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