Apple Is Always Playing Catch-Up To Android: 3DMark

Which is better for gaming -- an Android phone or an iPhone? (The answer is obviously a proper big-rig gaming PC, a giant monitor and a comfy chair, but we won't get into that argument.) Three million mobile device benchmarks later, the creators of 3DMark have the definitive comparison of mobile graphics power when it comes to Apple's iOS smartphones and tablets versus the Android powerhouses of Samsung, Nvidia, Sony and Motorola.

One graph from Futuremark tells you everything you need to know. It's a distribution of average device scores from Futuremark's 3DMark Ice Storm mobile benchmark over the last two years until now -- every significant phone and tablet release, the best of their respective eras -- since the reign of the iPhone 5S and iPad 4. It includes the original Apple iPad Air, the slim Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet, the Nvidia Shield Tablet, the Motorola Nexus 6 and Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge+ -- the current smartphone champion.

And that graph shows a few interesting trends. Look at the rise of Apple's tablets, for example. Every release -- iPad 4 to iPad Air to iPad Air 2 -- is a significant improvement, jumping from 10K to 15K to 20K in 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited. The story is a little different for the iPhone; the 5S already scored a respectable 15K, but the 6 Plus only jumped to around 17K. And, tomorrow, we'll likely see at least one new top iOS device -- maybe even two, if the rumoured new iPad Pro turns out to be real.

Sony's Xperia Z Ultra was the smartphone gaming king in 2013 with a score around 18K, but a quick succession of new best Android phones and ceaseless competition means that the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ is the current champion at 25K. Android tablets effectively mirrored the smartphone of the day two years ago, but the launch of Nvidia's Shield blitzed the competition mid-last year and it has remained the supreme mobile gaming device since then. New releases from a dozen major companies continue at a much faster pace than the Cupertino competition.

What's just as interesting is the fact that Apple's devices, despite being more conservative in their results and benchmark performance, are a lot more consistent. That is, there's a lot less deviation in the results as reported in 3DMark Ice Storm when you compare an iPhone 6 (when it was Apple's best performer post-September 2014) to the Nexus 6 (when it was Android's, between November 2014 and January 2015).

The iPhone 6's average score of 17278 is remarkably consistent -- barely any devices register 18K scores, and barely any register 16K -- where Nexus 6 devices have a distribution from any score as low as 18K and as high as 24K. That wide spread means the Nexus 6' average is only 21663, likely due to many devices throttling performance due to heat.

At the end of the day, though, Futuremark says the results are clear. When it comes to mobile gaming, whether it's on tablet or smartphone, Apple has always been playing catch-up with its Android competitors. Part of that comes down to the fact that Apple only (usually) iterates on its mobile devices once per year, but even then, comparing any Apple smartphone with any Android smartphone, or any Apple tablet with any Android tablet, you'll find there's a performance gap. Just how big that gap is tends to vary, but throughout the last couple of years of Futuremark's benchmarks it's been between 2K (phone to phone, the 5S versus the Z Ultra) and a whopping 15K (tablet to tablet, post-Shield launch).

So if you want to use your mobile device just to play games, you're always better off with an Android device. (Although you could argue that Apple gets all the best games, and it gets them first.) Who knows, though? That might all change with tomorrow's massive Apple launch event in San Francisco. Maybe the new iPhone or new iPad will sport a hugely powerful processor and will become the mobile gaming device of choice (moreso than it already is)? Maybe the Apple TV will become the ultimate couch gaming machine? But then another Android phone will come out in about a minute. We'll be reporting live, so stay tuned -- our coverage kicks off from 3AM AEST on Thursday morning.

Here's the entire Futuremark infographic on Apple versus Android performance in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark. It's full of interesting facts -- 3DMark is by far most popularly run on Apple iPhone 5Ss, although it has been run on over 3000 different phones and tablets. A new benchmark is generated on average every 30 seconds. China and the US love the Apple version of the app, whereas for Android it's Russia and the US -- China really doesn't care about Android phone gaming benchmarks, with only 1.6 per cent of Android downloads coming from that location. [Futuremark / Google Play Store / Apple App Store]



    So if you want to use your mobile device just to play games, you’re always better off with an Android device. (Although you could argue that Apple gets all the best games, and it gets them first.)

    Pretty much the entire situation summed up right there. This must be especially frustrating for the filthy unbelievers who have not opened their hearts to the holy cult of Apple.

    (Edit: Praise Jobs!)

    Last edited 09/09/15 4:27 pm

      Probably not frustrating to anyone serious about gaming as they would already have "a proper big-rig gaming PC, a giant monitor and a comfy chair"


        But... but... tribalism!

          How about some PC gaming master race tribalism?!

        Yeh I was about to say "and how does all of this compare to my Quad SLI, Raid0, watercooled, glow in the dark, 6 monitor setup?"

        Last edited 09/09/15 7:16 pm

    I think the way this data is graphed treats Apple harshly, given that Android devices from many different manufacturers are plotted on a single line, and are frequently stepping up performance due to a staggered rollout, whereas Apple is just one company with an annual rollout.

    A better way to view this data would be if the different flagship device lines (i.e. galaxy S, Xperia Z, Moto X) each had their own line. Apple might not fare any better, but it would allow you to see a clearer comparison of Apple vs Sony vs Samsung vs etc, rather than Apple vs Rest of the World.

      Well apple vs sony wouldn't go down well as according to the graph the 5s was worse than the experia z ultra which was released at the same time, and the 6 plus is worse than the experia z1 compact that was released 10 months BEFORE the iphone.

      The article does discuss your point, but the article is titled "apple is always playing catchup with android" so you kind of had to expect an unfair fight!

    Correct me if I'm wrong but is Android heavier than iOS and therefor needs more grunt to get the same performance? I think i remember someone explaining this, when Android used a different virtual machine for each app

      Apple devices do tend to have less RAM than Android but the higher the iOS version the slower older devices (take a look at the iPhone 4S right now) run, so I have no idea.

    So what this shows is the iPhone is more popular besides the specs?

    So it confirms that the average user is not interested in the specs, just a device that works...

    Who would have thought...

    So to sum up, buy an Android handset if you want to run benchmarks. Buy an iPhone if you want the best overall performance.

      Exactly. I have an iPhone 6 and a Samsung Galaxy S 8.4", which is theoretically MUCH faster (more cores, more ram, bigger e-penis) - however in my opinion, for 99% of tasks my iPhone feels faster and smoother. I can't stand the scroll jerkiness on android.

    All the tests in the world dont matter if someone prefers one operating system or model to another for reasons unrelated to technical aspects.

    This graph is pointless as iOS is a lot more streamlined than android. Not to mention developers have been able to code directly to the chip since metal.
    Do an actual game vs game test

    Just a side note..... why is HALF of Western Australia a different colour to the rest of the country?

      They use their devices, not benchmarking it.

      It's a transparent box around the text.

    What was Apple catching up, releasing iPhone 1.0?

      Apple released the iPhone 1 in 2007

      Microsoft had windows phones in 2000
      Blackberry had several models by 2003
      Nokia had several models in 2005

      Hell IBM had a smart phone back in 1992 called Simon.

      Who was apple catching up to when they released the iPhone 1? EVERYONE

        I know all of them, but if you ever used them, you would know what pain it was, to go for a stylus.
        I am not even talking about BB. Mostly text based OS.

          That's not the point though is it?

          The point is that in 2007 when Apple released the iPhone 1, there were already other smart phones on the market. They were the ones playing catch up....... and still are according to this article.

    But this is all just based on raw performance RUNNING a game, I think what really matters is the experience MAKING a game for each platform - trading off the time/difficulty of getting it to a market and the size of that market and their willingness to purchase it.

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