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Mobile OS Smackdown: Windows Phone 7 vs. iOS vs. Android
Windows Phone 7 has some innovative and unique features, but are they enough
to win over consumers? We pit Microsoft’s new mobile OS against Apple’s iOS and
Google’s Android to see how it stacks up.
The iPhone and Google Android devices had a few years to refine their user
interface and features, which gave them plenty of time to get ahead of
Microsoft's ailing Windows Mobile OS. But in a swift turn of events, Microsoft
came up with a totally new user interface for the Windows
Phone 7 OS, which will arrive on multiple
phones November 8.
But Microsoft had to build
Windows Phone 7 from scratch, which means that, if it was not to suffer a
significant delay in release, the new mobile operating system had to leave out
several features that we now take for granted on our smartphones. At the same
time, though, Microsoft brings a few interesting new elements to the table with
Windows Phone 7, elements that some of you might prefer over the usability of an
iPhone or an Android phone.
We've looked at the main differences between Windows
Phone 7, iOS, and Android to give you an idea of the state of mobile
operating systems today. The chart (at left; click to zoom) gives you an
overview of the features of these OSs--what each one has and doesn't have; after
you've looked at it, read on for highlights of the best and worst things about
Windows Phone 7.
What's Different About Windows Phone 7
With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft brought a
few new concepts to the table. Instead of a noncustomizable home screen (or
as Microsoft calls it, the "Start" screen) as on the iPhone, or widgets on
Android, Windows Phone 7 uses rectangular "live tiles," a cross-breed of widgets
and application icons. The live tiles link to an application, but they also
display live information on the Start screen. This gives Windows Phone 7 users
an easy way glance at what's happening on their phone, but it could become quite
cumbersome when too many tiles are used and a lot of scrolling ends up being
In comparison, the iPhone does not have an active home screen or widgets,
while Android employs widgets of all shapes and sizes to display information on
the main screen. The simplicity of the Windows Phone 7 tiles wins in this
category, while the iPhone is clearly the loser for home screen notifications.
Windows Phone 7 also groups various features of the OS into hubs--a cross
between folders and screens. Each Hub (Marketplace, Office, People, Pictures,
Xbox Live, and Zune) has tight integration with both native and third-party
apps. For example, in the People Hub, you can see your contacts' Facebook status
updates and like or comment on them.
Similarly, the Games Hub is closely integrated
with Xbox Live, while the Office Hub lets you create, view, and edit Excel
and Word documents. You can also access
Microsoft Office SharePoint documents and edit them, but you cannot create
PowerPoint files in the Office Hub. The Music & Video (Zune) Hub can also
get you through your music, videos, and podcasts, or let you access the Zune
store--it's all within easy reach. Neither the iPhone nor Android has features
comparable to these hubs; instead, you have to pick a specific app to open in
order to perform most of the tasks the hubs allow.
What's Missing From Windows Phone 7
Windows Phone 7 has rightly received a lot of flak from reviewers for not
having some features that many owners take for granted on their current
Microsoft's new mobile OS doesn't have copy/paste capabilities. If you
remember, the first, the second, and even the third iPhone did not initially
have copy/paste functionality either--but that was
over a year ago (copy/paste for the iPhone arrived later as a software
update). Android had this capability from day one. So the exclusion of
copy/paste in Windows Phone 7 doesn't earn the new OS any gold stars for
Second on the list of missing Windows Phone 7 features is true multitasking,
something that Android also had from day one, and that was later introduced for
the iPhone. To be more precise, Windows Phone 7 does not allow third-party apps
to run in the background, but pauses them until you return to the app. This puts
the OS in the same situation the iPhone was over a year ago, when only Apple's
apps could run in the background. But to be fair, iOS doesn't exactly do true
multitasking either (read here
for a full explanation of multitasking on iOS). Only some apps in iOS can still
run in the background and even then, only certain features can continue to work.
For example, music from Pandora can play in the background while you're doing
other tasks on your phone.
The third debated feature oversight for Windows Phone 7 is the lack of Adobe
Flash, Silverlight, or HTML5 support in the browser. Steve Jobs squashed any
ideas of running Flash on an iPhone, so Android is the only one left in this
round. It took Google and Adobe over a year to come up with Adobe Flash support
for Android, but now the latest generation of Android phones has the feature. If
Microsoft really wanted to have an edge over the iPhone and fight Android, it
should have at least supported its own Flash-competing
technology, Silverlight, on Windows Phone 7 devices.
Other feature omissions from Windows Phone 7 include:
- No unified inbox
- No threaded e-mail
- No visual voicemail
- No video calling
- No universal search
- No Internet tethering
- Limited removable storage support
- No Twitter integration
- Alphabetical-only app list organization
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