The iPhone vs Android battle isn’t about technology, it’s about us

An iPhone and an Android phone side-by-side
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Mr.Mikla)


It’s 2023. The smartphone wars are over – aren’t they? Apple? Android? Just use what you want, both is good 

Except, it doesn’t always feel that way. Whether it’s newspapers running stories about social group ostracism because of ‘the blue bubble’, social media profiles describing Android phones as ‘ick’ or a ‘red flag’, or jealous competitors taking swipes at Apple, it sometimes feels like these wars have never raged as fiercely. 

When you pare down the arguments that go on online, week after week, one thing becomes clear: in truth, or truthiness – that is, the quality of something feeling true without necessarily being true. In other words,  it’s all about the vibes.

So many differences, so few differences

Ask any Android phone owner why they picked one of the best Android phones, and they’ll likely wax lyrical about its strengths. You can do anything (except use iMessage), and you can download any app from anywhere (except the App Store). You can make your phone your own thanks to a raft of customization options, and you can jump between devices from different manufacturers when your brand of choice makes a design choice you’re not in love with. You're independent; you're free. At least, so you like to think.

It's a truthy statement. There’s nothing inherently freeing about being able to choose between different plastic, glass and metal boxes – especially when most people measure how good these plastic, metal, and glass boxes are by their proximity to a specific metal and glass box: the iPhone (or Pixel, in some cases). Most of these phones are built with the same key components, and the apps they run are the same. If you’re a hardcore tech enthusiast or tech journalist like myself, you're likely even going to use the same apps as you would on an iPhone because you probably carry an iPhone side-by-side or use the same app lists from the same sites. You're  using the best phones and the best apps are on both. And if you’re not? Your Android phone gets more and more like the iPhone every year. Freedom? Or taking extra steps to arrive at the same point. You're not free. But using Android provides you with a sense of freedom, relative to the obvious alternative. 

How about iPhones? iPhones – in the eyes of some – allow you to be more engaged with the world around you, to be more social. That too is a truthy statement. You have iMessage, you have AirDrop to share your pictures with your iPhone-using friends, and your devices can talk to each other seamlessly; in fact, even after years of rivals trying to best it, Apple’s ecosystem interactivity still feels unmatched in this regard. Buying an iPhone grants you access to a way of interacting with the world around you unlike any other device; at least that’s what it feels like. The emphasis there is very much on the word ‘feels’. It’s truthiness at its best, beaten into us by marketing and journalists (like myself) falling back on the ‘Apple-style integration’ trope to drive interest. You're not inherently more social by using an Apple product; you just feel as though you are.

Nothing personal, yet very personal 

Picking between Android and iPhone is less a statement of which is better, and more a statement of who you think you are or who you aspire to be. You’re buying a sign that you want to stand out, or to fit in, or show nerd cred, to identify as someone above it all, or as someone who’s into aesthetic selfies, and so on. I have an iPhone to use iMessage and Facetime with people who want to use them. When I’m on my own? When ‘m reading on my Kindle or taking pictures no one needs to see or care about? Watching movies? Reading comics? I’m happy with my Android phone. Both phones are me in different ways, and I bet that’s the same for many other people too.

It’s why these phone battles in some places can get so personal, and sometimes even bitter. People aren’t fighting in defense of one piece of tech against another, they’re fighting because they feel their identities being attacked. And so maybe they lash out. It’s a shame too. Whether iPhone, Android, or some weird third thing that tries to pop up every so often, there are always advantages to using something new and unfamiliar. 

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stand out, and there’s nothing wrong with going with the flow. iPhones and Android phones will continue to exist as long as people drift between the branding that identifies with their core values. Sometimes we want to stand out, sometimes we want to blend in, and sometimes we wish that weird third thing – that Windows Phone of phones –  was still around. But when it comes to which phone you choose it feels like, as in so many areas of life, the one thing that unites us is the urge to identify the ‘enemy’.  

Michael Allison
Staff Writer, Phones

A UK-based tech journalist for TechRadar, helping keep track and make sense of the fast-paced world of tech with a primary focus on mobile phones, tablets, and wearables.

When not writing on TechRadar, I can often be found reading fiction, writing for fun, or working out.