So all of the new phone line announcements are in and the comparisons, snarking, and general smuggery are underway in earnest. Apple and Android fans are still Montagueing and and Capuleting each other, and Microsoft fans totally understand how Rodney Dangerfield felt. Since Apple and Nokia (aka Microsoft’s phone division) recently had major press events (I think Motorola, aka Google’s phone division, made an announcement right around the same time, but apparently that didn’t seem to be a big deal).
Before these “who’s cooler than who” posts get started, it’s probably fair for the author to point out what they use, and the stuff they’ve used in the past, just to see how much of what they say is from experience and how much they’re making up from hearsay and Google searches. I personally still use a feature phone and have never owned a smartphone (although I’ve bummed both iPhone 4’s and Droid Razr Maxx’s to check a few things online or send and email or 2). On the 1 hand, you can assume this makes me neutral since I don’t have a mobile OS that I’ve sworn my undying allegiance to, or on the other you can just assume I’m making everything up as I go, your choice.
Android – Release first iterate through later
Android phones have kept with Google’s web development philosophy – release early, release often, and iteratively refine what you’re doing. As a result, Android typically gets new software features and proof-of-concepts for new ideas of things you can do with mobile devices. They’re trying to make NFC into a thing, came up with the notification center, and had multitasking first. While Android’s short release cycle makes it hard for them to make major progress a wide variety of features, it’s seemed to have motivated them to put in a laser-like on a couple of things each release, and the results are starting to show. Ice Cream Sandwich brought a unified Android for tablets and phones, Jelly Bean gave Android a much smoother, better-performing experience.
I have no idea what the K-dessert will bring, but hopefully it’ll bring some efficiency to the phones. It’s not too uncommon to see posts from friends using Android talking about how much data they’ve used. I’ve seen up to 13GB in the first week of a billing cycle. My best guess is that the reason for this is related to Android’s true multitasking and auto-syncing, since apps in the background continue running at full tilt like they were open and actively being used. Really the root cause of this is Google’s philosophy of treating all access to the cloud like a computer hooked to the Internet, when the reality is that tiered pricing models for 3G/4G data isn’t conducive to that kind of mindset. Likewise, a push for efficiency could improve Android phones’ baterry life beyond just sticking a bigger batery in them.
iPhone – Fine tuning and precision
Just like Android has exhibited Google’s development philosophy, the iPhone has exhibited Apple’s philosophy of using total control of the hardware and the software to tweak and optimize everything about their devices. Apple typically isn’t the first to put in new hardware or software features, but you can rest assured that when it goes into the iPhone, it’s be finely tuned, thoroughly tested, and from start to finish it’s been done with how people use their phones in mind. Like or hate Apple for that culture of tight control of their stuff, you have ot admit that the stuff works. When you have something being made only by a dedicated team of hardware and software specialists, you have a lot of power to make everything perfect. As a result, performance is consistent, despite initial implementations of the same functionality having issues in other handsets.
Since the iPhone 5 just came out, it’s probably time to start up the rumor mill for the iPhone 6 next year. Typically a safe bet with iPhone is to assume Apple’s going to take stuff offered by other apps and start building it into iOS directly. My personal money is on mobile payments (either via a built-in app or partnership/buyout of Square more so than NFC), and a control center for all of your Apple devices (the iPhone is practically remote control-sized, why not make this app already?). Whatever Apple does in iPhone 6, odds are we’ll have seen a lot of it already in some form or another, but in iOS it will have be polished, tweaked, optimized, refined, and ready to show its full potential.
Windows Phone – Well that’s different
To be brutally honest, out of all the phone stuff that went on this fall, the Windows phone announcement was probably the most interesting. Actually, lately Windows Phone has been the most interesting mobile OS out there mainly because it’s so different from iOS and Android. Replacing icons with tiles that update with the most recent information is handy, especially if you live from your phone all day. When the phone was first announced, I believe there was also talk of grouping data from various accounts and applications in 1 tile for further convenience. If Microsoft capitalizes on that, it’s another big win for users over the basic launch app to see update model. The biggest/newest/coolest thing coming from the Windows Phone update is the new camera on their flagship handset, the Lumia 920. Not only is the new stabilization work they’ve done with the camera itself along with making it much better with low light situations, but the new Lens work they’ve done has a lot of exciting possibilities. The new Nokia phones could quite possibly be the phone people go with if they take a lot of pictures and want to drop the separate camera.
The biggest problem Microsoft has is that apparently years of making crappy phones after 2 other companies have upped the ante reduces the odds of people buying your stuff in the future. Partnering with a handset manufacturer that was the last to embrace a modern smartphone OS and has virtually vanished from the US isn’t helping domestic prospects for Microsoft either. Still, they signed on with Nokia while Nokia was still pretty well represented abroad, and Microsoft has a history of pouring money into rabbit holes until they turn profitable, so Windows phones aren’t going anywhere soon. More importantly, the Windows Phone team has been able to build something without Ballmer strangling it into crappiness before it got good, which is part of the reason why it’s so unique and different from everything else (well, that and contractual obligations to Apple to do so). Given time, and any major mis-steps from Google and/or Apple, Microsoft will end up being a peer in the mobile phone wars rather than that weird creepy guy in the corner who just hasn’t left the party yet.