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The OS War

It’s exciting that the operating system of a phone now determines people’s choices. I know I was supposed to write about my behind-the-scenes experience at KBC this week. Well, without elaborating...

brunch Updated: Dec 08, 2012 18:22 IST
Rajiv Makhni

I know I was supposed to write about my behind-the-scenes experience at KBC this week. Well, without elaborating too much on the reasons why, all I can say is that it’s been delayed to next week.

I’ve been asked many questions in my life, but some tend to get more attention and repeats than others. “Are you married?” is a perennial favourite (I used to take that to be complimentary, but of late I’ve understood it to be a query based on who would be silly enough to do so). “Are you stupid?” is another oft-repeated one (usually from Apple fans).

“Can you get me on to the KBC hot seat?” is high on the repeat list (for an answer to that, tune in next week). But the current favourite is “Which OS phone should I buy?” It’s a very surprising question as at one time it would be “Which brand of phone should I buy?” or “Should I buy this model phone over that one?”

At loggerheads: In the Android vs iOS vs Windows 8 rat race, it’s a close call. However, that’s pretty obvious, as each OS is now reaching a level where every negative is being turned into a positive

That the OS now determines the first choice – and then people are filtering down to which phone to buy – is a brand new and very exciting new development. It’s a clear sign that the mobile OS has reached a certain maturity and smoothness and can influence buying decisions purely on their own merit. This is how it always should have been. So, which OS leads the pack, what sets it apart and is there really a clear leader?

It’s currently a three-pack race. There are others like BlackBerry, but for it to come into this race, its OS10 has to hit the ground running next year (but it’s looking good). There is Bada, but Samsung really does need to work out whether it’s just an internal insurance against all other OSs or will they really throw down the gauntlet and get a move on, and there are some other fringe players. But essentially it’s Android v/s iOS v/s Windows 8 for the phone battle. To really get some sense out of this, I’m going to do a clean shootout of the stages of a smartphone.

When you buy (user interface and set-up): Windows 8 breaks from the norm of static icons that launch an app when jabbed with your finger. Live tiles are customisable and constantly update information, and are like a breath of fresh air with their design, looks and functionality. Set-up, customisation and menu systems are simple, but some stuff is buried a bit deep.

Android at one time was klunky, blocky and ugly, but in the last few versions has truly moved to a thing of beauty. It’s still all about static icons, but the big deal and saving grace are its widgets. Its current version has gone a long way with the look and feel of the home screens, live backgrounds and intuitive feel. Widgets rescale very well to the screen space. Set-up and menus have improved, but continue to be a little complex for the first-time user.

The company that made an icon become iconic continues to keep it simple. Other than minor changes on the front and major changes in the back, the interface is largely unchanged from the first iPhone. It’s still a grid of icons and pages that you scroll sideways to access, but within this simplicity lies the power of familiarity and the fact that anyone can get started and learn in seconds. Menus and set-up are child’s play, but the number of items you can tweak is huge.

Winner: Windows 8; you’ve got to give them brownie points for the fresh approach and design

After you’ve bought (day-to-day use): Windows 8 does most things well. The maps are from Nokia with 3D street navigation. Native camera features are great, and if you’ve bought a Nokia phone then you also get PureView Optics. The built-in new Microsoft Wallet feature is brilliant as each handset has NFC and new tie-ups are in place to use your phone to make payments. Skype is the world standard and is very well integrated, as is Facebook and Twitter. The browser is brimming with all kinds of new features like Internet Explorer 10. Media support is much better as Win 8 now supports external storage for movies and games. Voice commands work okay – nothing great – and the instant messaging is restrictive right now. It’s in the app area that it takes a slight hit as you may still not find all your favourite apps and that sometimes hurts bad. Still, it’s getting better every day.

Android with 4.2 has made using your phone daily a true pleasure. Google Maps is the gold standard of maps, with 3D-plus Street Views, the native camera features are outstanding with zero shutter lag and the all-new panoramic shoot mode and in-camera editing. NFC gets a good workout with Google Wallet. Android Beam is now truly useable as it transfers photos and videos with no hassle. Google Chrome may well be the best browser on any mobile phone as even iOS users use that on their devices. Multimedia and movies are easy with add-on external storage as well as some good stuff on Google Play.

Gchat and Google Voice are good for instant messaging, while you are spoilt for choice with video calls. The app section is truly

shining as about 6,25,000 exist, but the quality is sometimes appalling.

Apple with iOS6 is the gold standard right now. Unfortunately some things didn’t go well. For starters, Apple themselves recommend that you do not use their Maps. But after that things improve. The camera still reels off some of the best low-light shots. While Passbook works very well in integrating all your info into one area – it all gets defeated with no NFC. The internet browser is excellent and its integration with iCloud makes sure that all your passwords and bookmarks are always in sync. Multimedia playback is top of the line, but you still have to live with its very restrictive formats as well as the constant need to go back to iTunes for all things.

And there is still no way for you to get any external storage onto your iOS device. FaceTime is now a mature product for video calls and hopefully iMessaging will also become the same for Instant Messaging soon, as it still feels a bit beta right now. It’s the apps section that makes everybody else look silly. About 67,50,000 apps and counting and almost each of them is a quality product.

Winner: Apple iOS for now; as this is still solid, stable, simple and eventually the quality of the apps play a huge role.

After a while: Once you’ve had your phone for a while, all that matters is the upgrades that make your old phone suddenly become brand new. Windows Phone still has to prove its legacy here as it hasn’t done much for Windows 7 phone owners yet. Android has the best upgrades and improves its feature set hugely, but is also the most frustrating as an upgrade doesn’t mean your brand of phone will get it immediately or at all. Apple does this best and even three- to four-generation-old devices still get the same upgrades.

Winner: Apple; and I don’t have to explain this one.

There you have it. It’s a close call, but that’s obvious as each OS is now reaching a level where every negative is being turned into a positive. But just to make this more interesting, let me throw a prediction. This quarter the market share for the three was – Android 75%, iOS 14% and Windows Mobile 2%. By the same time next year this will change to Android 60%, iOS 25% and Windows Mobile will have 10%. What OS will your next phone have? Send me your choice and your OS share predictions on Twitter. See you there.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at

From HT Brunch, December 9

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