Apple and Google are locked in a never-ending game of catch-up. Each time a new version of iOS or Android is announced, there are just as many borrowed features as new ones, as each side studies and pilfers the other’s ideas to find ways to better its own experience. Android L’s Material Design is awfully similar to iOS 7’s flattened design language, and iOS 8’s newfound openness certainly owes a debt to Lollipop’s predecessors.
But neither iOS die-hards nor Android fans should complain. The fact is, there are greener spots of grass on both sides of the fence. Now that we’ve had some time to play with Lollipop, I’ve already found a few features Apple would be smart to incorporate into iOS 9.
Lollipop took a number of cues from Apple for its revamped method of delivering notifications, but Google still added its own twist. My favorite feature is the new heads-up banners for the Phone app, which lets you ignore incoming calls without having them interrupt a game of Replay. I also like how it handles the lock screen: incoming notifications are sorted by importance, so a mail message from someone in your contacts will be naturally ranked higher than a Candy Crush full lives alert.
On the surface, Lollipop’s Priority Mode looks an awful lot like iOS’s Do Not Disturb feature, but I’m actually a little envious of Google’s implementation. While on iOS it’s kind of an all-or-nothing affair, Android gives you more control over what won’t be disturbing you and when.
Instead of just calls, Google lets you allow events and reminders to get through, but what I really like is the timer setting: If you just need to take a nap or get some work done, you can quickly turn on Priority Mode for a short time without needing to deal with scheduling math.
As long as Apple keeps making its devices as thin as the laws of physics and engineering will allow, battery life will always be precious. Like iOS 8, Lollipop lets you see which apps are using the most juice, but Google also built in a Battery Saver mode that kills unnecessary processes, throttles the CPU, and limits background tasks when the battery reaches the red. And when you finally plug your device in, it can also tell you how long it’ll take to charge, something I’d love to see on my iPhone.
Apple fans have pretty much given up on the prospect of multiple user accounts in iOS, but the fact of the matter is there are times when we need to share our phones. And Google has developed an ingenious method for doing so: Switch to a guest user on a smartphone or tablet running Lollipop, and not only will your own personal information stay private, but also everything your guest does will be deleted once she logs out. It’s like private browsing for your whole phone, and we need it in iOS 9.
iOS and Android both have a very similar method of multitasking, with a swipeable card system that lets you quickly switch between apps. But Lollipop does it just a little better.
When you enter Overview, you’ll get more than a menu of your recently used apps. Every task and tab that’s running will be displayed, so if you’re working on a draft of an email message, for example, you can choose to either jump back to the compose windows or to your inbox. And on your phone, you’ll see all of your open tabs, too.
iOS’s print screen has never been much to write home about, offering only the most rudimentary of options. By comparison, Lollipop makes it seem like you’re sitting in front of a PC, with a desktop-caliber preview screen that lets you see exactly how a picture or document is going to print.
And if no wireless printer is available, Lollipop users even get a save-as-PDF option, something I’ve been pining for since the days of iOS 4.
Tap screen to wake
Clicking the home button isn’t exactly a difficult way to wake up an iPhones, but Lollipop brings a new way for supported Android phones to wake up: Just tap the display twice. That would certainly save me from some fumbling when I check my email on the iPhone 6 Plus before my first cup of coffee.
Search in settings
With each iOS revision, we expect Apple to finally add a way to search inside Settings, but it hasn’t happened. Now Google has beaten Apple to the punch, adding an enormously handy magnifying glass to the top-right corner. Hope iOS fans don’t have to wait much longer, because I’m tired of remembering where to go when I want to swap out my keyboard.
I know what you’re thinking: iOS has had an ambient mode for years. It’s true that Android’s new ability to wake the display every time a notification comes in is old hat for iPhone and iPad users.
But in Lollipop it’s an option, and quite frankly, I’d love to be able to temporarily turn off all lock-screen notifications with a single toggle.
Touch ID has made it easier than ever to unlock an iPhone or iPad, but there are still times when we kind of wish we didn’t have to use it. Google’s found a middle ground between convenience and security that I’d love to see Apple adopt. When you get a new Bluetooth or NFC device, paired Lollipop phones and tablets will automatically unlock whenever they come within range of it. And I can think of something coming out early next year that would work really well with such a feature…
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Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.