Android and iOS are the two most popular operating systems for phones and tablets, with Android currently dominating. Two-thirds of phones sold this year run Android, with iOS making up almost all of the rest. Windows Phone, depending on the stats you look at, has somewhere between 2.5 percent and under 1 percent, meaning your only two sensible choices when it comes to buying your next phone are Android or iOS. But which is best: iOS 10 or Android 7.0?

Here we’ll look at the new features on offer and how the two OSes differ on key factors such as interface, customisation, security and privacy. We’ve also compared the phones themselves, so also check out Android vs iPhone.

iOS 10 vs Android 7.0 Nougat: in brief

For those unfamiliar with how Android differs from iOS, here’s the lowdown. iOS is only found on Apple phones and tablets, and aside from a few missing features on older iPhones and iPads, is essentially identical on all.

iOS 10 vs Android 7.0 Nougat

With Android, the interface and features on offer can differ wildly between devices since manufacturers are free to change the interface and add features as they like. While fundamentally all Android phones are alike, you may prefer one that runs the ‘standard’ Google version of Android while others might like Samsung’s take on it. Yet others might like Huawei’s design which more closely mimics iOS.

Here we’ll concentrate on Google’s version of Android 7.0 for this reason. And, of course, because no other manufacturer has yet rolled out an update to Android 7.0. That’s one of the advantages of buying a Google Nexus: you get the update first.

The other main difference between iOS and Android is that iOS is much more locked down. Like Amazon’s Fire tablets, you’re effectively buying into a walled-garden ecosystem where you have to get apps from Apple’s app store and live with certain other limitations that Apple imposes, such as the fact you can’t set third-party apps as the default web browser, calendar or email app. You also have to rely on iTunes (or certain other third-party software) to transfer videos, music and other files to and from a PC or Mac. An Android phone or tablet allows you to access the file system and use it like a USB flash drive, copying anything you like from any PC.

iOS 10 vs Android 7.0 Nougat: New features

Both operating systems look exactly like their predecessors, so updating from the previous versions will be a familiar experience. There are lots of tweaks of course, and enough changes to make some iPhone users unhappy about features being moved around or even removed entirely.

Let’s start with iOS 10, then. Here’s a summary of the main changes:

  • Redesigned lock screen with rich notifications and widgets
  • Raise to wake (only on recent devices)
  • Swipe to unlock replaced with Press Home to unlock
  • Multi-tab Control Centre
  • Big update to Messages, including all-new app store
  • New Home app
  • Siri open to developers
  • Memories in Photos app

Widgets aren’t new, but the ability to use them by swiping left on the lock screen is. More and more apps now come with widget versions, which means you can check information and do things much more quickly and without launching the app, or even unlocking your phone.

iPhones launched since September 2015 support Raise to Wake which means you can check notifications without accidentally bypassing them when you press the home button. Such is the speed of the second-gen Touch ID that it reads your fingerprint and unlocks the phone before you even see notifications. That’s great if you have a phone with the M9 motion coprocessor, but annoying if you don’t, because you still have to press a button.

Some users are also frustrated that the music controls have been moved off the first Control Centre tab, but if music is playing and your phone is locked, you can still wake it and swipe up from the bottom to bring up the controls immediately.

Memories is an excellent new feature, which allows you to remember events and even just a summary of the last week, month or year. It will automatically make short, shareable videos which are handy for sending to family and friends.

Messages has been given the most love and has now caught up with some rivals – notably Facebook Messenger – by adding downloadable sticker packs. More importantly, there’s a whole app store within Messages so you can add whatever capabilities you like. The idea is that you can send money to friends, order a takeaway and do plenty more besides without ever leaving the app.

Google has focused on other areas for Android 7.0, and here are the highlights:

  • Multi-window support
  • Quick Switch
  • VR support (Daydream)
  • Interactive notifications (plus bundled notifications)
  • Instant apps
  • Seamless updates

Multiwindow is nothing new in Android; it has been around for years on Samsung and LG devices. It’s the first time it has been a native feature, though, and this is significant. Unlike Apple, which limits multiwindow to its tablets, Google has made it possible to have two apps on screen at once on phones as well.

Plus, it has added Quick Switch so you can double tap the multitasking button and switch to the previous app. This is basically the same as pressing Alt-Tab on a PC and it even works when you’re in multiwindow mode, swapping the right-hand app (or bottom-most app when in portrait mode).

This is great news for productivity, particularly on the Pixel C which shipped with Android Marshmallow and lacked support for running two apps at once. See also: Android Nougat review 

However, as it’s a new feature, not all apps support multiwindow, so it may be a case of waiting until your favourites can be used like this.

Apple hasn’t mentioned VR at all, so there’s nothing specific in iOS 10 which makes it well suited to virtual reality games and apps. Google, on the other hand, is making a huge push into mobile VR with Nougat. It is hoping that manufacturers jump on board and build their own Daydream-ready Android phones as well as VR headsets into which the phones slip.

We’re yet to try out a Daydream phone and headset, but it should be a much better, more immersive experience than existing smartphone VR because of the lower latency screens and more powerful graphics chips in Daydream-ready phones. Plus, there will be controllers and other accessories that let you control and interact with things in the virtual worlds.

Notifications have been given a facelift in Android 7.0. You can now reply directly and otherwise interact with notifications. This is a catch-up to iOS which has had interactive notifications for a while now. Again, not all apps support this: app developers need to add the features.

Some of the improvements in Nougat are behind the scenes. For example, system updates work like they do on Chromebooks. Updates are downloaded in the background to a separate partition and when you reboot your phone or tablet, it will automatically switch partitions and use the one with the updated version of Android. The snag is that it’s only available on new devices such as the forthcoming Google Pixel phones – older devices won’t benefit.

Data Saver is a handy new feature that allows to stop apps using 3G or 4G data in the background and only let them update or consume data when connected to Wi-Fi. Previously it wasn’t possible to restrict data usage like this: it was all or nothing. Again, iOS has allowed you to choose which apps can use mobile data for a while.

Similarly, there’s Direct Boot which brings Android up-to-date as it lets it boot to the lock screen before requiring any authentication. This means you won’t miss alarms, calls or other alerts and notifications if your phone randomly reboots.

iOS 10 vs Android 7.0 Nougat: Interface

The main difference between the iOS and Android interfaces is navigation. We’ll get to that in a second, but before we do it’s worth pointing out that iOS forces you to keep all your apps on home screens. You can put them in folders, but they must all live on one or more sideways-scrolling home screens.

In Android – at least stock Android – the apps live in the app tray – the white circular icon with small black squares. You can put shortcuts across multiple home screens, but if you want a clean home screen with only a few icons at the bottom, you can.

Getting back to navigation, iOS uses the home button as the main ‘back’ control. To return to the home screen, you press the home button. Most Android phones (with a couple of exceptions, notably Samsung) have soft navigation buttons, which sometimes disappear from the screen. If you’re in an app which runs full screen, you have to tap or swipe to bring those controls back and then you can tap the circle icon to get back to the home screen. The difference is that Android also has a back button that’s always there. In iOS there’s sometimes a back button, or you can swipe to return to a previous menu or screen and – as of iOS 9 – there’s a handy ‘back to previous app’ link right in the top left corner that’s useful when you tap a link or choose an option that takes you from one app to another.

iOS 10 vs Android 7.0 Nougat: Customisation

Android offers far more freedom in terms of customising the interface so it’s just the way you want it. In Nougat, you see five shortcut icons above the notifications when you pull down from the top of the screen.

When you pull down again you see more icons and an EDIT button. You can then drag extra icons into the main area, as well as choosing exactly where each icon goes. The first five are those that sit above the notifications so it’s easy to put at your fingertips those you use most.

By contrast, Apple doesn’t allow you to change any icons in the Control Centre and there isn’t even an option in iOS 10 to revert to the iOS 9-style arrangement where everything is on one tab. It’s also frustrating that you can’t see which Wi-Fi network you’re connected to unless you launch the Settings app and go into Wi-Fi. Android shows the name of the network in a tiny font beneath the icon, and in Nougat you can also see which Bluetooth device is connected.

iOS 10 vs Android 7.0 Nougat: Security

You won’t find any ‘Unknown sources’ option in iOS: you can install apps only from the official app store, and only from your particular country store. There is a benefit to this lockdown, though: it significantly reduces the chances of you installing an app that’s riddled with malware. There’s also an element of quality control. While there are some pretty badly designed apps available, malware on iOS is almost unheard of.

iPhones and iPads are also famously secure. Without knowing the passcode, it’s very, very difficult to extract any information from the device and you’d have to have committed a particularly heinous crime for anyone to expend the effort to unlock the phone or decrypt the data.

Android phones are also encrypted, although Nougat moves away from Marshmallow’s full-disk encryption to file-based encryption. That’s fine, but if you’re upgrading from Marshmallow to Nougat, switching from the old method to new will cause all your data to be wiped, meaning you’ll have to reinstall all your apps and re-sync your data.

Android is a much bigger target for malware writers, so it’s no wonder that there’s a plethora of antivirus apps available. It’s probably a good idea to install one, but as any good security expert will tell you, humans are usually the weakest link in the chain. In fact, one reason why Android users suffer more from malware is that they don’t update (or can’t update) to the latest version.

The point here is that iOS mitigates most of the risks, while you’re left less protected on Android if you decide you’re going to install software outside of the Google Play Store – and there have been stories of apps within the store containing malware.

For more details on security and privacy in iOS, see our sister title Macworld’s iOS vs Android feature

iOS 10 vs Android 7.0 Nougat: Conclusion

In many respects, Android and iOS are very similar. They’re both slick, refined, competent mobile operating systems. Each has its advantages and unique features, as well as frustrations and weaknesses. There’s no clear winner here.

If you like choice and the ability to customise things to your liking, you’d be better off with Android. Plus, the choice of hardware at a huge range of prices easily beats the narrow range of iPads and iPhones.

But with Apple, you’re getting hardware and software designed by the same company, optimised to work together. It’s a safe, curated ecosystem that’s easy to use.