The battle of the mobile operating systems has been brought up to speed in 2012, first with iOS 6, then with Windows Phone 8 and now, after Google I/O 2012, with Jelly Bean or Android 4.1. While the Jelly Bean refresh isn’t particularly cosmetic with everything looking very ICS, it has had a huge amount of tweakage under the hood. This includes voice recognition improvements to rival Siri as well as homescreen improvements to take on Window’s Phone 8’s revamped live tiles. So how do they all stack up?
Android 4.1 offers widgets galore as all the previous versions have, however in Jelly Bean they’re more intelligent, re-orienting to the amount of space remaining on the homescreen. This means if you’ve only got three tiles of space left, drop a large widget onto the homescreen and it will resize accordingly. Widgets are differentiated from shortcuts and Windows Live Tiles as they can be interactive, for example, offering control over music playback etc. Scrolling is also horizontal a la iOS 6 instead of Windows Phone 8’s vertically laid out tiles.
There are a total of 5 home screens all of which can be filled with shortcuts and the widgets we spoke about earlier. All your apps can be accessed through what’s called an apps drawer. This is simply a grid of applications which, as with the home screens can be navigated through by scrolling horizontally. What’s really great about the Jelly Bean update is that the pull down notification bar is richer. Notifications have become interactive, for example adding a call back shortcut to missed calls. Some notifications have also become expandable making for a bespoke amount of information expanded or minimised with a 2 finger swipe.
Windows Phone 8 is definitely a welcome refresh visually from its predecessor. Windows Phone 7.5 didn’t offer anything new so it was high time the UI became more innovative. The live tiles can now be resized beyond the standard single or double cell size as found in Mango (Windows Phone 7.5). Microsoft have also done away with the right hand hand arrow on the main screen denoting the list of applications a swipe will bring up, so the live tiles are now centred and look cleaner. A run through can be seen in the video below.
Finally, iOS 6 sits somewhere in between Windows Phone 8 and Android 4.1, Jelly Bean. While it’s more layered than Windows Phone with the inclusion of folders, it’s very simple when compared to Android with no live tiles or widgets. Arguably the easiest to use, iOS is the only operating system that comes with an exclusively premium price tag.
Android 4.1, Jelly Bean packs a whole host of screen resolutions, too many to mention. Most lower end handsets are HVGA, mid range handsets are around WVGA and higher end handsets such as the aforementioned Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X offer 720p displays. When it comes to tablets, Android 4.1 even goes so far as to offer support for full HD resolution as found on the Asus Transformer Pad TF-700. As with Windows Phone 8, support for removable storage and multi-core processors is present.
Windows Phone 8 has new improved support for higher screen resolutions in addition to the WVGA screens supported in past iterations. Now, both WXGA and 720p resolution is supported. This means we’ll see screen sizes of 4.7 – 4.8 inches looking like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and HTC One X as opposed to the less sharp HTC Titan. The upcoming Windows Phone 8 devices will also be able to handle multi-core chips and offer support for expandable storage.
Image source: gadgetronica
iOS currently offers two screen resolutions in its phone range and two in its tablet range. The original iPhone, the iPhone 3G and 3GS pack HVGA resolution while the iPhone 4 and 4S offers a resolution of 960×640 pixels. When it comes to the iOS tablets, the iPad 1 and 2 comes in at 1024×768 while the third iPad tops the tables with its retina display of 2048 x 1536. In terms of cores, currently the maximum number of cores on an iPhone is two, however speculation is that the iPhone 5 will be quad-core. When it comes to memory, iOS doesn’t support expandable storage, with iPhones coming in variants ranging from 8GB right through to 64GB.
Android 4.1, Jelly bean is the first version of Android that ships with Chrome as its default browser, at least on the Google Nexus 7 from Asus. This browser has received a huge amount of critical acclaim from users and developers alike. It offers the same experience as Chrome on a desktop, available on both PC and Mac. This syncs bookmarks and passwords as well as your search history making for the most seamless mobile web experience out there in relation to its desktop counterpart. All the connectivity options out there are supported by Android, with Google Wallet delivering the NFC utility for contactless payments.
The latest revelations from Microsoft’s mobile platform introduce NFC to the Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and 3G support already present. This enables Microsoft’s mobile wallet which was demonstrated with Chase Quickpay, an application for an American bank. When it comes to web browsing, Windows Phone 8 packs the same rendering engine as Internet Explorer 10. No flash support is present but with the movement towards HTML 5, this is becoming less relevant than it was a couple of years ago.
iOS 6, as with Windows Phone 8, uses the same web engine as its desktop counterpart, this time being Safari. Yet again lacking flash support, it still offers a guaranteed smooth experience 99% of the time. NFC however isn’t present on any of the existing iOS handsets and it seems unlikely that it will land in the iPhone 5 – though not impossible. Metal construction and NFC don’t play well together, however it can at a push be done, as seen on the Sony Xperia P. You don’t however need NFC for all mobile payments and in turn, Apple have created their Passbook in order to organise payment cards.
Google Maps offers the functionality most mobile users have come to know and love with cacheable map downloads in the labs. A major advantage of Google Maps is its integration with Google’s listings, making for quick access to venue ratings and Google’s search engine results. The navigation arguably offers a little less polish than that of Nokia or Apple, with no downloadable maps, however there is a vector based 3D view and multi-touch navigation on it is extremely intuitive. Google Maps is already in a strong position and with the advent of Jelly bean, no doubt Google will be constantly improving it and making it more competitive.
Windows Phone was always struggling when it came to mapping thanks to a distinct lack of Google maps and a surplus of Bing. It was lacking, until that is, the Nokia Lumias came along with their cacheable maps. What the Lumias also offered to supplement mere mapping was downloadable international maps for the turn by turn navigation.Turning Nokia phones into the the most competent mobile navigation devices out there out of the box, now Nokia Maps is making its way onto all Windows Phone 8 devices, evening the playing field significantly.
Apple in contrast to the other two map makers have built an entirely new mapping experience from the ground up in iOS 6. They’ve “ingested over 100 million listings around the world” and integrated Yelp! and traffic services. Traffic view shows jams and incidents using real-time crowd sourced data as well as offering turn-by turn navigation. So intelligent is Apple’s navigation that it will re-route mid-drive if any incidences have been picked up that will prolong your ETA. In addition, Flyover is Apple’s answer to Google Earth, offering a 3D photographic view of cities across the world.
Everything and nothing has changed once again. At the core, all three operating system experiences offer the same strengths they did before, only now they’re all more complete, more refined, more threatening to the others. We haven’t covered apps or voice assistance, however Android Jelly Bean and iOS 6 are still the winners on both these accounts.
Android is still the customisable king, ranging from affordable right through to premium. There’s plenty to love with lots of apps and widgets in abundance. It’s also the most diluted OS thanks different skins on key Android handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X. In addition, while we’re blown over by all the additions to Jelly Bean, we have no idea when or if it will make it to our Android handsets, unless we’re using a Nexus device that is. So on one hand, Jelly Bean has fast become our favourite OS out there, but it will also be the most frustrating for most Android users.
Windows Phone 8 is still the affordable, clean, usable UI Windows Phone always was. It’s been revamped and brought up to speed with support for NFC and expandable memory. Visually, it’s moving away from Windows Phone and towards Windows 8 with less lists and more tiles. Much needed however after the Jelly Bean’s reveal, it’s got its work cut out to stay competitive.
Finally, the most expensive OS is iOS 6. Its design hasn’t changed since its conception save for a pull down notification bar and multi-tasking window and while it may look tired, the user experience has retained its integrity. The app selection and polish is what really makes iOS stand out, making it the obvious choice for the time-poor and well to-do.