Fight for the top: Android 4.4 KitKat vs iOS 7
Lock and home screens
Simplicity is the fundamental concept, around which iOS 7 has been designed. This becomes evident as soon as an iOS device is picked up and turned on – the first thing displayed is a seemingly basic lock screen, inviting you to “slide to unlock”. We said “seemingly” because the iOS lock screen is a tad more advanced than it appears to be. A swipe from the top displays the Notification Center and a swipe from the bottom brings forth the Control Center menu. There's a shortcut for the camera as well. And that's what makes the iOS lock screen so great – it is intuitive and uncluttered, but highly functional at the same time.
The Android 4.4 lock screen is just as straightforward to interact with – pull the ring in any direction and you're good to start using your device. Yet functionality hasn't been sacrificed. The slide-down notification panel is accessible, and so is Google Now with a swipe up from the bottom. A camera shortcut hasn't been forgotten either. That's pretty much all that a typical smartphone user would require, but for those who are serious about personalization, Google has added a handful of useful lock screen widgets. With their help, the user has near-instant access to their notes, their email inbox, social network updates, and more. What's even better, new ones can be downloaded from the Play Store. A small downside to Android's lock screen widgets is that setting them up can be somewhat unintuitive, but other than that, we love the functionality that they add.
Once past the iOS 7 lock screen, the user is introduced to a minimalist home screen menu with large, easy to hit icons and clearly legible labels. Again, Apple is keeping it all as simple as possible, meaning that even first-time users can get the hang of the system's UI in no time, while experienced owners have quick, hassle-free access to their apps. Android, on the other hand, puts the highlight on functionality and personalization with its option to populate home screens with widgets of all shapes and sizes. Downloaded and pre-installed apps are listed in a separate drawer, which leaves more room on the home screens for widgets, shortcuts, and folders. Speaking of folders, we tend to like their execution in iOS 7, where there's no limit to how many apps we can place inside one. Android 4.4 lets you place no more than 16 apps inside a folder, which is okay, yet somewhat limiting.
Search is deeply integrated into the UIs of both platforms, which is great to know considering how people love to Google anything nowadays. In iOS 7, a swipe down on any home screen displays a search bar for looking up stuff online and for finding a specific app or contact – an elegant solution that doesn't occupy any screen real estate, but is always there when you need it. In Android 4.4, a search bar for apps, contacts, and Google queries is permanently affixed to the top of any home screen. Some might find this annoying as it eats up more space than it probably should, although we don't thing that its constant presence is too big of a deal.
Appearance and customization features
Apple's iOS 7 was launched to mixed reviews, regarded by some as fresh and stylish, but dismissed by others as flat, too childish and cartoonish-looking. In our opinion, the appearance of the platform is more than acceptable. In fact, we're perfectly fine with the way it looks now that we've grown used to its interface and layout. Stacked against iOS 7, Android 4.4 looks pretty lifeless with its black and gray theme. But there's a number of neat things about its UI as well, including the translucent status bar and the redesigned icons.
Customization is, without a doubt, one of Android's major advantages over iOS. And that's not only because of the widget functionality we mentioned above. Android users are free to use third-party lock screens, on-screen keyboards, live wallpapers, and launchers that alter the way the system's UI is organized. In other words, if you've grown tired of its plain old look, or if there's something about Android that you don't quite like, a replacement for it is likely available at the Play Store. We must mention that with Android 4.4, Google is making it even easier for users to switch back and forth between launchers with a new “Home” option in the settings menu.
There isn't much about iOS 7 that a user is free to modify. Sorry, that's just Apple's way of doing things. Looking at it from the bright side, the company's tight control over the feel and appearance of iOS prevents customization apps of sub-par quality from affecting the user experience in a negative way. There are things one can change, of course, and make their phone or tablet more personal. iOS 7 brought a few new personalization features, including dynamic wallpapers – animated background that behave a lot like Android's live wallpapers. Sadly, no new ones can be downloaded from the App Store, at least not for now. Still wallpapers have been spiced up with a so-called parallax effect, which shifts the background image depending on the angle, at which the handset is being held. That creates an illusion of depth and the effect is really nice in our opinion – pretty, yet unobtrusive.
Quick controls and notifications
Apple did the right thing by adding a menu with quick controls and toggles to iOS with the platform's seventh major release. Called Control Center, it is easily accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen – this gesture works from the lock screen, on any home screen, even while running a game or an app. But while this feature is a major and welcome advantage to iOS, it has been available in third-party Android UIs for quite a long time. Even the stock Android 4.4 interface has a menu with toggles and shortcuts accessible from the notification panel. However, we don't find it neither as pretty, nor as functional as iOS 7's Control Center.
The overhauled Notification Center in iOS 7 now takes the user straight to their agenda. That's very convenient for people who actually use the Calendar app. Those who find it too crowded in there are free to pick what notifications are to be displayed – stocks information, unread email, Game Center alerts, reminders, and more. While the Notification Center is not too bad of a solution as a whole, it leaves room for improvement. For example, we see no benefit in having the weather forecast displayed there in plain text – text that we actually have to stop and take a few seconds to read – when a simple weather icon with a digit for the temperature would do just fine. Android's notification bar is a bit different for it doesn't display much if there aren't any pending notifications. If there are new ones, they can be easily dismissed with a swipe to the side, or tapped on, which takes the user to the app that displayed the notification. A neat improvement brought by Android 4.4 is the option to access the notification panel even when a full-screen app is running, meaning that you can read notifications without exiting that game you're playing. In iOS, the Notification and Control Centers work in a similar fashion.