The last few weeks have brought us a flurry of information about different smartphone OS’s. At this blog, we prefer Android, and the past weeks’ news has only made us more proud of our favorite OS. However, there has been a lot of talk about Windows Phone 7, and Palm is trying to expand by bringing its devices to Verizon. Of course, there’s the ever-present iPhone OS, and its next update is looming. Blackberry . . . also still makes phones. In this series of articles, we’ll take an honest look at how Android stacks up to the competition. I think you’ll find that whatever your needs, there’s a Droid for that!
To get started, let’s talk about Microsoft’s big play in the mobile space: Windows Phone 7 Series.
Windows Phone 7
Microsoft captured a great deal of attention at Mobile World Congress by introducing Windows Phone 7 Series, a.k.a. WP7S, or WinPho. WP7, as I like to call it, supposedly represents a completely new approach to interacting with your phone. Instead of icons for Apps on the homescreen, WP7 uses “hubs”, which are centers for kinds of information, and all the hubs seem to interrelate to one another. These hubs are represented by “tiles” on the main screen. The hype is that “all” your data is going to be integrated into one place. For example, the “People” hub contains your contacts, synced from and connected with all your social networks. On the home screen, new status updates from your contacts appear on the “People” tile, and when you browse the People hub, you have status update info integrated with your contacts. Then, if you have pictures related to that person, you can view them, which will seamlessly switch you to the photo hub, and you can contact them by any of the social networks that they’re connected to, or email, or SMS without launching a separate app.
This approach takes direct aim at Apple’s launch-and-quit modal model for mobile computing, but it has several problems. First of all, if Microsoft is going to be true to this design philosophy, they need to sideline the importance of apps. But they’re not going to do that. There will be apps. We’ve even seen the App Store. So really, it just seems like they’ve taken Folders, renamed them Hubs, and connected them together. I’m sure there will be an “Apps” hub. While there is still the stream-of-consciousness information display and it is “live”, it’s not radically new. Palm’s WebOS integrates contacts from various sources and displays calendar and other information in a central manner. And then there’s MotoBLUR. More on that later.
The innovation Microsoft has made with this OS is how deeply they’ve built social networking into the system. And they seem to have presented us with a fresh, new way to look at our information. Like anything revolutionary, it will need time to catch on, so only time will tell if Microsoft has a hit on their hands, or if people will crave a more traditional experience.
The tight integration of social networks may present another challenge, however. Each network, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace, has what’s called an API. An Application Programming Interface allows 3rd party services and programs (like Windows Phone 7) to access information in its databases. So, Microsoft had to create a whole subset of instructions for each social network and build it into WP7 at the core level. What happens when Facebook starts to lose its position as the top social network? What happens when a new network, with a different API (like FourSquare, or Google Buzz) comes out and gains traction? Will Microsoft have to update Windows Phone at a core level to deal with the new networks? That sounds like a lot of updating. Hopefully these are updates that can be pushed out over the air, as with Android and Palm WebOS.
Actually getting to test out these features, however, is something you’ll have to wait for. The biggest downside is that Windows Phone 7 won’t be released for about 10 months. Microsoft is projecting that it will be released for the 2010 Holiday season. That’s quite a long time to wait if you’re dissatisfied with your mobile technology right now.
Android vs. Windows Phone 7
WP7 is aimed directly at the messaging-centric, socially-networked crowd of 20-somethings, which is a nice, fat market segment to aim for. However, Android devices provide many of the features that WP7 promises right now. For example, if you’re on Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T in the US, you can get a device from Motorola with MotoBLUR, which aggregates all your social networking status updates into one unified interface. Using three widgets, it does a very good job of consolidating your communication. The messaging widget is for one-on-one communication like email, SMS, Direct Messages on Twitter, and Facebook private messages into one stream, and allows you to reply to incoming messages in kind. The status widget allows you to update your status message on social networks, and the “happenings” feed is a widget that shows you your contacts’ status from various social networks. It comes standard on the Motorola Devour (Verizon), Cliq (T-Mobile), and Backflip (AT&T, available March 7). And if you’re into Android hackery, it’s available as a beta for most Android devices.
Even without MotoBLUR, Android’s built-in multi-tasking allows you to keep up with your social networks. Apps like Twidroid and Facebook can run in the background. They notifiy you with status updates right in Android’s unified notification tray. The advantage here, is that you can view these updates while you’re using other apps.
Newer versions of Android also offer a more app-free approach to delivering information. The Android 2.1 Weather and News App is an example of this, with a simple widget providing much more detailed information with a single tap. Sense UI also adds more widgets that connect you to your phone without launching any apps. On top of all this, the open-source nature of Android means that many intuitive, different interfaces can be dreamed up. Just take a look at TAT Home, the up-and-coming 3D interface skin for Android. It shows the power of Android combined with today’s hardware.
Windows Phone 7 does have the advantage of delivering it’s features out of the box with little setup required for the user. It also connects photos and other media with your contacts and social networks on a higher level than we’ve ever seen. From the demos we’ve seen, the social aspect is just one example of how interrelated your information on WP7 is. How far and wide Microsoft takes this concept remains to be seen.
When it comes to Media integration and software, Microsoft has made a very wise choice by integrating the Zune HD’s software into WP7. Gizmodo’s review called the Zune HD the “best PMP on the market” with “the most stylish software”. The Zune HD’s bold and unique interface is actually the basis for the entire interface on Windows Phone 7. Granted, Microsoft hasn’t sold too many Zune HD’s, but that can mostly be attributed to the fact that the Zune HD wasn’t a smartphone.
As far as app selection, Microsoft has made a daring decision. They’ve decided to break backward compatibility with WP7. Apps from Windows Mobile 6.5 and before will not work on Windows Phone 7. However, instead of launching WP7 with NO apps, Microsoft will likely release the SDK to developers at MIX2010, next month. Still, while developers will have more than 6 months to develop apps for Windows Phone 7, Android’s Market, at 20,000 apps and widgets strong, will be tough to beat, at least at launch.
It’s tough to declare a clear winner between Windows Phone 7 and Android, but at the end of the day, only one of them is available right now, and that’s our beloved green friend.
Windows Phone 7
|Web Browsing||Unknown, IE Based||Webkit, Proprietary & Dolphin|
|Mobile Outlook||Android Mail|
|GMail Support||Via Mobile Outlook||Full, Multiple Account Sync|
|Exchange Support||Full||Mail, Contacts, Calendars (2.0 only)|
|Contacts||Unique stream-of-contacts system||Synced to Google Account|
|Information Aggregation||Live Tiles||MotoBLUR on some devices, Google Calendar, Facebook Calendar, Notification Area|
|Notifications||“Live” tiles for Email, Calendar, Social, SMS, App notifications||Unified notification area for Email, SMS, Calendar, Social|
|Camera||Minimum 5MP||Avail. 5MP w/Dual Flash, Autofocus|
|Media Sync||Zune Software, No Mac Support||Doubletwist (Mac or PC)|
|Media Organization & Playback||Zune software||Proprietary, modifiable|
|Multitasking Performance||Unknown||Excellent, controllable|
|App Store||No apps yet||20k Apps|
|Interface Customization||None||Widgets, Wallpaper, Icons, Skins|
|Handset Choice||Several when released||Many|
|U.S. Carrier Availability||None yet||T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T|
Finally, the time factor between Android and Windows Phone 7 is a very important point. Android has been improving at a steady rate, and in the next 9-10 months, Android can and will make a lot of improvements.
Plus, if you buy a high-end Android handset today, it will get upgraded to the newest Android as updates roll out. Even the MyTouch 3G can and will run Android 2.1 this spring. So if you buy a Nexus One or HTC Desire, you’ll be able to run Android 3.x, with whatever improvements that brings.
However, if you buy a Windows Mobile 6.5.3 handset today, you have no guarantee that it will run Windows Phone 7. In fact, if it doesn’t meet minimum hardware specs, it definitely will not run WP7.
If you think we’ve missed any important comparison points, let us know in the comments!
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