Touchscreen Smartphones, Android versus Apple.

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Smartphones, for the consumer electronics market, with a touch screen, are encroaching on the world of the personal computer. These 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 against the open operating system, and applications. Apple's product, hailed as the most beautiful device ever created, but with its proprietary operating system, sealed in and un replaceable battery (unless you own and can use a soldering iron), fixed memory, and with applications available only from Apple. The alternative, uses the Android open operating system, complemented by expandable memory, replaceable battery, and applications available from a variety of vendors. Which to choose, and why?

Apple's iPhone

The original version had some shortcomings, which have been eliminated in the latest version, 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. It also 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 cooperative between approximately 65 firms3 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 analysts4. 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 smart phones 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. See a smartphone comparison. 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.3The Open Handset Alliance.4If 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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