Perhaps the single most influential factor that most customers will account for when deciding on a new handset is what operating system (OS) it's running. This is so much more than just looks and desktop functionality — it's about the app market, hardware and security as well. The first question pretty much anyone will ask is, "Android, Apple or Windows?" Fortunately, there's a helpful article or six that can draw the lines between all three and make the choice clearer.
There are several key differences to account for, all of which will be reviewed here in depth. Basically, this is the difference an OS can make:
General operating security and proneness to malware
Stability and fluidity in general functionality and under stress
Desktop or home screen access functionality
Application market (probably the most defining trait of an OS)
Ease of use, intuitiveness and user accessibility
Modular range of motion and general customization, including swappable batteries and microSD support
Types of hardware combinations available, including CPU and RAM architecture and quality
Intended usage, including optimal usage scenarios
Cross-device integration services
Apple, Windows, Android: The Big Differences
Android is currently the most popular mobile platform in the world. It extends across the largest variety of handsets, ranging from basic $50 feature phone designs all the way up to $1,000 feature-packed "superphones" with cutting-edge mobile technology under the hood. Androids are known for their multitasking capabilities and customization, allowing users to share the screen real estate between two compatible apps or use the Recent Apps function to hot-swap between the most recent ones that were used.
While Android's app market is comparable to Apple's, it's not quite as expansive; this is due to Android's fragmentation making app development more difficult. However, security is on par with or statistically better than Apple smartphones in some cases, and the most recent iterations of Google's OS have marginally exceeded iOS in terms of stability. In addition, many Androids offer switchable batteries and microSD support. Home screen widgets have been a defining feature since the first version was released.
The most powerful company in the world, Apple caters to a niche market, albeit an expensive one. iPhones are known for their uniformity and simplicity, which owes to the closed operating ecosystem that limits outside tampering from either the user or installed applications. Apple's engineers have carefully spun this software feature in with the hardware itself, resulting in a highly optimized device that can accomplish a great deal more with less powerful hardware. The ability for two Apple devices to seamlessly share files with one another has been played up a strength of this feature.
Unfortunately, this also has the drawback of limiting what a user can do as far as customization of any sort goes. This means that the battery can't be swapped, there's no microSD support, and the OS itself has limited software control compared to Android. The camera doesn't allow the user to adjust photo size, either. Combined with the awkward on-screen navigational keys that pop up while using a browser or application, some say that Apple's devices are dumbed down and ergonomically deficient. It's hotly debated — some swear by it while others hate it.
The little-mentioned Windows OS for mobile platforms is more formidable than it's given credit for. The reason it wasn't mentioned sooner is because, well, it's a different take on mobile computing altogether. Android and Apple are considered traditional, while Windows is about unifying the desktop and smartphone environments into one seamless OS that one can take with them wherever they go.
Windows lacks the impressive app markets that Android and iOS offer, but it does have an interesting take on the home screen, which consists of tiles that can be resized and fit snugly onto a scrolling canvas. Inside some tiles, users will find previews (sometimes animated) that impart information without having to open the apps themselves. This a useful marriage of Android's widgets and the basic desktop icon idea.
Windows is still a budding platform that's trying to establish a useful identity to the masses. It hasn't gained much traction aside from being a Blackberry replacement, solidifying its footing as the new business-bound OS for the utility-minded user who needs desktop and mobile in one place. Going forward, this OS offers incredible promise that may one day allow Microsoft to take the throne from Android and Apple on the mobile front.