Science & Technology

TechnoSpeak: Which mobile OS is for you?

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The world of mobile computing is growing exponentially and the easiest way to narrow down the options is to decide on your preferred operating system first. This is no easy task and it does not help that the market is still young, with rapid change occurring from year to year in what each platform has to offer. Here’s our quick overview of some of the more popular mobile OSs.

Symbian is historically the oldest and most reliable mobile operating system. It is a result of combined efforts between NTT-DocCoMo, Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Symbian Ltd (an independent organization in charge of developing the OS). This operating system proliferated into one of the most widely used, cross platform operating systems. The s60 version of this OS was incorporated in various phones manufactured by Sony Ericsson, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo and Samsung. In 2008, Nokia bought Symbian Ltd and continued to develop the Symbian OS s60 to be adapted to a touch screen interface for the Nokia 5800 (and its following generations). One of the major drawbacks of the Symbian OS s60 was the lack of support for multitouch interfacing. This pushed Nokia to develop Symbian^3 for phones starting with the Nokia N8. However, around this time, more and more phone developers were beginning to use other cross platform OSs. Additionally, Nokia lost their stronghold for smartphones in many markets including North America. This led Nokia to ditch all efforts in the development of Symbian (and make it open source) and jumped onto the more popular Windows Phone 7, thus angering a huge and loyal customer base.

MeeGo was announced at Mobile World Congress in February 2010 by Intel and Nokia in a joint press conference. The project aimed to merge the efforts of Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo mobile operating systems into one. This was because Windows 7 did not provide complete support for the Intel Atom processor. MeeGo is widely used in many different applications including netbooks, in-car entertainment systems, handsets, tablet PCs, etc. Due to it being a Linux-based OS, it natively has support for a large number of applications (although not as much as iOS or Android). Due to it being a free and open source, it is envisioned to be included in a wide variety of devices where other OSs prove to be ineffective. Additionally, due to it being tailor-made for Intel Atom, it provides the possibility for cheap hardware-based high end solutions.

Blackberry OS:
RIM isn’t currently in its prime but BBOS isn’t exactly dead just yet, as the OS accounts for 14% of the international smartphone market. The lack of success in the American market is what is placing RIM in a tight position, but with OS7 running on their new line of devices coming out at the end of this summer, things are subject to change soon. BBOS is efficient and is considered by far to be the most secure platform on the list; hence, its widespread usage by governments. OS7 was originally OS6.1 but RIM considered the changes to be large enough to add 0.9 more. The major upgrade between OS6 and OS7 is what RIM has trademarked as “Liquid graphics” which is, essentially, pumping out 60 fps with the most responsive iteration of their OS yet. Furthermore, the browser in OS7 is said to be 40% faster than what is currently available with OS6. The main drawback is the suspected possibility of being stuck with the OS7 once their new QNX-based phones come out next year. Recent rumours about the QNX phones have noted the possibility of running on the same processor as the OS7 phones which would make it likely to be able to upgrade later on.

Anyone who has had their with the Blackberry Playbook knows is it a very powerful device. With specifications similar to other tablets on market, what truly gives the Playbook its multi-tasking capability is the QNX OS, recently acquired by RIM. QNX is used everywhere, from military air-crafts to breweries, which is why the American military is leaning towards their soldiers using Blackberry Playbooks. RIM is planning to bring the QNX platform to their smartphones as well, with the first expected to appear late next year. The OS is going to be different than what is currently available on the Playbook, as it will contain elements from both the BBOS and the Playbook Tablet OS. RIM needs to get it right this time around, as it may be their last hope to stay relevant in today’s fast-paced mobile market.

Most have played around with iOS devices at one point or another, as this Apple mobile operating system is used on their iTouch, iPad and iPhone devices. Apple does not license out their software, meaning that you can only get it if you buy their hardware as well. iOS has revolutionized the mobile market forcing many of its competitors to step up their game in order to remain relevant in today’s marketplace. iOS has its ease of use and rapidly expanding app store to thank for its popularity, but will it be capable of maintaining its market share with any competitors considering it to be their main rival? iOS 5 has already been released for developers as beta software and will be in the hands of most consumers in a couple of months at the latest. Apple is playing it safe with iOS 5 by adopting features from both Andriod and BBOS that have worked well for them. This includes a slide down notifications center and iMessage (Apple’s direct response to the popular Blackberry messenger). This in conjunction with the release of the new iPhone expected this September which should ensure Apple’s continued growth, at least for now.

Windows Phone 7:
Windows Phone 7 is the latest avatar of one of the oldest smartphone OS in existence. Microsoft got into the smartphone race in 2000 with Pocket PC 2000 (based on Windows CE 3.0). The Pocket PC also included rudimentary versions of their classic MS Office suite. Since then, Microsoft had been developing mobile operating systems aimed at the (then niche) smartphone market. Most of the old touchscreen phones (like O2 and iPaq phones) used Windows Mobile based operating systems due to the ability to perform tasks such as editing documents, etc. Until very recently, they held a majority stake in the smartphone OS market. The last Windows mobile operating system was version 6 which was released in early 2007. Since then, Microsoft had been focusing on the development of the revolutionary new OS, Windows Phone 7 (WP7). WP7 was unveiled in late 2010 as the successor to the classic mobile phone series. WP7 is radically different from any of the older Windows Mobile platforms. It is aimed at users using their fingers (and not a stylus) to interface with the device. WP7 received mostly positive reviews due to its bold new design. In February 2011, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a strategic partnership with smartphone giant Nokia to deploy WP7 on all future Nokia devices (consequently resulting in the fall of Symbian).

Work on the Android OS first started in 2003 by Android Inc. to build “…smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences.” It was founded by software bigwigs in Silicon Valley and operated for several years in a highly secretive manner. In 2005, Google acquired Android Inc. making it a completely owned subsidary of Google. At Google, development of the mobile operating system accelerated. The Linux kernel was chosen for its flexibility as a starting point. In late 2008, the first phone incorporating the Android OS was launched. Critics raved about the operating system and it was eventually deployed on several following devices manufactured by HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola and several other companies. Due to the widespread use of the Android OS by several different manufacturers, it became a highly lucrative platform for the development and distribution of applications. The spawn of thousand of applications to do even the most mundane task led to the phrase “There is an app for that.” Android presently holds the largest market share for smartphone operating systems.

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