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When you decide to buy a smartphone, you would want to invest in a device that will last for at least a year. This article takes you through one of the most important factors that determine the usefulness of a smartphone — its operating system (OS). The OS running on all the hardware packed into a smart looking device determines how “smart” your smartphone really is.

1) Apple’s iOS 6

apple-ios-6

Apple created quite a storm with its first iOS, launched on the first iPhone device in 2007, and has built on the platform ever since. iOS 6.0 promises more than 200 new features. Apple claims its mobile OS is the “World’s most easy-to-use operating system”. iOS is available only for Apple devices; the iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad; and gives Apple the unique advantage of being designed for specific hardware (or the hardware being designed for the software, however you look at it). According to a Gartner report, iOS currently has an 18.8 per cent market share worldwide (2nd Quarter of 2012).

User experience and interface: iOS features a simple, elegant and outright beautiful user interface — Apple’s hallmark with all its products — and features one home-screen. It still does not support widgets or multiple screens. In simplicity and ease of use, Apple’s iOS wins fair and square.

Applications: It’s important for a smartphone to offer you the flexibility to do more than what the manufacturer offers in the boxed device. Applications have become a major factor in smartphone buying decisions and there is no doubt that the Apple App Store leads the race with over 695,000 mobile apps available for download at the time of writing this piece (including both free and paid). These include apps for increasing productivity, business- related utilities, religion, and entertainment, etc.

Language: iOS can be used in 30 languages, Urdu not being among them though, and has more than 50 different keyboard layouts.

Business use: Can you use it at work? Yes. iOS works with MS Exchange server and other similar solutions to deliver push e-mail services to keep you in touch with work, even when you’re not in the office. iOS also offers secure access to private corporate networks via VPN (Virtual Private Network).

Document editing and viewing apps is also available on the App Store in both free and paid versions. There is also a productivity suite called “iWork” available.

Multitasking: When first launched, iOS had a major gap — multitasking — you could do only one thing at a time. Subsequent versions introduced some level of multitasking. Even the latest version is not one hundred per cent a ‘multi-tasker’, but an everyday user will not even feel the difference.

Technicalities: iOS is based on the ‘OS X’ kernel and supports pseudo multitasking. It has built-in security features against viruses and malware and does not require any separate apps for this purpose.

iOS comes packed with ‘Mobile Safari’ as the default browser for the iPhone and the iPad, but Apple does not support Adobe Flash functionality which has been a major concern. It also doesn’t offer expandable storage and widgets, nor multiple home-screens, but it does support multi-core processors.

The latest versions come bundled with Sin i — I’m sure you must have heard of the voice assistant — which is miles ahead of any other voice assistant available on any other mobile OS.

2) Google’s Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)

Nexus-4

The Android mobile OS was developed by a small startup company which was acquired by Google in 2005. It was first introduced in November 2007. One of the key differentiating factors for Android is that it is an open platform; independent of hardware manufacturers, and is offered by a number of device manufacturers such as HTC, Samsung, Motorola, LG, and even OMobile.

Given that it is a manufacturer independent OS, it comes as no surprise that Android is also According to a Gartner report published in August 2012, Android currently enjoys a worldwide market share of 64.1 per cent, unassailable in the near future given that iOS ranks number two with 18.8 per cent.

User experience and interface: The Android applications menu, let’s admit it, is not very different from the i0S. However, Android offers far more flexibility and convenience with multiple screens and app widgets to place on its home-screens for quick access.

Applications: Android features “Google Play”, previously known as the Android Marketplace, which carries more than 600,000 apps for you to choose from.

A reality, one that Apple may not like, is that most iOS apps now have an equally good Android version available on

Google Play. Again, these include apps for enhancing productivity, business use, religion and entertainment.

Language: Given its open platform, developers can add various languages on their own. Android today supports over 57 languages (including different dialects of some languages).

Business use: Android is tightly coupled with all Google Apps, including Google Docs, which is a great office productivity tool. In addition, a number of other apps are available for viewing and creating PDF files, presentations, scheduling, managing meetings, keeping track of expenses and other things.

Multitasking: Multitasking is one of the key advantages Android has over i0S, which allows you to jump between tasks and programs seamlessly and get back to what you were doing later on.

Technicalities: Android is an open-platform Linux-based mobile OS and offers true multi­tasking capabilities, coupled with Google services and web apps such as Google Search, Gmail, Picasa, Plus, Play and many more. The OS is vulnerable to malware and viruses, so you need to have some app/suite installed to protect your device from behaving weird. It comes bundled with one of Google’s best services, Google Maps, and also has a pretty decent voice assistant feature, allowing not only reading but also accepting text input via voice commands. Advanced voice features were not available until the latest version, Jelly Bean, was rolled out.

Android exists in variations based on customizations made by device manufacturers to optimize the OS for use on a particular brand/make. The standard version is generally loaded on Google “Nexus” devices that Google launches and promotes on its own. The last two Nexus devices have been manufactured by Samsung.

3) Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8

Nokia-Lumia-820-windows-8

Let’s be honest, Microsoft has been trying very hard to make itself relevant in the mobile phone industry for a very long time. The previous version, Windows Phone 7, was decent but lacked maturity when compared to iOS or Android. Nokia, struggling to keep up with the latest developments in the smartphone market, made a strategic alliance with Microsoft and decided to roll out future smartphones based on this OS, helping further the cause of Windows Phone. Nokia’s Lumia series of smartphone is a result of this strategic alliance formed between Microsoft and Nokia.

Today, Windows Phone 8 shows what a long way Microsoft has travelled and indeed it is a decent mobile OS. Decent enough that people are discussing it alongside iOS and Android, although it still has a very small 2.7 per cent global market share, far behind even the BlackBerry mobile OS which holds more than five per cent.

Windows Phone 8 brings a unique user experience, the interface is beautifully designed featuring a “start screen”, very different from the usual IDS/Android interfaces, and also supports widgets for convenience. It does take users some time to adjust to this entirely new interface.

Applications: The Windows Phone Store features more than 100,000 apps — far behind iOS and Android — but this number is increasing at a rapid pace. If you’re an iOS or Android user switching to Windows Phone 8, you will find many of your favorite apps either unavailable or available at a price tag.

Windows Phone 8 features mobile versions of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) and offers greater control over document creation, editing and viewing in a mobile environment. It also incorporates the new Microsoft Outlook e-mail experience.

It also comes bundled with Microsoft’s very own Internet Explorer as the default browser.

Windows Phone 8 features true multi-tasking and it is relatively easy to jump between multiple tasks and applications.

Technicalities: Windows Phone 8 is based on the powerful Windows NT kernel, the same kernel as Windows 8 for PCs is based on, and boasts built-in security features — largely eliminating the need for any security software.

The verdict

If I was to conclude which mobile OS leads the way and has better growth prospects, I would definitely consider the stability and supremacy of Apple’s iOS as a stable, robust, beautiful and simple-to-use mobile OS. I would also consider the 695,000+ apps available on the App Store.

I would also keep Windows Phone 8 in the race as it is growing rapidly without a doubt and offers the stability and power of Windows NT. It is hardware-manufacturer neutral and available on a number of brands. The number of applications available is still a concern that limits productivity and the potential to which a phone powered by Windows Phone 8 can be used.

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Posted by Sohail Qaisar

Sohail Qaisar mostly writes on technology review, he is also contributing useful material on different software training, send him email on [email protected]

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