Touchscreen Smartphones: Android versus Apple Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Touchscreen Smartphones: Android versus Apple

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In consumer electronics market, smartphones with touch screens, are encroaching on the world of the personal computer. They integrate a mobile phone with several other applications and services, usually including a camera, GPS location, web browser, email, messaging, and music player. They are a recent complement to the business smartphone market pioneered by operating systems from Blackberry, Symbian and Microsoft. Because of their mass-market appeal, they are likely to stretch the capability and capacity of today's mobile networks, leading to increased investment in so-called fourth generation (4G) networks. Progress has been made possible by the latest generation of high speed processors and operating systems, as well as 'touch screen technology'.

Apple versus The Rest

Smartphones are available from many manufacturers, including the world's largest manufacturer of mobile phones, Nokia. But there has been a revolution in the consumer market, separately from the business market, which is developing quite differently, so far. This has been propelled by two significant events. The first was the introduction by Apple of its iPhone in mid-2007, and the second was the launch by Google of its Android  operating system in late 2007, based on a Linux kernel1. Yes, another classic battle of the proprietary system against the open operating system, and all their various applications. Apple's product has been hailed by some as 'the most beautiful device ever created'. However, its detractors point to Apple's 'restrictive' proprietary operating system, its sealed-in, un-replaceable battery (unless you own and can use a soldering iron), its fixed memory, and the fact you can only use applications available from Apple. The alternative, for some, is the Android with its open operating system, complemented by expandable memory, replaceable battery, and applications available from a variety of vendors. Both have merits but which to choose, and why?

Apple's iPhone

The original version had some shortcomings, which have been eliminated in the latest version (at the time of writing), the iPhone4, which has 3G network access, an improved camera, screen, and operating system. Apple's success rests on two premises: simple, and attractive design, also known as industrial design; and an easy-to-use (heuristic) user experience. What this boils down to, in the case of the iPhone, is a touch-screen display which responds to the wipe of a fingertip, and a pinch of two fingertips. Finger actions are de rigueur in the consumer smartphone world. A 3-axis accelerometer also flips the display between landscape and portrait view depending on the orientation of the phone. The phone relies on applications produced by third parties but which Apple exclusively markets through its Apple Store2.

Android Phones

Google has developed several software applications to strengthen its presence on the internet, and in searching the internet, its core business. A recent example is the Chrome browser, released in 2008, which has a relatively simple user interface, to reduce the browser response time as well as merging the address and search bars. Another is its development of the mobile operating system Android. This, in turn, stimulated the birth of a co-operative between approximately 65 firms (The Open Handset Alliance) to use the new operating system in a range of mobile phones. One of the features of the operating system is its 'multi-touch' capability, using fingertips again. Mozilla will release a version of its Firefox browser, codenamed Fennec, for Android in 2010. The momentum building in support for Android means it will compete with Apple's proprietary operating system used in the iPhone in the popularity stakes, according to some industry analysts3. Perhaps the most prominent manufacturer in the Alliance is the Taiwanese manufacturer HTC, which has developed several smartphones using the Android operating system, the latest being the Desire.

Android or iPhone?

Choosing a consumer smartphone is simple, or not, depending on your budget. Most mobile network operators offer several smartphones for free, or at a subsidised price, if you subscribe to a fixed-term contract and are willing to pay a monthly fee which will vary depending on supplier. The alternative is to buy a SIM-free handset (unlocked) for between £300 and £600 at 2010 prices. This is a lot to pay for a 3-axis accelerometer, even with fingertip control.

Let's look at the other things you can do with a Desire, one of the latest Android-based smartphones, and an iPhone. In a comparison of the HTC Desire and the Apple iPhone 4:

  • the Desire is slightly bigger but lighter than the iPhone
  • the battery in the iPhone is only replaceable by Apple
  • the iPhone features a second camera
  • the Desire features an FM radio
  • the Desire features expandable memory
  • both phones have similar Internet access, touch screen features and telephony
  • the iPhone has a problem with the antenna position, but this can be rectified by fitting an insulating ring to the phone

Also it's worth noting that Apple uses its own proprietary connectors between the iPhone and headsets, chargers, (not memory cards), and anything else you can connect to the iPhone, locking you into their products. Android smartphones allow third party products to be used, using mini/micro USB, for example, for additional memory.

There is little to choose between the two phones, apart from the fundamental difference between Apple's and the Open Handset Alliance's approach to openness and flexibility. That has always been the case between Apple and everyone else and seems to have allowed the company to become one of the most successful and innovative.

Apple became the most highly valued technology company in the world, overtaking Microsoft, in mid 2010.

1Android became an open source operating system in October 2008. Apple's iPhone has been through several iterations since 2007 and the iPhone4 was launched in 2010.2It is possible to bypass this limitation but it will void the warranty.3If the Android growth rate stays constant, some 22 million phones will be sold in 2010 compared with a predicted 30 million iPhones (8.75 million in Q1 of 2010).

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