Why people pick Team Apple versus Team Android

Linda Federico-O'Murchu, Special to CNBC
Why people pick team Apple versus team Android
Why people pick team Apple versus team Android

It's a common question of our time: "Which phone do you use?"

With BlackBerry's once commanding position diminished considerably, it largely comes down to Team Apple or Team Android.

As of now, it's a pretty close race between the two major operating systems. In October 2014, according to ComScore Apple ranked as the top smartphone manufacturer in that month, with 41.9 percent of market share, while Google's Android operating system—which is used on smartphones made by companies like Samsung and Xiaomi—led as the No. 1 smartphone platform, with 52.3 percent of market share.

So why do people pick one over the other? Since both are high-quality, reliable products, marketing experts say brand image is the deciding factor for many people.

Read MoreApple hikes iPhone price in Russia on sliding ruble

Platform vs. Brand

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge and Galaxy Note 4 smartphones on display at MBFW in New York.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

In her book, "Branding For Dummies," author Barbara Findlay Schenck defines brands as "promises that consumers can believe in" and brand loyalty as a philosophical attachment to an ideal.

For Android users, "affordability is the biggest reason [it] is the No. 1 most purchased system in the world. It also has a really great operating system," she said.

Apple's appeal is somewhat more abstract. "What does Apple stand for? Apple stands for smart, fun, sleek. It makes people feel good about who they are and who they want to be," Schenck said.

In other words: "Android is a commodity platform, Apple is a brand," she said.

Other marketing experts echo those distinctions between the appeal of the two operating systems.

"Android is for the purist who wants a killer operating system. Android has the halo of Google. It has the cutting edge element that goes with it," said Nelson Freitas, chief strategy officer at Wunderman New York, a communications and marketing agency.

"Apple, on the other hand, makes people feel like they have a superpower. It makes them feel like a better designer. It makes them feel supercool," Freitas said.

Carmi Levy, vice president of marketing at multinational agency, also said that user's attachment to the Apple brand transcends the mere device at hand.

Read More Small app studio seeks to build the 'perfect' iPhone keyboard

"The average consumer doesn't want to know what's going on beneath the hood," Levy said.

Apple is "the rare example of a company that doesn't market itself as a tech company but as a solutions company. They sell the emotional connection with consumers," Levy said.

"Even though Android sells the vast majority of devices and tablets in the U.S. today, it still doesn't have that psychological hold on consumers to the same degree. Android devices are largely sold on the basis of price, features and performance, not on emotional connection," Levy said.

"You've got to be more tech-savvy, you have to know how the apps work, you have to be comfortable digging into the settings. These are people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. It's part of the [Android] game," he said.

Brand loyalty

Other recent data show that users' attachments to their smartphone brands can be strong.

In a December poll by SurveyMonkey Audience, 98.18 percent of respondents said their cellphone was "extremely important" or "very important" in their lives, and 94.05 percent said they felt anxious when they were without it.

The nonscientific survey, which polled 513 U.S. consumers between the ages of 25 and 60, found that 91.82 percent were either Apple or Samsung users (Apple: 58.18 percent; Samsung, 33.64 percent) and that 93.57 percent of people felt at least somewhat loyal to their brand. 90.83 percent of respondents also reported that they felt passionate about their phones. Only 3.17 percent felt little or no passion for their device.

Read MoreHere's our strategy with the new BlackBerry Classic

In fact, survey respondents said lively debates and trash-talking are commonplace among smartphone enthusiasts, though heated arguments are unusual (13.78 percent). Rarer still—though not unheard of—are physical altercations (2.86 percent).

Android user Allen Levings, owner of Revolution Studios in Las Vegas, calls Apple users "sheeple."

"[Apple users] follow the crowd," he said. "Techy, geeky personalities tend toward Android, whereas people who choose iPhone are more status conscious. The iPhone is a status symbol. Why do people wait in these insanely long lines? Status. There seems to be a bit of brainwashing going on."

Levings insists his aversion stems from "the way Apple does business."

"They're too controlling over their products," he said. "I don't want Apple to tell me I can only download music from Apple and only watch the movies Apple tells me to."

Peter Shankman, founder of the social networking start-up HARO and author of several business advice books, owns a Galaxy Note 4 phone as well as an iPad and an Apple laptop.

"It's the classic MAC versus PC argument," he said. "In terms of phones, I'm pro-Android because I just think it's a better phone. When I upgrade, which is probably every six months, all I have to do is insert a new SIM Card and the phone repopulates instantly. I'm not going around saying, 'All Hail the Church of Android,' but Android perfectly combines form and functionality."

Read MoreRetailers still haven't figured out mobile

New Yorker Dan Nainan, a comedian and former senior Intel engineer, is an iPhone loyalist.

"My iPhone essentially runs my life," he said.

Nainan, who once appeared on a "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" commercial, said he formerly owned a Samsung Galaxy Note and "could not stand it."

"I'm the ultimate geek, but when it comes to my phone I don't want a lot of nonsense. On the Android there are too many variables," he said.

Some of the snarkiest comments from smartphone loyalists can be found on online subreddits with provocative names like Cult of Android, Android Master Race and Apple Circle Jerk. There, Apple and Android haters can express techie outrage at the opposing team's image, perceived technological deficiencies and pretty much anything else that annoys them.

For his part, Shankman says he is frequently offered iPhone cases as corporate gifts but when he tells them he has a Samsung, "there's this long pause. Then they say, "Ohhhhh,'—you know, like, they offered me a free pair of sneakers and I told them I only have one foot."

Neither Apple nor Samsung responded to requests for comment.