Blog Post

Could Google Sync updates push Android users to iOS?

Google added three new features to its Google Sync solution Wednesday, all of which are specific to Apple iOS (s aapl) devices. The trio of changes will make it easier for users of the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad to interact with Google’s (s goog) Gmail and Calendar services. These improvements from Google, along with the upcoming new features in Apple’s own iOS 5 platform, could sway some Android users back to Apple’s mobile devices.

Here’s a rundown of what’s changed in Google Sync for iOS:

  • Server search. Instead of limiting email searches to the mail stored locally in the iOS Mail application, searches can be extended to Google’s Gmail servers. This is how Gmail in Android works, and it brings value because of Gmail’s archive feature. Unless mail is specifically put in the Trash, its available for searches forever.
  • Calendar invites. Google Sync users can now accept, decline or edit Google Calendar events directly in the iOS Calendar application.
  • Send as your alter ego. In Gmail for Android, users can choose which email address to send from, via a drop down menu. Now with Google Sync, iOS users can effectively do the same, directly within the Mail application.

The lesser Google (s goog) experience on iOS isn’t the only reason that some consumers opt for Android devices, of course. Some don’t care for Apple’s control over both its ecosystem and its platform, for example, although such control guarantees a certain user experience for all. Others like to customize and tinker with their handset far more than Apple allows. And a lack of useful features such as Google Voice and Google Navigation in Maps have made Android more appealing for some.

While Google could keep holding iOS back from good integration with Google services, there’s little need for it to do so. While the two companies are clear competitors, they each have different approaches to mobile. Apple earns millions from the sale of hardware that supports its ecosystem, while also making money on the digital goods in that ecosystem. Google on the other hand, earns no money directly from the sale of mobile hardware, but instead hopes to get its services in the hands of as many people as possible. Doing so gives Google information, which it uses to create revenue-generating services. Catering to all mobile devices places money-making ads in front of more eyeballs.

The timing of the Google Sync improvements with the fall arrival of iOS 5, however, could result in some switchers from Android to iOS. When I examined some of the new iOS 5 improvements from an Android user’s perspective — Notification Center, iMessage, and wireless synchronization — I found much to like. Yes, a few of the iOS 5 features are mirror images of what Android always does, but as I said earlier this month, “[T]o be honest, it really doesn’t matter to me who created a feature or function vs. who might have copied or borrowed heavily. At the end of the day, if the smartphone is improved and meets my needs, that’s all that counts.”

Another thought on the timing comes from my iOS-totin’ colleague, Darrell Etherington: Could Google be adding these features now to try to lock in more iOS users into Google services before Apple’s iCloud breezes in?  It’s a logical thought, because there’s no reason Google couldn’t have added the new Google Sync features for iOS uses prior to now. And now that MobileMe is closed to new users until the iCloud service goes live, it’s a good time for Google to pull more iOS owners into its world. For suggestions to do so effectively, check our recent post that provides tips and tricks to make an iPhone play nicely with Google.

Ultimately, though, I think there’s a little more potential for Android owners to consider a switch as opposed to Google gaining more users through the existing user base. How about it Android users: Between iOS 5 changes and the new Google Sync features, is there any chance of a switch to Apple in your future?

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr user geoliv

24 Responses to “Could Google Sync updates push Android users to iOS?”

  1. Robert

    The Send As feature is not the powerful feature most articles lead it to be. This is still a STATIC feature. Once you enable it from a desktop browser, it takes up to 24 hours for it to propagate to the mobile web client and then you still can’t toggle in real-time between sending from 2 accounts (say home and work).

    My typical usage pattern: A friend emails me at my work address and since it is a private email, I want to switch the thread over to my home email account. On the desktop browser, in my reply I simply choose a different from address in my combo box. On my phone I need to open up a gmail session and switch to classic view, and after a lot of scrolling and pinch to zoom, I can reply from there and change it over. I then close the browser and reopen in mobile mode.

  2. No way. I’ve owned Apple computers, etc., and they are generally good. But, I’ve never had a device as empowering as the 2 Android devices I’ve owned so far. Android is the OS for me.

  3. Speaking only for myself, this wouldn’t be a factor in convincing me to change platforms. I used iOS 1-3 on an iPod Touch and I never had too much trouble with the old Google Sync. Granted, whenever I was doing the important things that Google Sync couldn’t do (at that time) I was in front of a computer, so it wasn’t that big a deal to me, so I may very well be in the minority here.

    I’m guessing this may make a few people change platforms, but on the whole I think people choose a platform over bigger things: rooting, hardware design, widgets, Flash, availability of apps, software simplicity, carrier compatibility, what their friends and family own (if everyone owns an iPhone, the pressure is on for you to be able to FaceTime with them too) and the perception of openness.

  4. NO. Sorry Kevin – this idea is somewhat odd to hear. At least for me.
    I practically know no one in my close environment who may even get close to switch to iPhone now.
    All v5 is about – is catching up. Still. And the small % that is going forward will be nullified immediately.
    We still have at least 3 months where only Android is going to come with new hardware and software innovation. And then we will have a year plus again for Android to lead the way. Apple by definition is just catching up. Sorry. I think that this time you just over complicating things Kevin.

    • I see it as the other way around. In almost all usability and product utility metrics iPhone has led for most of its existence. It fell behind in notifications, and now that’s fixed. You still get all the best apps first (or only) on iPhone and the core os is as solid as it gets.

      • Milind

        I actually find the usability on the Android phones to be far far better than on my iPhone. It’s not just notifications. It was multi-threading, folders in the previous release. One release with an incremental update is simply not enough. The gap just keeps on widening between iOS and Android. Apple narrows it up a bit mid year, and within a couple of months it starts widening again.

        For the same reason, I find apps to be more usable on the Android as well. They certainly look far better on iOS, but are simply more usable on Android.

        Here’s a snippet from

        Apple has integrated Twitter into the operating system and its major applications. Whether you like it or not.

        Original? Absolutely. Nobody else is stupid enough to do this.

        Seriously, Android has these standard messages called “Intents” so that if your app wants to have a Share button it sends out an Intent indicating what it’s trying to do. The OS will go out and find all the apps that can do Sharing and give the user a list of them to pick from. That can include Twitter, Facebook, SMS, GTalk, and whatever else you have installed. Even social media apps that weren’t invented yet when the program was written can be supported.

        iOS5 provides single sign-on for Twitter. Android does the same, but for any application. It lets the developer write an account manager for single sign-on for any service you can think of including Twitter, Google mail, Exchange, and more.

        It’s things like this that makes apps much better for me on Android.

  5. I’m already ready to switch to an iPhone once the iPhone 6 comes out and is available on Verizon with 4G. I’ve had an Android phone (Droid X) since it came out, and am getting more fed up with it each day. It’s the Windows of the smartphone market. I have to reboot the damn thing at least a couple of times a week because of stuff not working. The auto-correct feature for text entry is lame at best (why can’t it auto-capitalize “I”?), the keyboard used to have a “.com” button but it disappeared with the 2.2 update. And the only way to totally turn off the ringer is contorted. The volume button only silences the ringer and turns in vibrate. Another 2.2 update snafu. Getting to the camera is slow. The scrolling is choppy. I could go on, but why?

  6. Vic Healey

    I did not realize you could not change to sender from the Apple mail app on the iPhone.

    You can easily do that on the iPad from the default iPad mail by using drop down selection in the FROM FIELD. If you make that change and you have BCC turned on that field will change to so it will match the sender selected.

    We have over a dozen email accounts in iPad mail. When my wife has to send something to her boss with Cobb County Police she just changes the default from field for that message only so she will not to confuse the Lieutenant or his office staff.

    BTW SEARCH in an email account can be continued on the server when using iPad mail if what you need is not cached on the iPad.

    The thing I am looking forward to with iCloud is the possibility of finally getting away from SPYWARE like Gmail and into something that isn’t be monitored by Google for data mining and resale to the highest bidder.

    I am also furious to learn today that Google not only tracks iPhones and iPads but also tracks Mac Book Pros and will sell their exact location history to anyone who asks. Compared to Apple’s honest mistake that goes beyond the pale.

    If we wanted any of that information in the public domain we would have bought cheap Androids.

  7. Lucian Armasu

    If said users were already dying to switch to iPhone, but they didn’t because of a certain feature that iPhone was still lacking, then I suppose it’s possible. But I doubt the people who actually prefer Android over iPhone would do that. Even if iPhone matched all of Android’s features, I doubt most would switch, but a small percentage perhaps, just like a small percentage of former iPhone users are switching to Android.

    • You’re probably correct. It’s not just about features, but the ecosystem. You either like one ecosystem, or you don’t. It’s usually a much smaller percentage of people who hop around from platform to platform, because the average user isn’t comfortable transferring data, or risking losing contacts that won’t transfer, etc.

  8. Not much of a factor for me.

    What would help Android is having Gesture Search index Exchange-based mail, and having Android voice dialing work with an Exchange contacts list. Do No Evil ain’t enough – Do Good.

    • I can’t imagine where either of you have gotten viruses or malware, unless you either don’t have Lookout downloaded on the phone, or have the phone rooted and are downloading unapproved apps. Android allows so much more customization on the phone with live widgets and sizing customization. Not many apps? There will more Android apps by the end of this summer than iOS. Android’s only negative (from a developers standpoint) is the fragmentation of the different versions. Android is certainly not perfect, but Android is a newer platform than iOS, and this issue will be resolved with IceCream next year. (Which personally will be sad for me, because I have an HTC phone, and prefer the Sense UI.) iOS is not perfect either.

      • pk de cville

        “downloading unapproved apps”…

        Pls correct me if you must, but I thought Android was open and, as a competitive advantage to Apple’s approval process, Android has none.

  9. Darwin

    I’ve had every version of iPhone and many different Android phones often at the same time. Android is just a hassle. Malware is a major issue and is getting worse. App quality is poor and the same app on IOS and Android often result in the iOS version looking better and functioning better. Rooting Android is a must to get rid of all the bloatware and be on the latest version of the Android OS and its getting old keeping up to date with that. Not a single Android phone screen is as good as the iPhone 4 screen. Most Android phones build quality is not good and in many cases terrible. Cheap and plasticky is the rule rather than the exception. None of them beat Apple’s level of service and support. The iCloud announcements are highly desirable since I have an iPad and a Mac as well as an iPhone 4. Android tablets are a joke. The Honeycomb interface is awful, there are no apps to speak of, build quality is not good. I really see zero reason why anyone would buy an Android tablet in their current state over an iPad 2.

    • Malware is a major issue? For whom? Have you personally experienced an infection, or known anyone who has gotten infected by Android malware? Didn’t think so. This is a common talking point by people who don’t know anything.

      Also, I guess you haven’t used any of the Samsung Galaxy S phones, which easily destroy the retina display.

      Android does have some negatives, just like Apple. If you’re going to write about them, at least pretend to be honest.

      • Milind

        @Sam, While Apple may want everyone to just compare the resolution on the Retina display, there’s much more to a display than that.

        The better resolution translates into sharper text and no doubt under a microscope, that will be obvious. But to the naked eye, there is little difference, between reading text on the iPhone vs the Vibrant. The iPhone does render fonts better, but again only marginally and barely visible to the naked eye.

        On the other hand, the brightness, contrast, vibrant colors, pure black on the Samsung’s Galaxy S line of Super Amoled screens does indeed blow away the iPhone’s retina display. Nobody looking at the iPhone4 and the Samsung S line side by side can mistake which is better. Watch Avatar on the T-Mobile Vibrant and watch it on the iPhone 4 and decide for yourself.

        Remember that Apple wanted the SAMOLED screen, but Samsung kept the best for itself – including the better GPU.

    • Conny Black

      Darwin my experience is nearly identical and yes I also got a raft of viruses. I would NEVER touch an Android again unless it becomes better than iOS and is absolutely secure. I don’t see that ever happening.

      Just thinking of using an Android again reminds me of stepping in dog shit with a hangover and puking projectile vomit in my girlfriend’s face. Not a good day in Paris.

  10. Speaking only for myself, this wouldn’t be a factor in convincing me to change platforms. I used iOS 1-3 on an iPod Touch and I never had too much trouble with the old Google Sync. Granted, whenever I was doing the important things that Google Sync couldn’t do (at that time) I was in front of a computer, so it wasn’t that big a deal to me, so I may very well be in the minority here.

    I’m guessing this may make a few people change platforms, but on the whole I think people choose a platform over bigger things: rooting, hardware design, widgets, Flash, availability of apps, software simplicity, carrier compatibility, what their friends and family own (if everyone owns an iPhone, the pressure is on for you to be able to FaceTime with them too) and the perception of openness.