mac OSX has dashboards, which is essentially the same concept as what we have with Android's widgets, that Apple didn't push to have that part of their mobile OS.
Apple has held a monopoly on being the sole creator of it's mobile devices, to supplement it's operating system, similar to how it has in it's computer lineup, which is contrasted by Google that gives it's manufacturers free reign to implement their OS on their devices. It doesn't mean that Apple's way is wrong, as evident in their computer lineup, they have amazing hardware, they can guarantee it works in a certain way because they are responsible and owners of the entire chain, which is great. With PCs, you have to worry about drivers, who's responsibility is it (Microsoft's OS or Dell's hardware etc), and you do have dodgy Android hardware, as well as some classy ones.
What you do get however, is variety, from small 3-inch screens to 4.8-inch screens, different design, feel and quality, which is a plus for consumers. Apple's iPhone is undeniably beautiful and elegant, but with the same consistent below-4 inch size, you are only given that one option for size, which is a let-down. OK, as a programmer, I get the benefits of only having to target one size, but it's not as if that is true nowdays anyway. You have to cater for retina and non-retina devices (iPhone 3GS vs iPhone 4/4S), so why not go the extra step and have various other screen sizes. I'm sure developers will winge at the start, but it will at least give them the opportunity to be better developers, to dynamically cater for different sizes and so forth.
Apple has done it with it's Mac OSX, you have different size macbooks (11-inch to 15-inch), so why can't we do the same for the mobile devices? It will mean consumers can choose their preferred size, and developers can work on ensuring they can cater for the different handset sizes. It's a small trade-off, for big gains in many ways.
This year's showdown
OK, so this month we saw Samsung release it's Galaxy SIII, on the back of it's successful SII last year, and we are still waiting to see what Apple reveals. It may be revealed in the WWDC Developer's conference next week, where they will probably announce iOS 6, or perhaps they will announce a device along with that (perhaps prepare to cater for different screen dimensions). If that's the case, Apple will still maintain domination for another year. If it doesn't, it will bare a disappointing result for Apple in the post-Steve Jobs era, where I will probably ascertain that next year Android will be the top-dog. I sincerely hope that Apple caters to the public demands, even if their conscience says no, because there has to be trade-offs, and please do not just make the phone a bit longer, provide different lines of iPhone dimensions, otherwise you won't compete against the army of Android manufacturers who are doing so.
If you can't, then allow other manufacturers to meet that demand. Either way, we will know this year, in this battle, whether the mantle will change hands, or not.