Is the open platform nature of Apps on Android really better than iOS?

By on August 24, 2011
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Security concerns may put off many from trying a new app.

I was at a family Iftar a couple of days back when some “tech savvy” guy I’ve never seen before was preaching about how good Android phones are compared to iPhone; Blackberry was only mentioned in passing as it was mocked for its one trick BB service. Anyways, this guy was saying that the open nature of Android platform meant that people can customize the hell out of their own smartphone, rather than stick to the standards as is the case with the iPhone.

Now I agree with this sentiment, in that many apps on the Android Marketplace allow for some heavy customization of your smartphone, especially once you rootkit your device. But that personalization comes with a heavy price: lack of security.

I’m sure many of us use our smartphones to access sensitive data, such as bank accounts and certain websites with whom we share our email passwords and whatnot. Now imagine if there was a malware that silently snuck into your smartphone, and unbeknownst to you, sent out your personal info to some hacker sitting half way across the world. That’s exactly what one malware does, which you probably downloaded as an innocent looking update for Angry Birds! Still, I completely get Google’s policy to not monitor each and every app once it’s up on their Marketplace to allow indie developers more exposure.

“In the interest of openness, Google does not monitor apps once they are added to the Android Marketplace,” said Alan Davidson, director of public policy at Google (during a hearing in May on location tracking on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android devices). “We’ve chosen not to be the gatekeeper,” he said. “We don’t generally go back and try to make sure that every app does what it says it’s going to do. [Google is] really trying to maximize the ability of small app developers to get online.”

Once Google does receive complaints about certain apps, they are quick to respond and take off the app from the Marketplace. At the end of the day, however, this is still a very reactionary approach compared to Apple’s strict, but proactive, approach of sifting through app submissions to make sure nothing malicious gets on their App Store. For sure there’s no platform that’s safe from hackers. However, given their stringent policies, I’m comfortable knowing that Apple will at least try to be the first line of defense to keep my iPhone protected from exploits.

Coming back to the issue of customization, there are a few apps that do allow certain features to be changed on your iPhone, mostly cosmetic in nature though. For true “functionality upgrades and customization” one can always jailbreak their iPhone. Of course, one also has to live with all the vulnerabilities and headaches of a jailbroken device as well.

As far as the issue of more exposure for indie developers is concerned, if your App is good enough and updated in a timely fashion, it should be seen in the App Store’s ‘Top Chart’ of some sort for some time, which is all the exposure you’ll need for your app to become an overnight hit.

Meanwhile I bid all my Android phone owning friends good luck; but more importantly to be vigilant about the type of app they are downloading.


About

From auditing to editing, I now test and analyze the latest gadgets and games instead of the latest financial statements. Both jobs are equally intense and rewarding. When I'm not burning up hardware in the name of science, you'll find me nuking in DOTA 2 or engineering in TF2.

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