Android features I'm envy of as an iPhone user

Since 2015, my daily driver phone is an iPhone. In this almost a decade, I have been closely following the moves of the only iOS alternative, Google’s Android.

Despite my preference for iOS, there are good ideas on the other side of the turf that I would like to be copied by Apple.

Some of them have begun to be implemented — even if only in the European Union, by law. The Digital Markets Act (DMA) forced Apple to open iOS more, creating holes in the famous walled garden that the company has built around its ecosystem and that leaves on the sidelines what goes against its interests.

In public, Apple argues that the artificial limitations of iOS are for the good and safety of users. It’s a paternalistic statement, petty and, worst of all, largely unfounded.

I classify them unfounded because Apple’s solutions are competitive on their own merits, regardless of the artificial/disloyal advantages they enjoy for “playing at home”.

See, for example, the browser market. Web developers love to hate WebKit, Safari’s rendering engine that, in iOS, is mandatory for all other browsers.

In a world where only three engines coexist — in addition to WebKit, we have the dominant Blink (Google/Chrome) and the smallest of the trio, Gecko (Mozilla/Firefox) —, WebKit is good enough and, in Apple OSs, Safari is the browser that delivers the best integration and the least impact to iPhone and MacBook batteries.

One of the requirements of the European Union is that Apple accepts browsers with their own engines, such as Android and desktop OSs. This is, unlike the browsers ballot screen, one of the most faithful to the “spirit of the law” results of DMA, which is to foster competition in digital markets stagnated by big tech.

Every time I open Firefox on my testing Android phone, with its cool extensions and the Gecko engine, I remember the iOS version, much inferior because it lacks the features that make Firefox on Android an alternative capable of, over there, competing with Chrome.


Another front in which Apple had to make concessions was in the exclusivity in the distribution of apps, until then restricted to its App Store. In Europe, iOS can now tap on alternative app stores and even instal app installers downloaded from websites.

AltStore PAL, launched on Wednesday 17th, made history: it’s the first alternative store for iOS approved by Apple.

Riley Testut, one of the founders of the store, is also the creator of Delta, a Nintendo emulator that, due to another concession from Apple, is now available on the App Store elsewhere.

Why did it take 16 years for Apple to accept video game emulators in its App Store? We can only confabulate, but you can say that “lack of competition” was a relevant factor.

On the other side of the fence, despite the hegemony of Google’s Play Store on Android, it has always been possible to install alternative app stores. Large manufacturers, such as Amazon, Samsung and Huawei, have their own. At the other end of the market, small groups of enthusiasts, such as the F-Droid people, too.

F-Droid is what I’ve once called “the app store of an ideal world”. By default, it’s limited to free and open source apps, with a fine curation and a non-commercial “ethos”. Another peculiarity is that it’s based on repositories, similar to that of Linux package managers: it’s possible to add third-party repositories to extend the index of downloadable apps.

When I have an Android in hand, I can (and prefer) to download most of my apps from F-Droid. It would be wonderful to have something equivalent on iOS.


Although iOS is better served with good apps, some Android exclusives are missing. The most frustrating thing is that they just do not exist on Apple’s device due to artificial limitations of iOS itself, and not due to lack of demand or people willing to create them. As was the case with video game emulators until a few days ago.

A good example is Syncthing, a system that keeps files from a directory common to two or more synchronized devices — such as cloud services (Dropbox and the like), but without the cloud.

There is even an app for iOS, Möbius Sync, but the OS limitations make the experience far short of that of Android, with the official app or forks of it.

It isn’t crazy to imagine that these and other limitations of iOS only exist to preserve Apple’s business. If people could sync files directly between devices, they might replace a more expensive iCloud subscription for a larger SSD on the home computer.


To finish this non-exhaustive list, a feature present in Android and absent from iOS, which seems to me even more motivated by commercial interests, is the ability to turn the phone into a computer.

For a few years now, Samsung has been offering DeX, which adapts the Android of some more expensive phones in the Galaxy line to large screens by connecting them to a keyboard, mouse and external monitor.

Apple’s super powerful chips and the iPadOS’ Stage Manager are the perfect pieces to make the magical scenario in which we could have only one device come true: in the pocket, it would be the iPhone that everyone knows; by connecting it to a USB-C dock or hub, it would become an iPadOS, or a simplified macOS.

Maybe there could even be a hollow screen to fit the iPhone and turn it into an iPad, as Asus tried to do with the Padfone Infinity, without success, a decade ago.

But then Apple would sell only one instead of three devices, and… well, I think you can understand the reasoning.

In time: Google is testing a feature similar to Samsung’s DeX for Android 15.


Android and iOS started from very different places in the late 2000s and, for a long time, choosing one of them implied giving up certain features. These differences have decreased a lot in recent years, but they still exist — as I just showed with my “list of envy” of Android.

I hope that EU’s legal obligations end up as a turning point, inspire other jurisdictions, disseminate around the world and pressure Apple and Google to be less restrictive. Despite Apple’s arguments, in the end, we are the ones who win with all these changes.

« The beauty of free and open source software Text messages, the universal UI? »