The recently released iPhone 4S–bearing the latest iOS 5–has brought fascinating features that will truly entertain iPhone users, leaving many non-Apple users drooling.
Android users, however, are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy some of iOS 5’s lovely features–not necessarily in an exactly similar experience, but in a similar experience of functionality.
And, so, in this post, we discuss six of the “most-coveted” iOS 5 functionalities that many Android users don’t know are already within their reach.
Rather than arguing about which operating system is better, this post instead alerts Android users to the presence of apps and services that are worthy alternatives to iOS 5 features.
Apple’s iCloud service syncs all your data with your Apple devices. Just like the MobileMe app, iCloud syncs all your files–documents, photos, contacts, and music files–so they are readily accessible from your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or Mac. The iCloud service is free and is packed into the latest iOS 5 update from Apple.
On the other hand, Android devices have syncing capabilities, too. Android has native ability to sync contacts and account preferences with remote Google servers. While Android has no native functionality for handling cloud-based access to files, documents, and photos, the Dropbox app and service can easily do the job.
The app works by allowing you to view the same files on multiple devices through a folder in Dropbox. And, to make sharing easy in whichever app screen you are on your Android phone, the Dropbox app’s Share menu makes itself available in almost all Android apps on your phone, especially the Gallery and Camera apps.
The Dropbox app is a very capable app, although the experience of uploading photos to the cloud and organizing them into galleries is not completely fluid and seamless. For smoother photo uploading, a recommended alternative is the Google+ app. It will post your photos on Google+ immediately after you take them.
Another excellent feature on iOS 5 is its voice-activated assistant, Siri. Siri can identify common language, which allows you to initiate hands-free phone operations. The app can do simple tasks such as composing a text message, as well as more-advanced functions such as searching the Web.
Android, on the other hand, has something that can match Apple’s Siri. The closest voice-activated app for Android devices is the Vlingo Virtual Assistant. The app includes voice-activated listening modes, in-car mode, and a number of commands that it can perform when told to.
Vlingo also allows you to send SMS messages, update your social network, search the Web, and act as your personal navigator during long travels. Vlingo Virtual Assistant can be Android’s voice-activated personal assistant.
No extra app is needed for you to enjoy iOS 5’s Notification Center on your Android phone. In fact, your Android phone already has its own pull-down/slide-down Notification Drawer, from which you can see system notifications and alerts, and which you can set to display other info such as phone power and the weather.
The amazing thing is that iOS 5’s Notification Center essentially works, and is accessed, in the same way as the Notification Drawer that has been on Android for, like, ages.
Google Talk and Google Voice for iMessage
iMessage on iOS 5 lets you send text messages without having to spend a dime on your phone’s carrier. Relying on an Internet connection, the iMessage app lets you send text messages to other Apple devices, including the iPad and iPod Touch.
In contrast, free text messaging is not new to Android phone users. Owning an Android device requires you to have a Gmail account, granting you access to Google Talk. You can actually send free text messages to other users through Google Talk. Plus, Google Talk also allows you to send free messages to other users that have Google Talk on their laptop or desktop.
Aside from sending free text message to fellow Android users, you can actually do the same with other non-Android phones with the use of Google Voice. This app lets you send messages while skipping your carrier’s SMS charges; however, your recipient may have to pay to get your messages, and this service is only available in selected countries such as the United States.
Google Music or Spotify for iTunes Match
With iCloud, iTunes Match can now sync all previously and newly purchased music files from one Apple device to another. iTunes Match supports up to 20 thousand songs and even scans your music library, bringing you high-quality iTunes music experience. To enjoy iTunes Match, you need to upgrade your iCloud service for a yearly subscription price of US$25.
In contrast, Google Music Beta serves the same essential functionality as iTunes Match. You can store up to about 20,000 songs in your Google Music account, and when your songs are already in the cloud, they are ready for you to stream and enjoy on your Android phone. For now, Google Music Beta is free, is still not widely available (invite-only), and is available only for U.S. users.
For those who cannot use Google Music Beta, the next best alternative is the Spotify app. For only US$10 a month, you can use Spotify Premium to access Spotify’s humongous database of songs and music. The app can also link your local collection to its database so you can enjoy your tunes anywhere.
Camera Zoom FX for iOS 5 Camera App
iOS 5 comes with a snappy and responsive Camera app with such features as grid alignment to help users take that perfect shot.
On Android, the Camera Zoom FX app is the perfect choice. Apart from exceptional handling of basic camera functions, Camera Zoom FX opens your Android phone’s camera to a host of photo-related features such as viewport grid, filters, white balance setting, burst shooting, easy uploading to the Web, and–the best feature–set which hardware button to use as camera trigger. The 5-dollar cost of the app is worth it.
If you need instant access to the camera from the lock screen, you can use the WidgetLocker Lockscreen app, except if your phone already has Ice Cream Sandwich. WidgetLocker Lockscreen lets you start your camera with a tap on its icon on the lock screen.
As has already been mentioned at the outset, this review isn’t about which platform is better. Rather, these six alternative solutions to features that Apple has implemented in iOS 5 present Android users the opportunity to enjoy either similar–or even better–functionality on their Android devices.
It is possible that, with the hundreds of thousands of Android apps from the Android Market and third-party app stores, there could be better apps and solutions than this review has provided. Would you know of one or two?