Smart phones have become overwhelmingly ubiquitous, but consumers haven’t arrived at a consensus on which make is best: Android, Apple, or Windows? While the iPhone is still the most popular smart phone among users, Android and Windows phones are becoming more popular as alternatives for those who don’t favor the Apple OS. Which of the three operating systems is right for you?
The Apple iPhone
The iPhone has been the gold standard among smart phones since Steve Jobs proclaimed that Apple was going to reinvent the phone at a press conference on January 9, 2007. Prior to the iPhone, smart phones had clunky keyboards and limited displays, but Apple introduced a touch screen smart device capable of being used to playback music or to connect to the internet. Since that introduction the iPhone has continued strong on the basis of its two major strengths: an easy and intuitive user interface and the support of the Apple store.
The iPhone introduced the concept of the touch screen interface on a smart phone and pioneering features such as Siri and FaceTime have made it a consistent choice among casual smart phone users but the ease of use in regards to apps has always been its trademark. Apple is much more prescriptive in how users are able to interact with their phone than the Android or Windows systems. Although you are able to install and remove apps, as with any other smart phone, the iPhone OS locks certain apps to the device. Most of these locked apps, like the camera or photos app, a user wouldn’t want to remove, but some people might prefer to remove the Calculator or Stocks app to remove clutter from their screen. The phone’s display has less customization than Android, which allows for resizable widgets to perform certain tasks or the Windows OS, which uses resizable live tiles to display information without opening an app.
The major driving factor among the iPhone’s popularity is the excellent Apple ecosystem, which began with iTunes and the iPod. Although Android users can purchase and play music and movies through the Google store, iTunes is still the most popular and user-friendly option for media consumption. Apple users also typically get apps first- Instagram was available to Apple users 18 months before it appeared on Android- and the stringent standards applied by Apple ensures that virtually any app purchased through their store will work correctly. iPhone users get to enjoy most of the apps made by competitors, such as an Amazon Kindle app, Google maps app, or Microsoft Bing, while the Apple apps are restricted to iOS devices.
The major challenger to the iPhone is the Android phone. 79 percent of all smart phones sold between April and June of 2013 were running the Android OS, and 44 percent of downloaded apps come from the Android store, while only 31 percent of apps were downloaded from Apple. Why has Android become so popular as an alternative to the Apple OS? In a word: flexibility, iPhones have been a single standard size and run a standardized operating system since the device’s advent. Android users, however, have a much wider selection in phone style and operation. Android phones can come in pocket sized models with 3.5″ screens that compare to the iPhone or have a massive 6″+ screen that is closer to a tablet than the diminutive iPhone. Besides this larger variety in hardware, the Android OS offers a much more flexible interface as well. Virtually the entire complexion of the Android phone is customizable with the host of third-party “skins” available. A skin is basically a third-party user interface that can completely change the appearance and usage of a phone while still running the Android OS. Rather than jealously guarding a stock Android interface, Google encourages third-party customization, which allows manufacturers like Samsung and HTC to create a custom interface for their phones; users have even created skins that mimic the appearance and functionality of an iPhone or Windows phone.
Android apps are all purchased or downloaded from Google Play (formerly the Android Market). Users enjoy a selection that rivals the size of the Apple ecosystem without the same restrictions. Just like the interface is left open, Google allows virtually any app to be offered on the Play store. This allows developers to get an app approved much more quickly and easily than on the Apple App Store. Getting approved by the App Store often requires a developer to compromise their vision for their app to meet Apple’s requirements, while Google lets developers create the app they see fit. The major drawback to the un-policed Google Play Store is that there are more low-quality apps that do not perform as they should, and some may contain viruses.
Windows phones are the newcomer to the smart phone party. You probably already know by now the relative scarcity of apps on the Windows store, but the unique Windows interface makes the apps that are available more powerful than their counterparts in both the iOS and the Android systems.
Windows phones share the same functionality as the infamous Windows 8 operating system, but on a phone the much maligned OS truly shines. To begin with, the scrolling on a Windows phone is much more seamless than on any other smartphone. A Windows phone features continues scrolling through one long screen, rather than paging between multiple screens such as on an iPhone or an Android phone. The apps on a Windows phone are also unique in the smart phone world. Both Apple and Android phones use a plain grid of apps which offer little information about themselves. On Android you can install “widgets” that display information such as the weather or time more visibly, but the ability to resize any app on a Windows phone lets you prioritize your most used apps more prominently. The Live Tiles used by Windows also let you view Facebook status updates, recent emails and other information without the app being open.
Windows phones, like Android phones, do come in a variety of sizes ranging from the compact to the near-tablet size, giving you the option of more screen space than is available with an iPhone. That screen space comes in handy when using the camera on a Windows phone, which is perhaps the single greatest advantage it has over any other smart phone. The Nokia Lumia 1020, for instance, boasts a 41-megapixel camera, and gives users the ability to set ISO, focus, and shutter speed.
You won’t find nearly the number of applications and games on a Windows phone as you would on the Android or Apple eco systems and some apps, such as Instagram or Wunderlist, you won’t find at all. For those who want something a bit simpler though, the intuitive Windows phone might just hit the spot.