Windows Phone 7

Windows Phone 7

In this day and age, apps rule. Apps are what make or break a mobile platform. It is their ability to transform a mobile device into something new, useful and entertaining that makes them so important. There are two giants in the app arena, iOS and Android.
iOS, the operating system which powers the iPhone, has many apps on it’s back. So many apps in fact, that it has more apps than all the other mobile operating systems combined – about 300 000 and rising. Android comes second with about 100 000 apps which is an equally staggering figure. Clearly, you can’t go wrong choosing either one of these – but which is better? Android and iOS are very different OSs, each with their advantages and disadvantages.

Lets start with iOS

The quality of iPhone apps is possibly the highest on any platform. Even Steve Wozniak agrees. That’s expected – iOS started the whole app movement. A recent report has indicated that there are more games for iOS devices than for all the game consoles ever in history – combined. That’s insane! So, given the attractive user interface and a bagillion apps, is the iOS platform the winner?

Well here’s the problem. There are only a handful of iOS phones and they are all made by Apple – it’s just the iPhones. There are no choices, it’s either you have one of these devices, or you have no iOS phone. The iPhone  isn’t without faults. It’s a closed platform – everything is controlled Apple. Apps have to go through Apples stringent approval system before they can see the light of day. Standards such a flash are also not supported by the iPhone. To add to that, it doesn’t come cheap either.

What about Android?

Android on the other hand is quite the opposite. It is without any of the mentioned flaws that the iPhone has. The platform is open, there are many devices that run the OS and just like Apple, there are many apps all centralized in a single app store. So that means buyers have a choice; whether you’re looking for a phone with a good camera, on tight budget or looking for a gorgeous display – the world is your oyster. Surely this would make Android the better choice right? Not quite.

Android is evolving fast, maybe a little too fast. So fast that the device makers can’t keep up with the latest builds. It takes a lot for developers to develop, test, optimize and document everything for every new build of Android – it’s impractical for many. As a result, many Android devices are stuck with the Android builds they had at launch. A lot of times, devices are launched a ‘generation’ behind. All of this results in fragmentation. Currently, the latest Android build is version 2.2 aka Froyo. Only a few devices released in the past few months have or are ever going to get Froyo. People who bought the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 just got the promised firmware update they’ve been waiting for – an upgrade to Android 2.1. There is zero hope that they will ever get Froyo according to forum discussions. If they do, it will come a while after Android 2.3 aka Gingerbread has been released. This is Sony Ericsson failing to keep up – smaller companies probably have it worse.
So, what’s the big deal with fragmentation? A recent post by Rovio, the company that brought us the ever-so-popular Angry Birds, summed it up. In summary, because of fragmentation they are considering making a ‘lightweight’ version of Angry Birds for older hardware and for devices that don’t have the latest Android build. Another developer, id Software, developers of Doom and the new iOS game Rage, said that compared to Android, the iOS environment is “still much, much nicer”. Funny thing is, iOS came before Android.
I’ve said before that Apple allows it’s devices to age much more gracefully than any other mobile platform. My first generation iPod Touch, which I still use as my main MP3 player, stopped getting updates recently – after 3 solid years. In just a few months with Android, you can be left in the dust.

Enter Windows Phone 7

WP7 is more like a hybrid of Android and iOS in some regards. Microsoft controls the hardware – they choose the processor, RAM, buttons and screen resolution amongst other things. This is much like the way Apple has the iPhone – they call the shots – they choose what the phone is made up of. Also like Apple, Microsoft controls the UI – carriers and manufacturers are limited in the way they can customize the user experience – at this stage, all we’ve seen are custom apps. Like Android, several manufacturers have a shot at making their own hardware. The buyer has more options in terms of pricing, taste, interest etc.

That said, WP7 is still new – some say it is in fact premature. It doesn’t have as many apps as the iPhone or Android for that matter. The variety of devices is not as broad as Android’s. The quality of some apps is excellent – on par with iOS offerings – whilst others are just poor ports.

Win or win

At this stage I would say it’s all win/win. iOS is a solid platform with a large community. You can bet that more awesome apps will continue to roll in. Android is still developing fast and according to Wozniac – it will probably become the dominant phone OS in the future. WP7 has some of the best elements of the two major platforms plus lots of potential. You can’t go wrong.