When I previously compared Android 4.1, iOS 6, and Windows Phone 8, none of the operating systems were publicly released. Last week Microsoft launched Windows Phone 8 and Google revealed the next incremental. update to Android, version 4.2
Android and Windows Phone 8 have planned mid-November releases in the United States. Google will release Nexus devices with Android 4.2 and Microsoft’s manufacturing partners will release Windows Phone 8. It’s still unknown if people will move to Windows Phone 8 because of the new hardware requirements and the lack of information about Windows Phone 7.8’s release.
iOS 6 was released on September 19 and saw rapid adoption, but suffered consumer backlash for Apple Maps and the removal of YouTube. Apple publicly apologized for Apple Maps, but users are still waiting for Google to release a standalone Google Maps app.
The big three are going head to head again with official releases so how do they compare?
It was interesting to see Microsoft take a jab at Android during their Windows Phone 8 launch event. Windows Phone 8 improves on Windows Phone 7 by allowing users to further customize the home screen.
While I applaud Microsoft allowing users this massive level of customization, it’s actually pretty basic. The Live Tile idea makes the interface interesting because allows users to quickly view important information. The Windows Phone 8 interface is just another way to present information, as Android has widgets that do much the same.
As opposed to setting apps on specific grids, Windows Phone 8 is a consistently scrolling set of boxes. How does this apply to the user who prefers a very simple screen with minimal icons? Windows Phone 8 won’t work for them because the interface is focused on providing lots of tiles with information.
Stock Android 4.2 doesn’t change anything visually but include internal improvements. Android still offers an excellent amount of customization while offering an easy to use interface. If you don’t like the stock experience, the Google Play store also features a lot of launchers that can replace the stock one.
iOS 6 changed nothing about its interface, which can be good and bad. If you picked up the new iPhone 5, you were given another row on your screen for more icons or folders. The interface in iOS hasn’t changed much since its release and there isn’t any expected change.
Windows Phone 8 offers a lot of interesting features that are comparable to other operating systems. The ecosystem that Microsoft is trying to present sounds excellent because it bridges Windows Phone 8 users together while allowing non-Windows Phone 8 users to participate. In the launch event, VP Joe Belfiore directly mentioned iPhone users would be able to see shared calendars.
Data Sense is a lot like Android’s Data Usage setting. It monitors how much data is used and adds Wi-Fi hotspot search. Microsoft’s claim that it will compress webpages for more site browsing is only a slight bonus because most data usage comes from apps. It’s nice of Microsoft to condense the amount of data used on mobile browsers, but I can’t see people browsing site to site once app developers release their native apps for Windows Phone.
Kid’s Corner is an interesting addition because it creates a sub-user account for kids on the device. It’s a great way for parents to control the usage of their device, but it’s more likely that the majority of users will only have one user.
The Android 4.2 update adds more function to Google Now, which is available for anyone running Jelly Bean (Android 4.1). It adds Gmail scanning for flight info and package tracking as new cards. Google plans on continuously adding more cards for Google Now.
Another big feature added to Android 4.2 is the use of Knowledge Graph to provide better answers to searches. In terms of search, Android’s link to Google Search has been good, but Knowledge Graph will help improve the quality of results. Smaller updates include tablet-only multiple account support, gesture typing, and more functionality with notifications which don’t dramatically change the experience on Android.
iOS 6 hasn’t really shown the usefulness of the apps that Apple was proud to announce. Maps is still a work-in-progress and Passbook doesn’t have many supporting apps. Siri received an update for more accurate results and you can use voice to post to Facebook, but there wasn’t anything drastically different. The latest OS does allow you to share photos in your Photo Stream and iCloud, but the cloud backup service isn’t transparent for most users.
Supporting the Cloud
Microsoft is pushing Skydrive integration with Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. Content is automatically uploaded to Skydrive allowing you to access it through a browser. It’s great to see Microsoft starting to use Skydrive as a service bridging Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. The auto uploads will help photophiles a lot and the ability to create and edit documents in Office 2013 will be a benefit for users. Skydrive offers 7 GB of free storage, but still hasn’t defined exactly how well Skydrive will work between devices. Microsoft is really starting its push towards more a more seamless ecosystem for first party services.
Though Microsoft is pushing Skydrive as the best cloud-based system, Android has been cementing itself in cloud productivity with Google Drive for years. The focus on cloud syncing in Android makes it possible to easily switch from device to device with the same account and still have all your info and files. You can use the different productivity apps in Google Drive and see the updates push to the webapp with almost no delay. Android’s cloud service is built into the majority of its apps.
Apple’s cloud presence is a lot more minimal. There isn’t much cloud productivity inside any of the first party Apple apps because you have to buy the various iWork apps on both iOS and OS X. Google offers Google Drive apps for free, but syncing between Apple devices requires you to buy multiple versions of the same program on different devices. iCloud backups on iOS devices is still very convoluted. You can choose which app data to backup to iCloud, but all apps are set to backup by default which can fill your storage quickly.
Having data backups for certain apps is great like game data or user settings, but the 5 GB that Apple offers feels very small even compared to the same amount of space that Google offers. Apple claims having easy backup solutions, but there are issues with what Apple decides what will or will not count against the 5GB of storage. If you have a lot of apps, those 5 GB could be filled quickly without you even realizing it.
Who’s winning now?
Windows Phone 8 has the most to prove among the three operating systems. Since the device and OS is an entire step forward from Windows Phone 7.5 because it requires new hardware to experience, Microsoft has to sell the usefulness of the device and the connectivity between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.
Android 4.2’s small update adds smaller features and functionality. If you use a lot of Google services, 4.2 will improve your Android experience. Tablet users will enjoy the ability to create multiple accounts, but there hasn’t been a good demo of this yet. Google is still leading on the cloud productivity front and it looks like they’re going to stay that way for the moment.
iOS 6 isn’t the jump forward like Apple claimed. It felt more like a smaller update to improve features already on the device. Apple Maps’ beta status at launch didn’t help much with the perception of iOS 6, but Apple is working hard on improving the experience. Google could still steal users away from Apple with its superior Google Maps app, but since it’s impossible to change the default apps in iOS, Apple will still maintain control.
Each operating system offers something for each different kind of user. Android is still the best for people who enjoy customization and iOS is great for those who are used to the experience. It’s Windows Phone 8 that needs to prove itself. Releasing alongside Windows 8 and highlighting the connectivity between each OS, Microsoft has an uphill battle convincing users to switch from Android or iOS.
There isn’t a clear “best” OS because they speak to different users. But Windows Phone 8 could be the change that people tired of Android and iOS are looking for.