Monday, November 12, 2012

What's the best mobile OS?

Haha now that's a loaded question if there ever was one isn't it? That's also a question whose answer will be extremely subjective. In fact it's impossible to answer it in a purely objective fashion. Why? Because it's primarily a matter of opinion, what will be good for one person might not be good for another and vice versa. But in today's post I will attempt to answer it as objectively as possible. The way I plan on handling this is by trying to determine for which type of person the major mobile operating system's are best for.

Android logo
Now starting us off will be the Google made, world dominating Android OS. Android has over 60% of the global market share. That is a huge number. But just because something is popular, doesn't mean it's the best, or even good, right Justin Bieber?

Functionality: Now there is no denying that Android OS is functional. In fact it could be argued it is one of the most function and feature filled operating systems currently available for mobile. Because of Android's open nature almost anything can and has been done with it. The little green robot has been put in fridges, laptops, phones, tablets, cars, homes, and even glasses! Android is extremely versatile, functional, capable, and customizable. You can write an app to do practically anything as the Android SDK is one of the most open out there, and doesn't have the same restrictions as some of the other ones. Android is also usually one of the first to have new technologies adopted to it.

Customization: Again no denying that Android is the go to OS for those who are seeking to customize their phone and make it their own. Virtually every aspect of the operating system can be changed to suit your needs and wants. Don't like the pre-installed contacts, calendar, keyboard, dialer, camera, browser app? No problem there's an alternative in the Play store for each and every one of those. Don't like the home screen? There's even a replacement for that. Android is the only mobile OS that offers such extensive customizing, going far enough to allow for system and core apps to be replaced. If you're an advanced user then the options are virtually endless, but even for the average consumer a simple search in the Play store will lead you to all the alternatives.

Hardware: Now if you like choice in hardware and design Android once again has the upper hand here. It is available on every imaginable shape, size and form. It has had dual-screens as well as phablet devices (phones bordering on tablet size) and phones with different keyboard styles. They've done candy bar, slide, flip and more. If you want a phone a certain size you can find one running Android to meet your needs. They have devices ranging to fit any budget from the cheapest buggiest phones, to the top of the line high-end flagships that make your neighbors drool in envy. Because of its versatility Android has been adopted into endless forms and devices and don't expect to see that trend end any time soon.

Software: When it comes to software Android has been described in many ways, ranging from the most horribly, disastrous, buggy software you have ever used, to intuitive, sleek, fluid, and blazing fast. It has been skinned, and re-skinned, and then skinned again, as well as enjoyed in it's stock vanilla form. It has also undergone drastic changes to it's user interface throughout the years, from the somewhat ugly geeky feel in the early 1.0-.1.6 software versions to being described as beautiful, sophisticated, and enjoyable in recent times. More so with the introduction of 4.0+. Now because it's so open which can be good, it also can be bad, which is best seen here. Because there's so many different software versions and skin overlays circulating at any time, software updates are abysmal at best, with it often being a game of guessing. This has also led to fragmentation and phones releasing with year old software or worse and even high end devices never getting major updates less than a year after release. The one exception to this has always been the Nexus line of phones which are guaranteed support and updates straight from Google, and are called a pure Google experience. However this has been slowly improving especially once Google started cracking down on updates. Historically HTC has been one of the best phone manufacturer's to keep up with major software updates as well as supporting older devices. Samsung used to be one of the worst at this however, they have certainly improved drastically in recent times.

Apps: Applications are the life blood of any mobile OS. They fail or succeed, rise or fall based primarily on this one important factor. Keeping that in mind, Android has certainly done quite well for itself. Almost catching up to Apple and their iOS app store despite their having a considerable time advantage over Android. They have hundreds of thousands of apps, a majority of which are free, more so than on iOS. However the quality is arguably not quite up to par with iOS apps. One are Android is definitely lacking, particularly in comparison to iOS is tablet optimized and tablet specific apps. While most apps will run on tablets there aren't nearly as many apps optimized to take advantage of the extra screen real estate as on the iPad, or even to take full advantage of all the features. Many of them simply feel like scaled up versions as the ones you use on your phone already. It's somewhat disappointing to say the least.

Ecosystem: Android started off quite poor in this respect, but Google quickly realized the importance of a
good healthy ecosystem to the mobile industry. Since then, boy have they grown with it. The Android Market has undergone a number of revisions throughout the years, both visually as well as the kind of content they contain. And most recently re-branding to the Play Store. The Play store is now a one stop show that offers apps, movies, books, magazines, and TV shows. And they offer a lot of them. Thousands upon thousands. They've also done a phenomenal job of integrating all their services together. If you use many Google services and want the best mobile experience on them, Android is the obvious choice hands down. Gmail, Calendar, YouTube, Books, Music, Maps, even Chrome! They all integrate seamlessly into your Android device.

What does this all mean? It means Android has come a long way since its inception. It is now a matured dominating competitor to Apple's iOS. It has taken the market by storm completely dominating it, and now offers an enjoyable experience on par or better than it's competitor's. Google has listened to the complaints and outcries of it's loyal consumers and has drastically improved it in a relatively short time. Android can now offer an amazing truly premium experience on any of its flagship devices and now even many of it's mid-range devices.

Who is it good for? Anybody who already heavily uses Google services will feel right at home with Android, and love all the seamless integration. Those who love to customize to their hearts content and make their devices truly theirs. And those who want the greatest and latest technology mobile has to offer. Those looking for a powerful robust mobile operating solution, will enjoy what Android has to offer, and those who like free apps.

Next up is the second most popular mobile operating system in the world, holding over 20% of the market share; the device/os that revolutionized what a smartphone was, and what they could do and how they worked comes iOS on iPhone and iPad. Now comparing iOS to other operating systems has always been a bit tricky because it only comes on two devices, the iPhone and the iPad. Both of which are made by Apple and both of which usually only see one new updated model annually along with the new version of iOS. I will attempt to discuss primarily the software but will need to cover the hardware at times, when I do I will refer to the iPhone 5 unless otherwise noted.

Functionality: iOS re-imagined what a smartphone was, what it could do, what it should do, and how it did it. It did this through the use of apps. When the iPhone launched in 2007 it featured the first truly touch friendly operating system ever seen on a mobile device. It was wonderful, gone were the days of needing to use a stylus to use an operating system that was never optimized for touch in the first place. They introduced the use of Apps and the rest is history.However when compared to Android the iOS SDK is more limited. iOS in itself is closed off and very protective. Only the apps Apple expressly allows ever make it to the user. And apps don't integrate themselves very well with the rest of the phone or other apps, with the exception of system apps and a handful of others. Overall this makes iOS less adaptable and probably the reason we've yet to see it in anything other than iPhone or iPad.

Customization: Apple has improved this aspect over the years allowing you to use a picture as your wallpaper on your home screen, as well as the lock screen. However that's still about the extent of the customizing you're allowed. You can move your app icons around and make folders but that's it. No system app can be replaced as Apple doesn't like duplicating functionality. So if you don't like the keyboard, or dialer, contacts or other system app, tough luck you're stuck with it.

Hardware: iOS only comes available on iPhone or iPad. Apple releases one new iPhone and iPad per year, with the exception of this year where they launched 3 iPads. They usually come in various different memory sizes, which are non expandable, and the newest version of iOS tends to launch with the newest iPhone. We are currently on iPhone 5 which in actuality is the 6th generation, as indicated by iOS 6. The iPhone features beautiful and world-class design. With everything about it saying premium. It features LTE and a larger 4" retina display for the first time. They gave a new lightning connector, an improved 8MP camera, a faster dual-core processor and the back is now carved out of aluminum. Overall it is an extremely nice premium looking and feeling device. The new iPad features a same design as previous models, adding a faster dual-core processor, retina display and LTE. The retina display is only found on the full sized model the iPad mini having a much lower resolution. The advantage to this is, you know your hardware will be supported for a couple of years at least seeing as how even the iPhone 3GS got iOS 6, albeit a stripped down version but that's more than can be said for many an Android handset. You also know when you buy an iPhone or iPad that it will be the newest model for the next year, with the exception of this year where they launched a newer 4th gen iPad 6 months after launching the new iPad. However it is, the only device that will come out for that year. This means you have no real choice in hardware for iOS. If you want the newest and greatest hardware and software you need the iPhone or iPad that year. It doesn't matter if you wanted a bigger screen or different design. That's the iPhone you have to buy and use for the next year if you want the newest Apple has to offer. However this does mean Apple will likely never make its mobile users suffer from the woes of fragmentation.

Software: iOS has always been described as a fast, fluid, and beautiful operating system. "It just works." However it has also been repeatedly called boring, bland, old, uninspiring, and unoriginal. The reason being in the 6 operating system revisions there have been since it's release the UI has never once been changed. Sure it's been tweaked and improved, like adding folders, and the notification shade (which had been on Android since the beginning) but never anything major or even notable. In fact it was so bland that for the first couple of years you couldn't change the wallpaper behind your apps on the home screen, it was just a black space. However it does tend to work very well with few if any bugs. They added limited multi-tasking which functions more like task switching, however it helps control the impact on performance and battery life. One thing that this provides iOS, which Android is desperately lacking is a uniform and consistent experience. If you pick up an iOS device you know what you're getting, what you're signing up for, and what to expect for the next year or so. The same can't be said for Android where you never know what your experience will be like when picking up a new device.

Apps: iOS takes the lead here in both quantity, and quality. The appstore will likely reach a billion apps before the Play store does however, not by much. Where iOS does lead is in the quality of the apps particularly games. It's a reason mobile game developers tend to develop for iOS first and release there first. However, this also means there's more apps you have to buy on iOS than on Android. In fact the same game or app that's free on Android might be $.99 or more on iOS. While this is negligible for most it does add to the total cost of ownership for an iOS device. iOS is also destroying the competition when it comes to tablet specific and tablet optimized applications.

Ecosystem: Nobody understands ecosystem better than Apple. They have done a brilliant job incorporating iOS into their already existing ecosystem. If you own a majority of Apple products, then the iPhone is the device for you. iOS syncs through the iTunes store which is where all your songs, movies, books, apps, magazines, and TV shows go. You buy any of those on your iPhone or Mac, or PC and it can be synced across your account. Have an Apple tv? Brilliant you can easily stream your content from iPhone or iPad or Mac to your television. All your music and photos on iTunes? Great syncing them will be a breeze. Apple knew how to build an ecosystem, and better yet they knew how to integrate iOS seamlessly into it. Nobody has Apple beat in terms of ecosystem. Though they better keep an eye out as their competition is definitely not taking it lying down.

What does this all mean? It means buying a device running iOS is an investment. And a fairly safe one at that. You know your device will get major timely updates for the next 2 years minimum, and you know for the most part it will just work and how you need it to. You also know you're getting a consistent experience across all your iOS devices, even if that experience is a boring, simplistic seemingly outdated one. There's something to be said about consistency.

Who is it good for? Anybody who already owns Apple products or is invested in iTunes. iOS offers the best integration experience for syncing content between iTunes. Anybody who doesn't want to put time into figuring out their device, or really worrying about how to use it. People who care about security, Apple's strict app vetting process, and closed OS makes it much more secure than Android and it's open solutions. Older folks who have trouble learning how to use new technology. It doesn't require much to know how to press on the picture for what you need. Anyone looking for a consistent experience across their iOS devices even when they upgrade to a new one.

Thanks for reading, comment below to let me know what you thought, also stay tuned for a probable part two where I'll likely try to cover Windows Phone and Blackberry OS.

Also technorati verification code: 6GQCNQ4RARH8

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