Android's share rises as new phones are introduced, and over time it continues to gain share, because its phones cost less. But when the product introduction front is quiet, Apple quietly takes some share back.
The reason, I think, comes down to two words: battery life. Apple cares about it.
The folks at iFixit have done teardowns on both the iPhone 5, which many friends already own, and the Google Nexus 4 , which I own. Both have specialized Qualcomm power management chips. Most iPhone chips are on two sides of a single logic board, while those on the Nexus cover a larger, L-shaped board.
Last year's iPhone 5 uses a solid Lithium-ion battery that runs at 3.8 volts and has 1440 milli-amperes/hour (mAh) of charge. The more mAh in a battery, the longer it will usually take to discharge. The power drain is listed on the iPhone battery at 5.45 watt-hours (wH).
The Nexus 4 has a battery pack sealed in aluminum, made by LG, but its watt-hour drain is not listed. It too has 3.8 volts and a charge of 2100 mAh. So the Nexus 4 battery should last longer between charges.
But it doesn't.
There are three main causes for a phone's data battery drain – the Global Positioning System module, which knows where you are; the WiFi module, whose radio rains data when you're near a hotspot; and software, especially multi-tasking, keeping several programs running at once.
The GPS is the biggest energy hog. My first Android, a Galaxy 2, would drain the battery on GPS even when plugged-in to my 6 Volt car battery, making it useless. The Nexus 4 is a little better, but you still need to plug it in when you're seeking directions – unplugged mine runs for under two hours on GPS.
The WiFi chip is the second-biggest energy hog. A Qualcomm app called BatteryGuru limits this drain on my Nexus, turning the WiFi finder off when not in active use. But this means you have to turn WiFi back on each time you want to use a hotspot, even at home. My daughter's iPhone can run all day on WiFi.
None of this is discussed much in the mainstream media, because battery life is measured in terms of "talk hours," a phone's use as a phone, rather than in how it does with data communications. But how these applications drain a phone, and how a phone handles applications, makes a big difference in its usefulness as a computer – which is what a smartphone is.
Apple's iOS came to multi-tasking later than Android, but does it more elegantly. When a task isn't in active use, iOS will back off it, reducing its drain on the battery.
Android finally added a command that looks like interlocking boxes to its Jelly Bean version, which runs my Nexus 4. You have to use it to turn off applications manually that aren't in active use. If you don't do this those applications will be draining your battery while the phone is in your pocket.
Speaking of pockets, a repairman came by yesterday with his iPhone 5, which he loves. He says he can talk and text all day, recharging it at night. He has installed a USB port into his car radio that can recharge his phone while it's in GPS mode, leading him to calls. He has a mount to keep the unit in front of him, hands-free, while he's driving.
We quickly got into a discussion about what is best called "butt-computing," the propensity of both phones to open applications and do things when inside a pocket, especially if facing in toward the pants.
The repairman said his iPhone will open an application or two when it's in his back pocket. My Nexus can open five apps a minute when I'm walking down the road. A plastic case that creates space between the screen and the skin can reduce that load, but it won't eliminate it.
Or you could buy a purse, I suggested. (Nervous laughter ensued.)
Another big problem involves recharging. Keeping a phone plugged-in when it's fully charged can reduce the number of recharges the battery is capable of. This drives down the useful life of the phone. Most phone batteries, like that of the Nexus, are factory-sealed and can't be replaced. (The iPhone 5s battery can theoretically be replaced – it even has a plug on it – but as iFixit notes it's a delicate operation.)
Laptops finally added a circuit that toggles your wall connection on-and-off while it's plugged in, letting the battery drain to 90%, then recharging. There's nothing like that in the phone world that I've found, although the iPhone will tell you, visually, if it's fully charged before you unplug it. (With the Android the battery icon is tiny and in a corner.)
The folks at TechRadar offer a host of "hints" for extending an Android's battery life, but some reduce the phone's usefulness.
Haptic feedback, which causes the phone to shake as it rings or gets used, is a great feature, but a big battery hog. So, TechRadar admits, is GPS.
It's easy to find user forums discussing this issue, and most users seem to agree the iPhone is better at holding its charge while in use.
But this can change, and it should be a bigger issue when new phones or software are released. A recent Ars Technica review showed the iPhone 5s with iOS 7 running for a lot less time on WiFi than the iPhone 5 reviewed here, but I can drain my Nexus 4 in two hours running WiFi already, and it's a half-year newer.
Which brings up one final point. For every phone, for every battery, repeated charges and discharges reduces the power available to you. Just as a Tesla car will have less range as you use it, the same is true for any phone, and for any rechargeable battery.
So these issues of application drain, of recharge rates (and proper recharge), of a phone's useful life while doing the work of a computer, matter a lot to ordinary users. And the conclusion of most of us is that Apple cares more about this than Google does.
My next phone is going to be an iPhone.
At the time of publication, the author owned 20 shares of GOOG and 81 shares of AAPL.
--Written by Dana Blankenhorn for MainStreet