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Android vs iPhone: Which is Better for Content Blocking and Preventing Bypass?

author
Ben
|
Updated April 1, 2024

Many of our customers want to know which smartphone works best with the Tech Lockdown blocking system.

Let me first clarify what I mean by blocking system: a blocking system uses multiple layers of content blocking and bypass prevention to help break compulsive habits that contribute to addictions.

In general, we assess the following areas:

  1. What is the most restrictive setup that can be achieved?
  2. What is the level of difficulty and time required to achieve the stricter setups?

When deciding between an iPhone or Android smartphone, we recommend considering these tradeoffs before you change your phone.

Dumb Phone Possibilities

Reducing the appeal of your smartphone is a core part of the blocking system. You want to reduce your screen time, but ultimately reduce the dopamine that your phone produces.

In this section, I'll compare Android vs iPhone dumb phone setups.

General Customization

Here is my personal Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone, with Grayscale color scheme and a custom launcher replacing the typical app lists.

Replacing an app grid with a list is useful because it causes you to have to search for apps that are installed instead of always having them displayed on your screen to remind you that they exist. 

The iPhone can enable Grayscale as well and you can hide apps from the home screen view so that you have a minimal amount of apps. You won't be able to customize the app launcher like you can on Android, but you can at least hide some apps that can only be found by searching for them on your phone.

Both Android and iPhone give you similar control over what can trigger a notification on your phone. It's important that you eliminate almost all notifications, so its good that both phones support this level of control. 

When comparing the two for this feature alone, my preference is Android due to the ability to add a custom launcher like Olauncher

In fact, this level of minimalism is so desired that some smartphones, like the Wisephone , use a similar interface. 

This Android smartphone only allows you to use the bare smartphone essentials. There's no App Store or Web Browser on this phone.

Removing Features

A key aspect of the "dumb phone" setup is reducing the features you have access to on an Android smartphone or iPhone. Here is what we care about:

  1. Disabling the App Store
  2. Preventing web browsing or allow-only web browsing

Compared to Android,  iPhone parental controls are actually pretty good. With a standard iPhone with no additional configuration required, you can enable Screen Time and start controlling a few features.

For example, you can disable the app store so that new apps can't be downloaded. 

There's also the ability to do "allow-only" web browsing modes, which is highly restrictive since everything is blocked by default other than what you selectively allow.

If you combine this with a DNS Filter, you have a fairly good restrictive setup. However, there is a major downside to using Screen Time: it's easy to disable if you are the owner of the phone. Many of our members discover that it won't work for their situation. 

So what else can you do on iPhone?

There's also Supervised and Managed modes, which give you the same Screen Time capabilities in a way that is much harder to disable. These are advanced device management modes that give administrators more control over the phone's settings and restrictions.

In supervised mode, instead of setting these restrictions on your iPhone using Screen Time, you use a Mac computer to make changes to these settings. 

You can go even further with Mobile Device Management, which gives you remote management and you unlock Kiosk mode.

Using Kiosk mode, you can selectively decide what a user can access, even system apps.

This is basically "allow-only" mode for features on the iPhone and it is the most restrictive setup you can achieve.

Convert your iPhone into a Dumb Phone
Convert your iPhone into a Dumb Phone
Limit exposure to the addictive and harmful aspects of the internet on iOS.

Android smartphones might vary in the parental control features that come with the phone. Most use the Digital Wellbeing feature, which is the Google competitor to Apple's screen time.

To be honest, Digital Wellbeing is so weak that we don't spend time covering it. The feature pales in comparison to Screen Time.

So what are your other options on Android?

From a dumb-phone perspective, you are limited to using App Blockers that you download from the App Store.  App blockers are tools that can prevent access to specific apps.

These apps let you specify apps that you want to block or hide and then they display a block screen when you try to open them.

We've actually been building a basic Admin app for Android to make it easier to restrict access to features. The nice thing about Android is that you can build powerful apps that can be downloaded from the App Store that have more control over the Android device.

However, these apps can have limited support since there are so many different Android manufacturers and versions of the Android operating system that have been customized. This presents a significant challenge for making effective Administrative apps that you download from the Play Store.

If you wanted to go a more consistent route, you also have the option to manage Android devices similar to the iPhone.

Using a Mobile Device Manager, you can actually completely remove the Android Web Browser. This also restricts downloading web browsers from the Play Store, so it's quite effective for a dumb phone setup.

Furthermore, you can auto deny all app downloads, which prevents installing any new apps on the Android device.

A few more useful features for some people is preventing the ability to wipe the device (restore factory settings), restrict SafeMode, restrict Developer Mode:

You also get access to the allow-only Kiosk mode, which gives you the most restrictive approach:

Compared to the iPhone, Android Device Management gives you a bit more control.

Convert your Smartphone into a Dumb Phone
Convert your Smartphone into a Dumb Phone
Limit exposure to the addictive and harmful aspects of the internet on Android or iOS.

Content Blocking

The next thing you should evaluate is the internet filtering capabilities available on Android vs iOS.

By content blocking, I mean that you choose what websites or apps can be accessed online. This could be blocking categories of websites or specific apps that use the internet to function properly.

As I said earlier, we recommend multiple layers of content blocking. Let's assess Layer 1.

Layer 1: Always-on VPN DNS Filtering

Using the network settings on your smartphone, or with a VPN profile, you can direct your internet to pass through a DNS Filter. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) profile is a set of settings that tells the phone to route its internet traffic through a specific server, which can be used for content filtering.

This allows you to set a Content Policy , choosing what should be allowed or blocked.

For example, you would customize your Tech Lockdown Content Policy to block content and enforce SafeSearch.

A DNS Filter can also be used to block apps that you've installed on your smartphone. Blocking an app just causes it to stop working properly. You can still open the app, but you won't be able to load content on it.

You might even choose to schedule when some apps or categories should be unblocked:

In order to make this Content Policy work on your Android smartphone or iPhone, you could do any of the following (even combine multiple approaches):

Install a DNS Filtering app, which will set up an always-on VPN pointing to your Content Policy:

Configure the network settings to point to the Content Policy. For example, on iPhone, you can install a configuration file that specifies the DNS settings for the device.

Not to get too technical, but these would be the network settings you could choose to configure to point to your Content Policy :

  1. IPv6
  2. DNS over http
  3. DNS over TLS

Additionally, you might choose to block YouTube images so that the YouTube app or mobile website does not display thumbnails:

From a Layer 1 perspective, Android and iOS have access to the same capabilities and there isn't much of a difference. 

On both Android and iOS, you can do the following:

  1. Reliably connect to a DNS Filtering service, which blocks content at the network level, preventing access to certain websites or apps.
  2. Apps and browsers will also use this filtered connection, so you can block apps or content within those apps (like YouTube thumbnails)
  3. Scheduled block rules will also work properly

I would give a slight edge to the iPhone because the configuration files are a useful way to silently configure a DNS filter on a standard iPhone without having to use an app. Otherwise, both smartphones are nearly identical for layer 1 content blocking. 

Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Create and enforce a Content Policy on all your devices.

Layer 2 Blocking

Layer 2 content blocking methods work alongside layer 1 instead of overriding it. This is another layer you'd have to disable to bypass content blocking and it can give you more ways to customize how you block.

Layer 2 blocking is where Android and iOS have greater differences compared to layer 1.

On iPhone, your best option is the Screen Time content filter with Limit Adult Websites enabled.

Downloading a blocking app from the Apple App Store is pointless. Apple has made sure that it's not possible to create a more effective version of screen time by imposing limitations on what these apps can do.

If you use the web content filter provided by the supervised and managed modes we talked about earlier, they are still leveraging the same capability that screen time uses.

The main benefit is that this content filter cannot be disabled from the device itself, but it does not add any new content filtering capabilities outside of what you get with screen time.

You can use mobile device management to restrict web content using the build-in web content filter that comes with Android:

However, there isn't a "limit adult website option," you'd have to specify specific URLs.

Adding on to this, you can download apps from App Store that block content in a different way.

I'm not talking about Blocking apps that install a VPN profile and block content like Layer 1.

Specifically, these Android apps can request the Screen Reader permission , which allows them to evaluate text on the screen. Screen readers are accessibility features that can be used by some Android apps to analyze and filter content. This lets you go further than blocking categories of content, you can block pages that are using certain words.

The main use case for this would be if you were browsing a social media website like Twitter (x) or reading specific content on a "gray-area" website like Reddit.

The blocking app could evaluate specific pages on that website and even check the content on the page for disallowed words.

Furthermore, you can also do other things like block google image search.

Just to recap, Android blocking apps can do the following:

  1. Block based on keywords used in the browser URL, page title, or even page content.
  2. Block image search
  3. Block keywords used in searches

However, there is a downside with this approach: consistency. You'll find that some content is wrongfully blocked and some content may not be blocked properly. For example, blocking Google image search might lack consistency.

Manage Android and iOS Devices at Home
Manage Android and iOS Devices at Home
Go further with blocking content and preventing bypass on iPhone and Android smartphones.

An important aspect of any blocking system is the ability to restrict apps.

There are two primary ways to restrict apps:

  1. Block the App Store to prevent installing new apps
  2. Block or allow specific apps

As we discussed in the Dumb Phone section of this post, both iPhone and Android can disable the app store and prevent installing new apps:

  1. The iPhone can use screen time, device supervision, or device management to disable the Apple App Store .
  2. Android can use a downloaded App Blocker to block the Play Store or uses device management to limit or disable the Play Store

So let's focus on the options for restricting specific apps instead of restricting all new apps.

Both Android and iPhone can use the Layer 1 blocking we talked about earlier to break certain apps. For example, you can select the TikTok app when creating a Tech Lockdown Content Policy block rule :

This won't prevent you from opening or downloading the TikTok app from the app store, but it will cause the app to not working properly since it won't be able to connect to the internet.

In addition to Layer 1 app blocking with a DNS Filter, Android and iOS have a few other ways you can block specific apps .

On iPhone, Screen Time allows you to disable apps that are already installed on the device:

You can also set App Time limits, which is a good option for some people.

Screen Time may not be effective for some people and it doesn't let you specify apps that aren't already downloaded. To go further, you'd need to manage or supervise the iPhone.

With a supervised or managed iPhone, you can specify an app blocklist or allowlist:

And you could use Kiosk mode to go further by only specifying allowed apps, which would include system apps as well:

Manage iOS Devices at Home
Manage iOS Devices at Home
Become a member to access step-by-step guides.

Android smartphones have the option of downloading App Blockers from the app store. These work by displaying a block page when you open an app that you want to block.

However, these apps have varying degrees of success, especially when you consider that they have to effectively prevent themselves from being disabled in order to be effective at restricting apps.

For a more reliable approach, you can use Mobile Device Management.

You can create a blocklist or allowlist of apps with a mobile device manager, which will effectively be enforced on the managed Android smartphone.

To take this further, you can prevent installing apps that you haven't specifically allowlisted:

Manage Android Devices at Home
Manage Android Devices at Home
Become a member to access step-by-step guides.

Enforcing Apps

If you have a content filter installed on your iPhone, you want to make sure that it can't be uninstalled. 

iPhone's Screen Time allows you to prevent deleting apps that are already installed.

If you want to take this a step further, you can use device supervision or mobile device management to enforce this setting more effectively:

On Android, you can download App Lockers from the App Store, but these have varying degrees of reliability. Also, they are only as effective as their own bypass prevention. If you can simply uninstall and disable the App Locker, then the capabilities isn't useful.

A more reliable approach is to use Mobile Device Management to enforce apps. Similar to the iPhone's managed mode, you can prevent removing apps that are currently installed by Restricting the Uninstalling Apps option in the device management profile editor.

Android mobile device managers can also prevent uninstalling apps that have been installed using the MDM. For example, you can use the Silent Install method to remotely install an application and prevent the user from having the option to delete it.

Furthermore, on both iPhone and Android smartphones, you could use Kiosk mode with a Mobile Device Manager to install a Content Filtering app, but not allow the user to access it.

Both Android and iOS have some solid options for app enforcement, but Mobile Device Management or supervision is required for the most effective experience.

Outside of Kiosk mode, the iPhone lacks the ability to prevent a user from modifying an app that you'd want to enforce. You have to hope that the app has a feature for preventing bypass within their own app. On Android, you can download App Lockers from the app store that can fill in some of these bypass prevention gaps.

Manage Android and iOS Devices at Home
Manage Android and iOS Devices at Home
Go further with blocking content and preventing bypass on iPhone and Android smartphones.

Enforcing Settings

On iPhone, some settings can be enforced with Screen Time, but supervised and managed modes give you access to the most settings enforcement options. For example, you can allow or restrict:

  1. Always-on Wi-Fi
  2. Allow users to configure VPN
  3. Modify Personal hotspot
  4. Modify cellular data usage for apps

Probably the biggest advantage of iPhone supervision is the ability to specify the DNS and general network settings that are used. This is a great way to enforce the usage of a DNS Filter:

Android apps that you download from the App Store can provide some limited device management capabilities where certain settings are enforced. However, mobile device management is recommended if you want reliability.

Here are the notable settings you can Allow or Restrict with mobile device management on Android:

  1. Restore factory settings
  2. Safe Mode
  3. Developer Mode
  4. Stopping System Apps

Network Settings that you can Allow or Restrict:

  • Allow users to configure VPN
  • Wi-Fi, including limiting to approved Wifi networks.
  • Data saver mode

Kiosk mode on Android gives you quite a few additional restrictions in addition to selectively allowing access to apps. For example, you can restrict the Task Manager on some supported Android devices:

Manage Android and iOS Devices at Home
Manage Android and iOS Devices at Home
Go further with blocking content and preventing bypass on iPhone and Android smartphones.

Mobile Device Management Difficulty

As you've seen in the previous sections, Mobile Device Management provides a more reliable bypass prevention layer.

This is why we need to assess the difficulty of device management on Android and iOS.

iPhone has the option to use supervised or fully managed modes.

iPhone device supervision process:

  1. Wipe iPhone (hard reset it)
  2. Use Apple configurator on Macbook or iMazing on Windows to enable supervised mode
  3. Sign in to iCloud and sync your backed up items to your newly supervised iPhone

iPhone device management process also has to be hard reset, but there are a few additional steps.

  1. Get an ABM account (this can take 1-2 weeks to get approved and some people may not be eligible) and connect it to your mobile device manager.
  2. Use a Macbook or another iPhone to add the device to ABM using Apple Configurator

Android device management is fairly straightforward:

  1. Wipe Android smartphone (hard reset it)
  2. Use any device (Mac, Windows, or another smartphone) to connect it to your mobile device manager
  3. Sync backed up items back to the device

If supervising your iPhone is adequate for your needs, then supervising your iPhone should be a possibility. However, full device management on iPhone won't be an option for everyone.

Android, in contrast, has a relatively straightforward and accessible management process.

Manage Android and iOS Devices at Home
Manage Android and iOS Devices at Home
Go further with blocking content and preventing bypass on iPhone and Android smartphones.

The Tech Lockdown Verdict

There isn't a simple yes or no verdict here, but I'll do my best to help you make the best decision.

Let's start off with the Dumb Phone comparison:

You have more customization options on Android, including the ability to set a custom home screen launcher like Olauncher. This is more ideal than what you can do on the iPhone.

When trying to restrict features like Web Browsing or the App Store, the iPhone has a more consistent experience with the Screen Time app. On Android, you will need to download an app from the Play Store and hack together some solutions. You may struggle with reliability in this case.

However, iPhone screen time is too easy to disable if you are the owner of the phone. You need to supervise or manage Android/iPhone smartphones to better enforce these dumb phone customizations. 

In this case, Android and iOS managed devices are able to achieve a similar level of restriction. 

However, if you factor in the difficulty and accessibility of supervising and managing smartphones, you may discover that the iPhone isn't a good option. Android wins when you consider these factors.

Content Blocking

From a content blocking standpoint, Android and iOS have similar Layer 1 blocking capabilities with the iPhone having a slight edge. I personally like that you can install a configuration file on a standard iPhone and point to a DNS Filter without using an app. This is a clear win in my book, but definetly not a deal-breaker for android.

For layer 2 blocking, Android wins. The apps you download from the app store have better ways to identify and block content. iPhone's built in web filter is decent, but it's the only layer you can configure. Android has at least 3 content blocking mechanisms and a blocking app can actually be pretty effective.

I prefer Android smartphones from a blocking perspective, but the iPhone is also quite effective.

App Restriction

The ability to restrict apps is quite similar with both devices being able to prevent all new app installs effectively. Using device supervision or management, both Android and iPhone have several ways to block specific apps  using a blocklist or allowlist approach.

Android has a slight edge since you can download App Blockers from the app store which can handle blocking apps that aren't already installed (unlike iPhone's Screen Time, which only disables currently installed apps). Though they have varying levels of consistency with downloaded App Blockers, this is an option not available on iPhone.

Mandatory Apps

Enforcing apps is possible on both devices with Android having a slight edge. This is mainly because you can silently install apps with a Mobile Device Manager on Android, which prevents uninstall of those specific apps. However, both Android and iPhone can prevent uninstall of all currently installed apps, which might meet most people's needs.

Device Management Difficulty

Achieving the strictest possible setup through device management is more accessible and possible on Android compared to iPhone.

Final Thoughts

When we compare the most restrictive setups possible, Android is the winner, but this doesn't mean that iPhone's aren't a possibility. 

  • If you want the strictest possible setup, Android wins. You get access to more customization options and can extend your blocking setup with the App Store. Full Mobile Device management should be accessible to anyone.
  • iPhone provides a more consistent experience. The App Store won't provide any additional value to your blocking system, but you'll be able to leverage either Screen Time or device supervision for more restriction options. However, don't count on being able to get access to full Mobile Device Management for the most restrictive setup.

Go Beyond Beyond Basic Blocking

Elevate your content blocking and bypass prevention.