The mobile OS war has long been a two-player contest, with Apple iOS and Google Android both vying for top honors. Other opponents exist, including Windows Mobile and RIM sBlackBerry operating system, but their combined market share is miniscule compared to that of the top two. While both Apple and Android deliver the mobile technology that keeps us connected on the go, they do go about it differently. Knowing those differences will give you a better idea of which platform offers what you want.

First, a little history lesson is in order to understand how Apple and Android stack up against each other. Since its debut, the iPhone has historically dominated the U.S. market in terms of both sales and market share. Recently though, Android phones have given the industry juggernaut a run for its money. According to global market research firm Nielsen, Android finally edged out Apple in early 2012, nabbing approximately 48 percent market share. While Android is the leading smartphone OS, Apple remains the top smartphone manufacturer, with the iPhone   in each of its currently available models   handily outselling comparable handsets.

This shift in the mobile OS space demonstrates Android s staying power, and while Apple will likely maintain and broaden its loyal following, Android will continue to increase in popularity as well. If you re in the market for a new smartphone and aren t already invested in one ecosystem or the other, understanding how these platforms differ can help you better determine which one is right for you.

Under the Hood

Hardware is unquestionably the biggest differentiator between Android and Apple. A smartphone s core software will have a major impact on how you use the device, as it dictates the phone s overall functionality. With the iPhone, what you see is what you get: the user interface is the same on each of the available models.

On the other hand, Android is designed to be modified by the manufacturer releasing the device. These modifications can vary greatly and often completely change the look and feel of an Android phone.

Apple s iOS is known for its clean, sleek interface but if you aren t married to the iPhone s interface, you may find something more to your taste among the vast array of available Android smartphones.

Variety vs. Exclusivity

With Android, variety is the name of the game. There are more than 70 Android phones across all four major U.S. carriers, ensuring there s an option that suits your lifestyle and meets your mobile needs.

The iPhone is the only iOS smartphone made by Apple, and there are just three base models currently available: the 3G, the 4 and the 4S. There are different storage configurations but you are limited to just the iPhone if you want a phone running iOS.

Is There An App for That?

A lot has been said about which platform provides the biggest and best selection of apps. The two platforms each have hundreds of thousands to choose from, but the actual numbers don t really matter. That s because each store reached its critical mass long ago; both provide the most popular and in-demand apps from big-name third parties. There may still be a few gaps in Android s offerings, but they are few and far between. Plus, with the platform s ever-growing popularity, any small holes will inevitably be filled soon.

One major difference to keep in mind is how apps are downloaded on each operating system. A stickler for quality, Apple fully controls what apps are sold in its app store, and Apple's store is the only method of distribution for iOS apps.

Android, however, has several distribution channels through which you can download applications, and apps are published for general availability without Google checking them first. This poses obvious security risks, as there is some potential to unintentionally unleash malicious apps on your phone. But your risk is minimal if you stick to downloading only from trusted sources, such as the Android Market or the Amazon App Store.

Music, Movies and More

When it comes to multimedia, Apple iOS shines. Integration with iTunes provides quick and convenient access to new media that you can instantly download, while iCloud provides a central portal to manage all of your media on all of your Apple devices. Android offers something similar in Google Play, but if you re already an iTunes user (as many of us are), you may find switching more hassle than it s worth. There are also third-party apps that can fill the void of either platform if needed, or provide enhanced service.

Which Do You Choose?

Making the decision between an iPhone and one of the many Android smartphones is largely a matter of preference. There s a lot to love   and perhaps hate   about both of these mobile OS platforms. But such things are highly subjective, so it can be difficult to unequivocally distinguish which platform is superior.

Apple is a tightly woven ecosystem, one that can be hard to abandon   both because change can be inconvenient and because of the fierce loyalty many feel to the beloved product and brand. As for Android, the platform boasts an array of devices and has no shortfalls that third-party apps can t fix. If you re already an iPhone user, you may not find anything worth jumping ship for. However, if you re looking for something other than Apple s hallmark flavor, Android may just be the right mobile OS for you.

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