There are several smartphone operating systems vying for your attention. Which is the best for you? We compare Android, iOS, Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry and Symbian.
There are six popular operating systems - Android, Symbian, BlackBerry, iOS, bada and Windows Phone 7.
Android, which is owned and made by Google, is currently the largest selling smartphone operating system in the world. It is supported by a wide range of handset manufacturers such as Motorola, Sony Ericsson, HTC, LG, and Samsung. Even homegrown brands like Micromax and Spice have phones based on this operating system.
Support from such a variety of handset makers means that there is an Android handset for almost every budget, which is not the case with any other OS. The range of handsets starts at Rs 6,500 and goes up to Rs 35,000.
Also, the presence of a large number of application developers makes this platform very rich in content.
Android is highly customisable software that offers any functionality currently available on an operating system. It supports copy paste, multi tasking, home screen customisation, notification alerts, Google Maps, push mail services, Quick mobile office etc.
What it lacks right now is support and acceptance by enterprise customers. However, Google is working to make it more attractive to this segment by increasing security and remote management features, which IT departments look for in an operating system.
Android is also one of the most upgraded operating systems in history, with more than five versions ever since it was first launched in February 2009, and more on the way. This helps the OS improve much faster than any other operating system.
Apple's iOS, which is the OS in the iPhone and iPad, still retains the number one tag in the USA. In India, however, iPhones haven't been sold in considerable numbers because the device comes locked with only two service providers.
Unlike Android, there is no fragmentation of iOS, which is both good and bad at the same time. So, while it ensures uniformity of services on all iOS devices, it also means that you have no option but to stick with Apple's devices.
iPhones are quite flawless, with brilliant looks, great quality, and millions of applications to choose from.
Some of the omissions in the last version such as multitasking, video chat and copy paste have now been added to the OS. However, Flash support and notifications (on the home screen) are still missing.
The iPhone has also failed to cut ice with IT departments of enterprises and Apple doesn't even seem interested considering that there has been no effort on its part to lure this segment.
If you have the money, go ahead and buy an iPhone. It remains one of the best and most loved smartphones on the planet and the lack of Flash support doesn't really make much difference as it supports HTML5 for playing videos in the browser. However, do wait for iPhone 4 as it is just round the corner and gives a much better user experience than the currently available iPhone 3GS does.
Like Android, Symbian is also an open source OS though it is mostly used by Nokia, which owns it. This is one of the oldest mobile operating systems. However, it has not tasted much success in the smartphone space.
In India, it continues to be popular thanks to the popularity of Nokia phones. However, tech savvy consumers of today have in a way rejected the OS, as despite improvements it is not as modern as other operating systems such as Android and iOS. Now even Nokia has decided to call it quits and is moving towards Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 as its smartphone platform.
Nokia will continue to support Symbian till 2014 but won't develop the OS after 2012. A Symbian update will be available in the next couple of months, which is expected to improve user experience. But since it doesn't have much of a future, application developers seem to be moving away from the platform.
The biggest benefit that Symbian has is that users are familiar with it. Despite developers thinking of moving away from this OS, there are many who will continue to add apps to its already rich applications portfolio.
Nokia has E series on Symbian platform, which is targeted at enterprise users, and is quite popular as well. So if you are looking for a push mail service, this is your option aside from BlackBerry. Even Android offers push mail service but it has not been accepted by enterprises in a big way.
It is one of the most successful smartphones in the enterprise space as it offers highly secure push mail and messenger services, which even governments are unable to intercept.
Apart from the BlackBerry messenger service (BBM), there is nothing much in this device that has attracted non-enterprise customers.
BBM allows you to back up your and others' BBM contacts, send longer personal messages, files, pictures and voice notes; sync avatars to address book entries and scan bar codes. Anyone with a BlackBerry can scan your phone's barcode to add you as their contact.
Recently BlackBerry PlayBook tablet was launched in some international markets, and it got rave reviews. So if you happen to buy this tablet, then a BlackBerry smartphone will make all the more sense, as the tablet works well when it is wirelessly connected to the phone.
Windows Phone 7
It is the latest entrant into the smartphone space. However, there were some earlier versions of Windows smartphone operating system, from before Android or iOS came into picture.
Windows Phone 7 is a completely new OS but is quite modern. Its unique rectangular ‘live tiles', which are not just links to applications, display information live on the start screen.
Windows Phone 7 also groups various features of the OS into hubs - a cross between folders and screens. Each hub (Marketplace, Office, People, Pictures, Xbox Live, and Zune) is tightly integrated with both native and third-party apps. For example, in the People Hub, you can see your contacts' Facebook status updates; and you can like or comment on them.
However, there are many issues with the OS. Like you have to press and hold certain items to display additional options, and you need to unlock the screen before you can receive a call.
Some quirks have been addressed with latest updates. For instance, the copy paste function and some multitasking has been added, and more features are likely to come. Another problem that has been rectified is access to Zune Market, WP7's application market, in India, which was not available till recently.
What hasn't been rectified and probably won't be is the fact that the OS is heavy and puts a lot of load on the processor, thereby requiring 1GHz or more processing power to unlock its full potential. This problem means that devices using this OS will be high on specs and price.
What works in favour of Windows Phone 7 is the fact that Nokia is backing it, apart from that it is also supported by other handset makers just like Android.
Should you buy it? There is no harm per se, but we believe Android is currently a better bet.
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