There are a lot of phones out there, and there are people who will defend their phone to the death and hate on every other phone out there. There are phone store reps who give complicated numbers and jargon when you ask which phone system would be right for you, and you get hit with a load of gumf about ram this and dual-core that, and you feel like your brain will explode.
Well, now you can remove your head from those ice buckets, ladies and gentlemen, because I am here to save the day. Consider me your Superman, if you will Lois, for I will swoop down and grab you in my muscular arms and fly you away from that pesky phone store rep to safety. OK, probably not, so take a second to wipe that scary thought from your mind. Ready? Okay… So let me explain to you, in real terms, the difference between our three major players in this battle of the smartphones.
There are many handsets to choose from, whether they be from HTC, Samsung, LG, Apple or whomever, but the aspect we will look at right now is not the brand of the phone, but we will look a little bit further under the hood, the brain, if you will, of the operation. What the phone can do, what makes it tick, why it is or isn’t for you. This is what is generally referred to as the Operating System (OS), and is the software program that tells your phone what to do when you touch the screen or the buttons. There are three different OSes out there that you should worry about, and several more that you shouldn’t. The three giants are iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
This is the software that governs the very famous iPhone and its bigger younger brother, the iPad. It has its advantages and disadvantages, like all mobile operating systems. It is famous for its speed and fluidity and among its fans it receives a kind of cultish devotion, almost like a religious sect; people will fight to the death to prove that iOS is better than anything on Earth and are often willing to camp outside an Apple store over night on the launch of a new product, while the rest of us hang out with our friends or meet women, but hey, to each their own.
iOS still has the strongest App Store, and although it’s difficult to keep up with the number of apps. In September 2011 with the launch of the iPhone 4S, there were over 600,000 apps in the App Store.
Now these apps, these little programs that you can download and use, are all 600,000+ brilliant? Are they all of use to you? Definitely not. At most, the average user tends to regularly use around ten-to-twenty apps, while a power user may triple that number. Further to this, not all the apps are good, nor are they original. You may find fifteen variations of the same app, and some may not work very well if at all, while some may do everything you want save for scrub your dishes in the evening or make your wife as foxy as she used to be. However, of all of the app stores on any OS, Apple’s store has by far the best quality control to ensure apps do what they say on the tin, look good according to Apple standards and don’t give your phone a digital version of influenza AKA a virus.
On the other hand, to keep the fluid feel and responsiveness of the iOS system up to par, it is heavily restricted in terms of customisation options. All iPhones and iPads look the same, and for many users this is no bad thing. Of course, for the nerdiest of us, there is the option to hack (jail break) the system and mess with it to our heart’s content, but for the general user, Mr and Mrs Joe Average out there, you will generally have the rows of apps and folders that Apple have designated your chosen device, and that is that.
Fast and fluid
Uniform design between your tablet, phone and Mac if you happen to own more than one of any of those
Simple to use
Biggest choice apps of any store
Restricted by Apple
Practically zero customisation options
Some users find it boring
Google’s fruit of the earth… Or maybe not, as perhaps that line should have been used to describe Apple… Erm, let’s start over shall we? Google’s pride and joy, the open source system that could be closest related to Linux on a PC, Android is made to be yours. Who’s? YOURS. Google engineered Android to be open to whatever developers and users alike want it to be. You don’t like the keyboard you type with? Change it. You don’t like how your home screen looks? Change it. You don’t like the music player application you’re using… You get the picture. With Android, you are in control, you are in the driver’s seat. Does this mean that you need more technical knowledge and patience to use Android? To an extent, yes. Does this mean that you can enjoy your phone much more because of all the options available? Again, to an extent, yes. Open source and options, while this may seem like heaven, is in fact a double edge sword. Why? Ever looked in the fridge and seen a bottle of Fanta and a bottle of Coke, and decided right away which you want, and taken it? Yes, me too. Fanta every time. On the other hand, have you ever stood in front of a vending machine full of chocolate and potato-salty goodness and wished that you had a century to decide? Again, me too. When you have limited options, you are happy with a quick choice of one or two things, but face a person with thousands of choices and … Brain meltdown… I hope you still have that ice bucket on standby.
Android typically has been the geek’s phone of choice: the hackers, the tinkerers, the people who love to play with their phone as if it was their… As if there was no tomorrow.
The other problem with the phone’s OS being so open-sourced is that it can be made to run on any handset, any phone, regardless of the chip (the processor, the physical brain of the phone), and just like not every burger will fit every bun, not every chip will run every OS exactly as it is. While a closed source OS like iOS or even Windows Phone will be made for a limited number of types of chips (or cut into sizes for any size of bun, if we continue the metaphor), the Android OS can be placed onto any number of different types of chip, and adjusting an OS to run on a specific chip isn’t as simple as cutting around a burger to get it to fit perfectly onto a bun, and the phone manufacturers themselves must do the cutting, for each and every phone they make. They must do the same for updates too, while also constantly creating new phones and software adjustments for those new phones too. They can’t possibly get every OS version perfect on every phone. In fact, they rarely do. Quite often Android phones are slow, generally laggy (although this also is due to more complex problems within the OS that Google is working on addressing with the latest updates) and often buggy.
The app store, or Google Play as it is now called, is pretty jam packed not only with thousands of apps, but also thousands upon thousands of widgets (a kind of window that can be placed on your home screen to send real-time data or feeds for you to see without opening an app, such as a weather display or your facebook feed) and tweaks that other mobile OSes could only dream of being able to run.
Flexible, open and customisable OS
Lots of handsets to choose from
More widgets and tweaks than there are donuts in a cop’s belly
Buggy, can be slow, and laggy
Updates are a mess
Requires powerful hardware to run well
Big learning curve, not for non-techies
Windows Phone is, in my own opinion, the best option out there. I am a big fan of this highly under-rated but up-and-coming OS. In its current form, version 7.5, it is just as fast as its comrades, even when on inferior hardware, and as smooth as iOS, and definitely the most stable of all of the systems. Built right into the core are all of the main modes of social networking communication, including Windows Live Messenger, FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more, and the next version, Windows Phone 8 ( and perhaps the budget version, 7.8) will have even more, including Skype and Instagram. Windows Phone is beautiful, simple and personal. It is not as customisable as Android, by far. You must stick to the Live Tile arrangements given, however you may arrange them as you want and personalise them with your own information and day that you want. Live Tiles? Windows Phone doesn’t rely on a screen full of apps, nor does it have home screens full of widgets for you to peruse, but it seems to have gotten stuck in some kind of limbo, a happy medium of the two. Every application on the phone can be pinned to the home screen, and every application that is pinned to the home screen creates a tile that, when pressed, opens the application. What is so special about these resizable tiles that are created is that, rather than show a static display of the app like in other OSes, they show specific data, pictures, and notifications within the display of the tile, and they flip over to show you more data regularly.
The app store (Microsoft Marketplace as it is currently known, though is tipped to change name soon) has far fewer apps than its counterparts, but has almost all of the most popular apps and the rest are promised to arrive before too long.
Fresh new look for a phone
Very fast and fluid
Live tiles are beautiful and functional
Integrated with the Microsoft ecosystem
Not as open or customisable as Android
Separate budget versions and high end versions of the next version of the OS could cause some confusion
Fewer apps available
The difference between iOS and Android? iOS gets all the fundamentals of a mobile operation system nailed, but is way off target when it comes to more advanced features.
Flip the coin over, and Android seems to have gotten the more advanced features spot on, but has no clue with the basics such as fluidity, which Apple nailed, though Android is battling to cure this ailment in their baby. The choice between those two comes down to whether you prefer simplicity or functionality. Windows Phone meets the two in the middle with the fluidity, security and stability from its fruity cousin, while taking the ideas of functionality and widgets and chucking them into the bag and transforming them into something that looks very futuristic and stylish, but which is not for everyone. If you decide to go for a cheaper low end device, then Windows Phone or an older model iPhone would be a good choice because Android just cannot run on low powered hardware. If you decide to go with any top end device, with any of the three major OSes, you won’t be disappointed, they are all great, nay, amazing, in their own way. The fact remains that some suit some users more than others. Just avoid Blackberry.
Which mobile OS do you prefer? What questions do you have about the options and choices out there? What phone are you using? Feel free to comment below!