We had a pretty exciting month covering major events by three of the biggest players of the IT industry. We also saw a whole new kind of presentation in a keynote where people jumped off a blimp just to demonstrate a new piece of technology. That was so like Google, the only company that has gone on from being just a search engine to a verb and also a big part of everyone’s lives today. In these events we saw the launch of several new products, including new pieces of hardware and software. The software included new versions of the Operating Systems of three mobile platforms- iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Here we will compare all three and adjudge which one is the best among the three.
First off, we will look at the updates to the interface of the operating systems.
iOS as always does not have many changes in its user interface save some minor changes in the apps such as Safari and a remodeled Music app.
Android 4.1 does have some great changes in UI. The notifications are now much more useful as you can respond to missed calls, notifications easily right there rather than launching up the corresponding app. This allows for faster operation and saves a lot of touching and swiping in the process. Project Butter took care of lagging animations in the OS. The new interface is simpler and the transitions are smoother than before. But we guess Project Butter would also require an equally powerful processor as well. Another new feature is that the home-screen now adapts to the contents and the icons arrange themselves automatically when a widget is dragged into the area. When the widgets are too big they resize themselves on their own so that other items are not affected. Google Now offers a brand new concept and a unique UI as well. Google Search has improved a lot and offers a clean and fresh interface including natural voice input. You can ask it to get anything from the web just the way you type into Google Search.
WP8 also introduced a lot of changes to its user interface. A welcome change is the ability to resize the tiles on the start screen. There are three sizes available for the tiles- small, medium and large. The start screen will continue to its right and hence the whole screen can be filled with tiles of various sizes. There are several colours available for the background of the tiles. Though WP8 will run only on new devices (yet to be released) the WP7 devices will be able to upgrade to enjoy the cosmetic changes.
In the case of user interfaces, WP7 led the rest and WP8 still leads the pack. It is really cleaner, simpler and much more interactive than the other two. We give the vote to WP8 in this section.
All the three operating systems have some great new features to boast about. Here are some of the bigger ones.
iOS 6 introduces us to a better and improved Siri, who was endeared by thousands of iPhone users. She now keeps records of games (real ones), understands more languages and opens apps for you. She got a more spacious home on the iPad (not really) too. She can find restaurants for you, tweet for you, update your Facebook status etc. Google too has some serious competition here as its Google Now feature gives you updates and suggestions based on your location. It helps you to catch the train or take the bus and gives the updates about your flight. It shows you the latest sports updates, weather and your own appointments, tasks etc. It will also help in translation as well as currency conversion if you travel abroad! Google has also improved its voice input features as it lets you dictate to your Android phone offline and takes your Google Search request through voice input. You can simply say “show me a picture of a jelly bean” and it will show up the same almost instantly. Its voice assistant has a lot of Siri-like capabilities and the following video shows its amazing power. WP8 does not have any such features though as per latest reports they haven’t disclosed all the features of the upcoming OS yet and you never know, Microsoft might just race ahead at the last minute.
Google’s new voice assistant, offline dictation and Google Now make a great combination and beat Siri at its own game. Kudos to Google for that!
Apple ditched Google Maps and went for TomTom‘s maps in iOS 6. We can’t understand the logic here as Google Maps is still the best. Anyway Apple introduced turn-by-turn directions, traffic updates and 3D maps which show picturesque views of some metros. Google has its own Google Maps which is pretty good. It now features Compass view that lets you move around your cellphone to pan around the streetview. Now you can also have a look inside buldings, shops etc. (Even White House!) Moreover you can seek guidance from Google Now and Google Search to quickly access the quickest way around your city. Microsoft teamed up with Nokia and added Nokia’s maps to all the devices running WP8. This will bring the goodness of Nokia’s NAVTEQ maps and offline caching and turn-by-turn directions too.
Google Maps still reigns the mapping arena. However we have two new contestants- Nokia and TomTom in the arena now. We will still hold on to Google for our maps though!
Passbook is a brand new feature in iOS 6 that acts as a virtual wallet for you and handles all your transactions and documents such as flight tickets, movie tickets, coupons etc. It also senses where you are and shows the right card at the right time! You can scan it like any regular ticket/coupon and and check-in for flights, movies, concerts, games etc. Google has Google Wallet which has had a rough start as only Sprint is supporting the service. Even though NFC is coming to a lot of Android devices now, Google doesn’t seem to thinking much in these areas right now. We still have high hopes for now. Microsoft has invested pretty heavily in this domain and now supports payments through NFC in its WP8 devices. They have developed their ‘Wallet‘ app to combine the ‘Google Wallet’ and ‘Passbook’. It will store credit/debit card information and it will be able to make payments through secure NFC elements in its SIM cards. The Nokia maps can also show the offers available in different stores nearby right on your maps so that you can save some money.
Apple has started something big with Passbook though we still have high hopes that Google will come around and do something better with its Google Wallet. Microsoft needs to rope in a lot of companies for its service to work. For now, it looks like Apple will take the honours in mobile payments!
Facetime now gets on 4G/3G and frees users from the need of WiFi to use the app. It allows Mac users and iOS users video call each other through WiFi or cellular network. Google has its Video call feature that lets its users video chat from virtually anywhere. Google+ offers the Hangout that you recently saw in the Google Glasses demonstration in mid-air. Microsoft has Skype integrated into its OS and it can make and receive Skype calls like any normal voice call.
Looking at it from Microsoft’s view, it has a win-win situation here as virtually everyone on the planet uses Skype and it is available on all the platforms. But Google’s Hangout is quite a good feature too! We will give extra marks to WP8 for Skype.
Apple has added several methods to turn down calls when you are busy. You can send a message in return or block annoying contacts. You can also turn on the “Do Not Disturb” mode so that no one disturbs you while you play Amazing Alex! Android lets you create short messages to quickly reply when you get a call. Microsoft doesn’t have any such feature though it does have call-filtering.
Apple has added an innovative feature here and deserves some praise. Google too offers the same but lacks the “Do Not Disturb” mode.
iOS 6 features Airplay which continues from iOS 5. But still we don’t see a lot of devices supporting this feature, even though we hear many Airplay devices coming out everyday. Google introduced its media-streaming solution in the form of Nexus Q, a beautifully designed device that is also quite pricey. Microsoft now has SmartGlass which lets you stream media between Xbox, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. It can also stream supplementary content to devices.
Microsoft’s SmartGlass is interesting and has amazing features. Nexus Q is good but it doesn’t seem worth its price. Airplay works, but on limited devices and brings nothing new to the table.
7. Desktop Integration
iOS 6 will be integrated with Mac OS X Mountain Lion even more as many of the apps would be synced through iCloud. Notes, Safari, Calendar, Reminders and many more apps are coming to the new version of Mac OS. This will encourage Mac users to adopt iPhones/iPads and iPhone/iPad users to adopt Macs. Android has no such integration save that the Chrome ecosystem will be increasingly integrated throughout several devices. Since most of Google’s products are web-based they need not worry about this. Most of their products are always in sync everywhere. Chrome on iOS and Android and Google Drive app offer integration on multiple platforms, which Apple’s ecosystem lacks. WP8 heralds a revolution in the world of mobile computing as it not only shares a similar interface but also a shared library and kernel with Windows 8. Now developers can develop apps for both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 with ease. Windows 8 is also available on tablets and this deepens its integration with WP8. We can expect a lot of interdependent and integrated services in this platform.
iOS 6 may have integrated apps but Microsoft steals the show with its kernel-deep integration of WP8 and Windows 8. In the meanwhile Google doesn’t even need to worry about this! But still Microsoft put in a lot of effort into this and we congratulate them for this.
Even though the features form the basic selling point of any device, the hardware is always there in the equation. Here we will discuss the hardware-dependency of each OS.
iOS 6 is supported by the 4th generation of iPhone and iPod touch and the 2nd generation of iPad. iPhone 3GS, iPod Touch 3G and the original iPad are left out from the next big update. Hardware-wise we won’t be seeing much change except that iPhone 5 will support 16:9 aspect ratio and 4G network.
Android has a lot of changes in software that also requires hardware changes. We haven’t confirmed yet, but Jelly Bean might demand higher specs for its butter-smooth performance. It also supports multiple cores which are coming to more number of devices now. More and more number of games are being developed which require faster and more powerful processor. We can expect more powerful android devices very soon.
WP8 now supports 720p displays, multiple cores, NFC and SD cards.Microsoft gave a lot of Windows Phone users a shock as it denied the update to existing WP7 devices. Rather a new crop of WP8 devices would be produced. Existing devices running WP7 will get an update that will give them only some features and the cosmetic changes available in WP8. Microsoft has gambled here as many new users might get really anguished by this news.
We will see new devices on all the three platforms very soon and feature-wise Google has the upper hand in everyday use even though Apple and Microsoft have added the mobile payment feature into the game. Windows Phone 8′s deep integration with Windows 8 and its SmartGlass integrates multiple devices. So, we have a mixed verdict here even though we would lean towards Google’s Jelly Beans!