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Smartphone OS War! BlackBerry OS, iOS & Android Compared
If you were asked what the most important smartphone platforms of today are what would your answer be? To me, it's quite clear. Over the past few years Apple's iOS, RIM's BlackBerry and Google's Android have been continuously in the limelight (mostly for good reasons!) and are undoubtedly the most talked about platforms. By now, you might have already guessed what my answer to that question would have been. While Symbian still sells more phones than all these three platforms, it seems to have lost its old sheen. Unless Nokia does something drastic, it will meet the same fate as Windows Mobile did. Anyway, that is not our bone of contention here today. Today we will be looking at how these three smartphone operating systems fare against each other and why I think Android has the best of either of them and could turn out to be the eventual “winner”.
Let's do a brief objective comparison of these three mobile operating systems to see how they stack up. We will compare each of the OS'es with regards to certain points and evaluate them on each of these parameters.
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The Look - User Interface
We start with perhaps the most important aspect of an OS. The User Interface. Until 2007, it would not be an understatement if I said that the UI was one of the most overlooked parts of a mobile phone OS. Most smartphone OS's were either scaled down versions of PC operating systems or were so unintuitive they still haunt me today. In 2007, however, there came a product that was to change the way people look at phones. No matter how much of an anti-Apple crusader you are, you will have to concede that Apple did pave the way for having the smartphone OS scenario that we see today. Simply put, had it not been for the iPhone, we'd still be using miniaturised PC's and touchscreen devices with clumsy styluses. While the iPhone was outright revolutionary in 2007 when it came to the user interface, it has remained more or less unchanged over the past few years. On the flip side, most others have still some way to go to reach the sophistication of iOS - except for Android and Palm's WebOS. I also think Android has reached a stage where it can comfortably compete with iOS on the UI front and still stand tall. The laggard in this case is obviously RIM which as I type this is just about to release its latest version of the BlackBerry OS - version 6. From what I have seen, OS 6 has seen a lot of improvements over OS 5. However, whether those improvements can be considered a giant leap over previous versions of the OS is something that is yet to be seen.
Winner: iPhone (iOS)
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Choice - Hardware
This might not a be a crucial point for some but to me, it matters a lot. People love having choices. It's a natural human tendency – and when you come to the iPhone you have virtually no choice. Well, you can choose what version of the phone you wish to own – but that’s just about it. To experience iOS, you are forced to put up with one device with similar feature sets. BlackBerry is far more versatile when it comes to this – but is still limited to a certain number of phones from a single manufacturer. Android on the other hand can be used by any manufacturer who is part of the open handset alliance and wants to customise it to run on their devices. This eventually ends up with the consumer having a horde of options. Your Android phone is what you like – not what the manufacturer imposes on you. From entry level Android devices (which are a rage in India) to top of the line devices that offer you the best experience, processing power and hardware – Android has it all.
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If you're wondering how availability could be an issue, let me inform you that in India, the iPhone 3GS was officially launched a few months before the iPhone 4 went on sale in the US! Apple has been horrendously slow to introduce their products in markets other than what they consider their primary bases. Now, if you think countries like India have been ignored because people there cannot afford “high end” handsets like these, let me reiterate that given the size of India's market, even a small percentage of users who can afford these phones adds up to a significant number of sales. The iPhone 4 is about to be launched in China as I file this and there is no sign of Apple releasing it in India any time soon. BlackBerry is not much different from Apple when it comes to this – but then BlackBerry doesn't usually delay the launch of its products as much as Apple does. While Google doesn't make the hardware, most Android devices also get delayed – but again, the “desperation” for a new phone is not to the same extent as with the other two because there are more choices running Android than the other two platforms.
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This is a much debated topic and has been done to death many times previously by many others but, in this context, I have no choice but to reiterate the same argument. I can live with a crappy OS - but not a platform that just doesn't seem open enough. When Apple first introduced the iPhone, most people were so enamored by the UI that they forgot about its shortcomings. It couldn't multi task, could not send or receive files via Bluetooth, no copy paste. While most of these glitches have been fixed, Apple continues to treat its iPhone platform as a walled garden and "forces" its will on consumers - albeit in a silent manner. Apple might argue that the lack of openness has actually contributed to making the iOS the most slick smartphone platform ever - but then, for those on the lookout for openness, iOS is a strict no no. BlackBerry too doesn't fare any better when it comes to the openness front - but in a slightly different manner. The most contentious issue I have faced with BlackBerry is the exorbitant data charges needed to access the most basic of services. True, RIM offers enhanced security when accessing official e-mails and data - but the extra cost for simply browsing the web is simply uncalled for. Android fares much better when it comes to the open-ness bit. To start with, the OS itself is open source. While there were some issues like lack of Bluetooth OBEX support in the earlier versions of the OS, most of those issues have been fixed. In all, when it comes to openness, there is just one clear winner.
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There are a lot of other parameters too where we can compare these three operating systems. That, however, can be done in a subsequent part of this series. That said, it's pretty clear - looking at the current trends that Android is growing - and growing pretty fast. In just two years since it was first introduced, it has already overtaken RIM's BlackBerry and Apple's iOS in the US and has its eyes set on Symbian which continues to be the most used smartphone platform with over 40% of the market share. However, unlike Android which has been gaining market share at alarming rates, the share of Symbian is more or less standing still - and has even dropped significantly in the past few years. Let's see if Android does manage to take on Symbian and in the next few years take over the crown of being the most used smartphone platform on the planet. Interesting times ahead!