Smartphone face-off: iOS 5 vs. Android 4 vs. Windows Phone 7.5 vs. BlackBerry OS 7
Now that every major mobile platform has gained a substantial update, which smartphone is the best for business?Follow @MobileGalen
Apple has consistently made its OS upgrades work with devices produced in the previous two years, ensuring both a more coherent ecosystem and rewarding customers' investments in its platform. By contrast, Android devices are rarely upgraded to a new OS, even those that come out mere months before an OS upgrade, as has become painfully clear in Android 4's recent release. Likewise, RIM orphaned existing BlackBerry users when its new models came out last summer, and the company says these new models won't run the BlackBerry 10 OS expected late this year. Would-be Android and BlackBerry buyers thus should think twice.
The other lowlights for application support are the BlackBerry's poor app catalog and generally clunky core apps, Windows Phone's primitive (and embarrassing) Office apps, Windows Phone's very poor voice recognition in its voice-command interface, and Google's malware-laden Android Market. And darts to Apple and RIM for promoting messaging and, in the case of iOS, videoconferencing apps that work within only their own platforms.
Deathmatch: Web and Internet
If HTML5 support matters in the websites you access, no mobile browser works with as many aspects of the still-evolving standard as Apple's Safari. In second place is, surprisingly, BlackBerry OS. Android 4 is in third place, and Windows Phone is far behind. Safari also does better than the other browsers when accessing AJAX-oriented websites, though it's not as yet up to the level of desktop browsers.
Safari also has two very handy browser capabilities that keep it ahead of the pack: the Reading List feature for temporary bookmarks and the Reader feature for simplified Web page display. But Safari isn't always the best mobile browser; Android 4's Chrome browser and Windows Phone's Internet Explorer provide a handy option to request a desktop page rather than the not-always-optimal "mobile optimized" page many sites serve up to smartphones.
There are just a few lowlights on this category. One is Android 4's inability to properly render some Web pages or to identify itself as either a smartphone or tablet to many websites. Another is iOS's poor support for social network sharing of Web pages. Finally, there's Windows Phone's embarrassingly poor HTML5 compatibility.
The iPhone's iOS has the most consistent and intuitive user interface of the bunch, augmented by the richest set of gestures and accessibility controls. As an example of that user-friendly approach, when you select text in iOS, the area you are tapping and holding is magnified, so you can more easily see where you are putting your text cursor. And there are often quick-access shortcuts for frequent actions, such as the quick flick to reveal the Delete button on emails in the message list. The ability to set custom vibrations, not just ringtones, is another example of thinking about the user in multiple contexts. Then there's the ability to create your own text shortcuts that work everywhere.
Siri offers iPhone 4S users a whole new dimension of usability beyond what iOS 5 offers all other iPhone and iPad users.
Still, Windows Phone's slick UI is intuitive, though its scrolling approach does get tedious once you have more than a few of whatever -- apps, contacts, messages -- to navigate. Android 4's resizable widgets are very handy for getting quick but useful detail on your social networking feeds, email, and other such frequently updated information. iOS's notification facility only partially satisfies that need.