The Cloud: Android vs. iOS why it matters to you

The question of the differences between Android and iOS is starting to get stale. People are defaulting to their fanboy corners and repeating the same arguments instead of paying attention to the development and the direction of these operating systems and giving insightful responses about functional differences and how they may impact user interaction. To that end I wrote an extensive reply to a certain forum post, but I'd like to get a wider opinion on what I wrote. Specifically, do you agree that this is a key difference between the two OSes? Do you see them continuing on in their respective paths or do you think one approach will win over the other? And finally, can you think of any other key functional differences? (beyond widgets, notifications, multi tasking and all the other things we usually hear) Well, here are my thoughts, I'd love to hear yours.

There exist a key difference between Android and iOS that I think very few people discuss. It's actually quite mind boggling that people pay so little attention to it considering the direction that computing seems to be going. That difference is the approach Apple and Google take to the cloud. Mind you, I do not think there is a overall superior method, so if my preferences shine through too much and make me sound biased, forgive me for that. Anyways, it boils down to a difference in mentality. Should the cloud be a cross device syncing tool or an extended file system? This is what will become the defining factor between the two OSes.

Google has positioned cloud storage as an extended file system. This approach is in Google's DNA and has shown its desire to push this extended file system as the future of computing. There is evidence for this in the development of ChromeOS but also in the exclusion of SD card slots in the nexus line of devices, the development of the Google music locker style app, Google drive and the Google photo implementation. Let’s compare and contrast these key areas with Apple’s implementations.

Music: This was where I first started noticing this difference in implementation. Google's approach is to let you store your music in the cloud and stream it wherever you like. They give you the ability to pin as much music as you like to the device's local storage in the event of an inability to access the cloud. Apple, on the other hand, has the user store the music on their device so that they always have access to it. They keep a list of what music the user owns on their servers so that the user can download whatever music they own on to whichever device they are using.

Drive: Google docs is a productivity suite that allows you create and edit files that reside in the cloud. iCloud (as it relates to productivity) allows you to sync changes between files that reside on different devices. Beyond the productivity aspects, if you look at these systems as a cross device extended file system the differences continue in the same style. A game that uses these systems to provide device independent continuity for example would have saved files residing in Google drive vs. on the iOS device being synced to other devices via iCloud.

Photos: For all intents and purposes photos reside on your Apple made devices. iCloud will sync photostream photos to all of your photostream enabled devices and also create a handy webview for sharing these pictures. With Google your photos reside in the cloud. This is of course assuming you use their cloud photo platform built into Google+. Yes, the pictures you take on a device are stored on that device but with instant upload they are almost instantly uploaded to the cloud. They reside in the cloud and can be accessed from any device through the Gallery app or the Google+ webview. The system also allows for organization into albums and that also resides in the cloud and show up on all devices through the gallery app or the Google+ Webview. An additional benefit to the file system approach Google uses for photos is that the webview is persistent and only limited by how much storage space you have available. Apple's webview is time limited.

Note: these examples assume that the devices you are using reside in each respective ecosystem. So Android and Chrome browser for Google and iOS and OSX for Apple.

Hopefully I have done a decent job of illustrating the key differences in the implementation of the "cloud" in both ecosystems and have inspired you to consider how you prefer to use the "cloud." I think as we go forward this should and will become one of the major differentiating factors between Apple’s ecosystem and Google’s. Personally, I prefer the Google extended file system approach to the syncing functions of iCloud. But I acknowledge that Google’s approach can be frustrating if you prefer maintaining files on devices natively. Anyway, I have never heard someone mention this difference so I thought it was worth the effort to expound on it here. Cheers to whichever ecosystem is your ecosystem of choice!