The One Reason I Switched from Android to iPhone

The iPhone is not perfect, nor totally unhackable, but it’s the best option I have in terms of security.

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Nov 4 2015, 5:49pm

(Image: John Karakatsanis/Flickr)

Over the summer, after more than four years using Android, I decided to abandon ship. I loved Android, and still do, but I just couldn't take the tradeoffs that came with it, specifically the security tradeoffs.

I was sick of depending on Android's broken ecosystem, which results in slow (and sometimes non-existent) updates. So, in the wake of Stagefright, a series of severe bugs that left almost a billion Android users vulnerable to hackers, I decided to turn to Apple's iPhone, which relies on an operating system that's universally considered more secure.

It took me a while to actually take the plunge. At first, I held onto my Sony cellphone, and then I tried out the security-minded Blackphone. But for the last couple of weeks, I've been living with an iPhone 6s.

And of course, that's exactly when somebody found a way to hack the iPhone remotely, a feat that nobody had been able to achieve since iOS 7. To imagine how hard it is to do something like that, all you need to know is that a bug broker is going to pay $1 million to acquire the technique the hackers used and will now resell it, likely to law enforcement or intelligence agencies such as the NSA. (It won't be publicly available though.)

In other words, it's not as bad as Stagefright, because anyone can take advantage of the Stagefright bugs, given that there are publicly available guides on how to exploit it. And, to make matters worse, most Android phones run old and vulnerable versions of the operating system, as this damning chart illustrated better than ever before.

Most iPhones, on the other hand, tend to run the latest version of iOS because Apple nags users constantly, asking them to update their device's operating system. And, most importantly, Apple can push out updates without having to depend on carriers and other phone manufacturers to deliver it to the users. As a result, 66 percent of iPhone users have the latest version of iOS, according to Apple's stats.

That's the main reason I'm switching. At this point in time, iPhones are generally more secure than Android phones. It's not entirely Google's fault. The internet giant committed the original sin by giving carriers and original equipment manufacturers control over Android, which means they are the ones that have to push updates to you, not Google.

That's why you should avoid pretty much any OEMs other than Google's Nexus line and Blackphone. Just to give you a recent example, Google researches found 11 unknown vulnerabilities into Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge after just a week of looking. Props to Samsung for fixing them quickly, but not all carriers are that swift.

At this point in time, iPhones are generally more secure than Android phones.

Moreover, as my colleague Jason argued some time ago, pretty much any random iPhone is better than an Android phone. I'm not even talking about security features, just in general. I always thought that the iPhone's fanboys cry of "it just works" was a silly mantra. But there is truth in the adage. The phone feels quicker and it doesn't crash as often.

Don't get me wrong, the iPhone isn't perfect. Its security features are great, but there are still some privacy and security features that are a little puzzling. For example, you can't exclude iMessage from your iCloud backup. This basically nullifies the protection provided by iMessage's end-to-end encryption. What's the point of making iMessage impossible to intercept if someone can then get the backed-up messages from the cloud, whether via search warrant or hacking?

One privacy feature that I'm going to miss from Android is the possibility of making the notifications in the lock screen private. On Android, you can turn on a setting that prevents notifications that appear on your lock screen from showing any content. For example, you receive a text, and you only see a "message received" notification without a preview. As far as I can tell, you can't do that with every app on iOS. You either see the notifications on the lock screen, or you don't at all.

I hope these missing features come soon for iPhone. But overall, the all-around strength and security of the iPhone gives it a clear advantage over Android and its broken (though slowly improving) ecosystem. In other words, this is a fairly easy decision: I'm keeping my iPhone.