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Choosing the smart phone OS

Here at CES Las Vegas PluggedIn has been lucky enough to trial lots of technology that is due to hit UK shelves over the course of 2011. What is often interesting to take note of is the software (the Operating system) these products use that separate themselves from the competition.

Just like with traditional desktop or laptop computers where the choice has until recently been limited to either the Apple (MacOS) or Microsoft (Windows) operating system (OS) – tablet, mobile phones and other portable devices also bring with them that consideration when choosing the best device.

Most new tablets coming onto the market run the Android OS which is the same software that can be found on some Netbooks, and Smartphones.
This is with the exception of both the Apple iPad which uses iOS (also used with their iPhones) and now RIM BlackBerry’s Playbook which uses it’s own OS. There is also an increasing number of tablets and Smartphones which now use Microsoft Windows Mobile.

Having had a bit of a play and a demo of some of the new HTC Smartphones running the Windows Mobile 7 OS (WM7) we were quite taken with the high quality display and the user interface which comprises of a ‘front page’ containing movable squares that show real-time updates from contacts and website feeds.

The chaps from Microsoft were very keen to point out the close integration with Facebook throughout the software but were not so happy when we asked about a noticeable lack of Twitter support.

Twitter it seems is not directly integrated into WM7, which seems strange considering the diverse use the Twitter platform has in modern communications.

Unlike the Apple iOS or Google Android OS which essentially provides a basic core shell with which you source, purchase and install add-ons and applications via an ‘Application Store’ to create new functionality, the Microsoft OS is designed to have functionality built straight into the phone software itself.

However, WM7 – like the Apple iOS and Android equivalents – does have an application store where users can install programs (such as Twitter etc). But these programs are not as directly supported or as easily accessible from the WM7 home screens. Not having such tools pre-installed or directly accessible highlights a problem that companies like Microsoft will increasingly face when choosing to develop an operating system that favours a standardised approach to application support and customisation built-in to the OS.

That problem is that the owner of the phone is reliant on updates from Microsoft for additional application support, and in some cases is at the mercy of deals between an OS provider and companies like Facebook which may include contractual clauses specifically denying the inclusion of rival applications (such as Twitter).

Microsoft developers will also have to rely on their own teams to program new ideas and technology into their OS, rather than allowing the open-source communities to create ‘apps’.
It’s logical to assume that out-sourcing the development of tools and applications via an app-store with an infinitely scaleable number of developers will always bring about newer software, faster.
Assuming that Microsoft is on a par with Apple and will release on average about 3-4 updates a year, this could spell disappointment for any smartphone user wishing to adopt new technology.

This model of development really does set the smartphone users into two camps:

The Apple iOS and Google Android users who can adapt and develop the functionality of their phones on the fly by downloading and extending their phone’s application support from App Stores, verses the Microsoft and RIM Blackberry users who will be happy to make do with core functionality built into their chosen OS and wait to update with the curve based on what the OS development teams choose to include in the next update.

In our opinion this is something worth considering when next looking for the perfect mobile device.