Mobile OS Comparison

  • Does the OS include ALL the PIM fields found in Microsoft Outlook and Windows Mobile (make a list)?  More fields?  Additional, mappable fields that will sync?  Categories/groups?
  • List and sync more than one of each type telephone number for each contact?
  • Can a Contact belong to just one category/group or multiple categories/groups?
  • The Contact List (address book) must hold 500+ individual contacts, with multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and physical addresses per contact.
  • The Calendar must include a snooze function.  What time increments does snooze offer?  How easy to snooze an alarm for a specific user definable time?
  • Does Calendar offer Agenda, Day, Week, Month, and List “views?”  Other views?
  • Does this OS sync to Windows PCs?  Which versions?  Macs?  Which versions?  The “cloud?”  Which cloud-based services does the OS sync with?  What does it sync?
  • What syncs with what and how?  Contacts?  Calendar?  Notes?  Bookmarks?  Docs?
  • The old PalmOS HotSync program was quite flexible and powerful — you could select whether to sync, or the Desktop PC or the device overwrote the other, for just this sync or always, for each function and app, or everything.  What sync options does this OS offer?
  • Does the OS include all necessary PIM functions and fields, or are third-party apps needed?  Do the 3rd-party apps sync everything, or are they limited?  How likely for these third-party developers to continue providing development and support.  What’s the experience and background of the third-party developers?
  • Can you backup to and restore from removable media such as SD cards and O-T-A cloud-based services?  Which ones?  Backups should be both complete system (program and data image) and Doc folders (option to do either or both).  If I need to restore a file or the device 1,000 miles from home, how easy and/or possible is that?
  • Adjustable font sizes for viewing all functions!
  • Can the OS and device function well if there is no Internet access, or does it need the Internet to function?
  • The web browser must work well with Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, and other web-mail services.  Does work properly site-wide?
  • E-mail works with how many accounts, both POP + IMAP?  Separate mailboxes?
  • Exactly how to get programs and data to and from the device?
  • Exactly how to “side-load” apps?
  • What can be stored on removable media such as SD cards?
  • If I install an app to removable media, change and use other removable media, will the app’s icon still appear in the launcher?  What happens if I click on the icon and try to run the app?  If I then insert and use the first removable media, will the app still work, or will it be ‘uninstalled’?
  • Must have a large selection of free and/or inexpensive high quality apps in different categories.  A new, waning, or unpopular OS may offer few developers and apps.
  • Ability to customize Program Launcher/Desktop so apps display the way I want (arrange icons, menu groups ala Windows’ Start Menu, by categories, folders…)?
  • Limitation on number of apps on device?
  • A full-featured Notes app, in OS or downloadable.
  • A full-featured Microsoft Office-compatible app suite, in OS or downloadable.
  • Office suite must be capable of complex formatting, and not destroying the formatting of existing documents.
  • What file formats (.rtf, .docx, .txt, .xls, etc.) does the Office Suite read and write?
  • Office suite must be compatible with and use .TTF or other standard fonts.
  • Must be able to zoom in and zoom out while editing.
  • How easy is it to select a block of text or a single character for editing?
  • Office suite or other app views .PDF documents.
  • Alarm clock with loud alarm, in OS or downloadable.
  • What solutions are offered for short distance (same-room) file transfers?  Compatible with other platforms?
  • What input methods are offered (keyboards, Graffiti, handwriting, voice…)?
  • Do keyboard(s) offer all characters and functions (such as arrow keys)?
  • Voice Command with advanced speech recognition to announce incoming phone calls (say callers’ names if they’re in Contacts), messages, e-mail, calendar events, system notifications (low battery, etc.), Voice Dial calls by number or name from Contacts, open and run apps, create and dictate notes, enter URLs, do a web search, find a map location or navigate to an address…  Voice should also read documents, web pages, and other elements.
  • Is video calling supported at the OS level or just through Apps?  Cross-platform or just to/from other users of this OS?  Videoconferencing?
  • Must be able to open, work with, and create zip files.
  • Does the OS support printing from all Apps to a wide variety of printers?  Details?
  • Frequent OS updates always available to all devices?
  • Soft resets: how easy and necessary?  Does the device reboot fast?  Data lost?
  • What features does this platform/OS offer that other platforms don’t?
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The Device

After selecting the OS features important to you, you must review the list again along with the list below for each device.  You would think devices running the same OS would have almost identical features.  Not so.  Reviewing different devices, I am amazed at how this feature or that is not present, or not exactly the same, in every device.   Different manufacturers may choose to leave out features, or may include their own software in certain models.

This is especially true if you’re comparing Android devices: you must determine the exact OS version of each device!  An Android device released tomorrow may actually have an old version of the OS.  I don’t know why, and I also don’t know why Google would allow old versions to be released.  Every device, no matter which OS, should come with the latest version of the OS and built-in applications.  Many consumers aren’t into details, so they buy what the salesperson or a friend says is the latest and greatest, then can’t understand why their new Smartphone won’t do the same things as their friends’.

Android from Google is very fragmented.  Different hardware, different screen sizes, different OS versions, almost everything is different between devices.  One thing we can’t predict is which Android devices will receive which upgrades and updates.  Many Android users have devices capable of the latest software, but they’ll never see those updates.

I did see a chart at another web site that showed HTC devices were most likely to receive Android updates, followed by Motorola.  Other manufacturers were much less likely, or not likely at all, to release updates for Android devices.  Buyer beware!

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Mobile Device Specs and Comparison

  • Is the device new or an older model?  When was the device released?
  • What is the device’s processor?  The latest and fastest?  Don’t purchase a new device with a slow or last-generation processor!
  • What is the realistic battery life?  Battery capacity?  Replaceable battery?  What is the cost of a spare OEM battery?
  • High-res screen?  Which technology?  Usable outdoors?  Is the screen flush or recessed (protected)?  How does the screen compare with other current devices?
  • Is the device good at finding and holding cellular and Wi-Fi signals in weak areas?
  • Device must have GPS that works with maps, location-based apps and services.
  • Maps must show locations, turn-by-turn directions, and traffic updates.
  • Includes Wi-Fi and software that makes it easy to find and sign in to hotspots.
  • Tethered modem support, at no additional charge (how I use my 5Gb or whatever monthly allotment should be my choice).
  • Is the removable media easy to access, or hidden behind the battery?
  • Push e-mail or present system of text messages for each incoming e-mail.
  • Web browser must be able to properly access sites I use, including web-based e-mail.
  • 8Mp or higher camera with flash.  Pictures and videos must compare favorably with other phone cameras.
  • HD video capture and playback.
  • Camera and software for video conferencing.
  • Text, picture, and video messaging.
  • Good quality (and volume) speakerphone.  Easy to turn speakerphone feature on/off?
  • 3.5mm headset jack, not some weird non-standard jack.  Also see Bluetooth specs.
  • Must have BT 2.1 EDR or above.  Which Bluetooth protocols are supported?
  • Does the device work with Bluetooth and wired external keyboards?
  • Do the soft and hardware keyboards offer ALL the standard keys including arrow keys?  All the usual keyboard shortcuts such as Control-X, Control-V, etc.?
  • How much crapware is in ROM?  Are there apps in ROM that I don’t use, or will replace with similar but better apps?  Able to hide or delete crapware?
  • Does the device multitask?  For everything or just certain functions?  What is the total and available-to-user ROM capacity?  RAM?  Is the device responsive, or lags when several things happen at once?
  • Does this device have the latest OS version?  Does it qualify for future OS upgrades?
  • Is this primarily a “social networking device,” a “multimedia consumption device,” a “gaming device,” a “mobile office device,” OR can I customize it to be exactly what I want?
  • Device size and weight?  Enter data, use the web browser; how does it “feel?”
  • Is the device solid or flimsy?  Are the doors and covers going to stay on and last?
  • What is the device manufacturer’s reputation for build quality?
  • How are repairs and warranty handled?  Where?
  • Cost, coverage, and duration of device insurance from the carrier?
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The Bottom Line…

When you’re done comparing with the 2 lists above, what does it all mean?  Yes, another list, below.  After reviewing these lists I haven’t found my perfect device, but I did eliminate many devices from further consideration.

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My Smartphone/PDA Uses

My primary need is a mobile office device, not a “gaming device,” a “social networking device,” or a “media consumption device.”

  • Calendar to list appointments, due dates, etc.  Alarms that can snooze variable times.
  • Address book, contact info.
  • Word processing to display and edit my To-Do list.
  • Secure app to hold passwords.
  • Other word processing docs and Notes.
  • Tethered modem support for notebook/desktop computers.
  • Text and picture messaging.
  • Read and edit reference docs.
  • Web surfing if screen is large enough.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

Needed in “Next Device”

  • Includes Wi-Fi and software that makes it easy to find and sign in to hotspots.
  • Device must have GPS that works with maps, location-based apps and services.
  • Maps must show locations, turn-by-turn directions, and traffic updates.
  • 8Mp or higher camera with flash.
  • HD video capture and playback.
  • Camera and software for video conferencing.
  • E-mail (need larger screen than Treo).
  • Video messaging.
  • Print documents, maps, photos, etc. to a wide variety of Wi-Fi/Bluetooth printers.
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Windows Phone 7

I usually refer to it as “Windows Phone Point Seven” to indicate this isn’t even a 1.0 release, lacking many features found in Windows Mobile (the prior phone/mobile device OS from Microsoft).  I’ll list some of my thoughts; to write everything would require the longest blog post in history.

Point One: Why?  That’s my biggest question.  Why?  Why was it necessary to scrap the former phone/mobile device OS and start over from scratch?  This OS is completely new and won’t run Windows Mobile programs, so third-party developers must also start over from scratch, learning a new code base and tools.  End users must also start over, discarding long-time favorite programs and hoping there are new ones to take their place.  Was this new OS a knee-jerk reaction to Apple and Android success, or was the Windows Mobile OS really inferior and lacking?  If it was inferior and lacking, why did it take Microsoft so long to recognize and correct this?  Was the problem more with the UI, the underlying operating system, both, or the marketing?

Microsoft used to do dog-and-pony shows around the country every couple of years to promote Windows Mobile.  These were live demonstrations of many of the things you could do with Pocket PCs, as they were called back then.  The presenters were familiar with the hardware and software, so you could get intelligent answers to your questions.  I attended several of these events, enjoyed them immensely, and hope this is one tradition they resurrect.  I was at one such show years back, and after the formal presentation I talked with the presenter, a Microsoft employee.  I thanked him for coming to our city and for the very professional presentation.  I did want to disagree with something he said.  He claimed that WinCE (former name for Windows Mobile) was for both business and pleasure.  I felt it was aimed solely at pleasure – listening to music, watching videos, playing games, etc.  He disagreed, stating there were many customers who used WinCE devices for business during the day, then used them to relax with games, music, and other diversions after the workday was done.  I said the WinCE editions of Word and Excel were clearly inferior.  They lacked features, and would actually change fonts and destroy formatting in documents created by the desktop versions of Word and Excel.  I pulled my Handspring Visor (a PalmOS handheld) from my pocket and asked if he was familiar with it.  He was.  I asked if he could honestly say that WinCE was as good as the PalmOS and WordSmith.  He said that not many people wanted that much word processing power on a handheld, and admitted I had the best solution at that time.  He said they had different priorities when they were developing the current release of WinCE, and he hoped they’d have time to develop Pocket Word and Pocket Excel for the next release.  Actually, it was at least two releases later before Windows Mobile had good “pocket” versions of Word and Excel.

I’ve thought many times about what that Microsoft employee said.  He was aware of the shortcomings I detailed, and was also aware of the other OS.  The key word in the discussion was “Priorities.”  I was at another event for other Microsoft software, overheard someone complaining about the lack of a particular feature, and again heard the word “priorities” in the answer.  These two responses show the Microsoft mindset.  It’s not that the largest software company in the world couldn’t do better, couldn’t include this feature or that one; couldn’t do more testing, couldn’t commit more resources to a project, they only seem to do what is deemed necessary to get that program out the door.  That bothers me a lot.  I realize software is a business, but what about doing “what’s right.”  Doing what’s right for users would, in the long run, also be what’s right for the company and shareholders.  Consider these costs.  First, the cost of lost sales when customers purchased Android, Apple, and other Smartphones instead of Windows Mobile.  Next, the millions and millions of dollars spent developing and testing Windows Phone 7.  The cost of misplaced priorities is extremely high for just this one item.  The mobile phone business is just one example of where Microsoft had the early lead in a category, then let other companies come along and take a significant piece of their pie.

Point Two: Windows Mobile was heavily marketed to business as The Mobile Solution.  Many WinMo users were large and medium-size businesses, or individuals wishing to carry a mobile office in their pocket.  Windows Mobile was the best mobile solution for business needs, and still is for many users.  When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7, they said development would continue with the Windows Mobile OS for corporate customers.  Really?  Windows Mobile v6.5.3 was released for some devices month ago, nothing since.  Jump over to the carriers’ web stores, and try to find any new device powered by Windows Mobile 6.x.  Fast forward to today and Windows Phone 7.  Business needs have been mostly ignored in this release.  The screen is a different technology than Windows Mobile devices, leading to a user experience more like Android and Apple.  Use your fingers instead of tapping on menus.  No cut-and-paste in the initial release.  Try to type without cut-and-paste.  You’ll wonder how they got anything done back in the typewriter era.  No removable and swappable storage cards?  Another big limitation.  No syncing with Microsoft Outlook or the desktop?  No multitasking for third-party apps?  No file system viewer/manager?  The list of reasons why this won’t work for business goes on and on.  I imagine many business users have kept their old Windows Mobile phones, as no “new” OS has all the features and programs that appeal to business users.  Blackberry?  The business tool for many, but lacking some features of Windows Mobile, and Blackberry has its own limitations and problems.  There isn’t even a clear path for the near future, but the likeliest candidate for corporate is the iPhone.

These are reasons WP7 isn’t for  me.  My primary need is a powerful mobile office device, not a “gaming device,” a “social networking device,” or a “media consumption device.”

The only major complaint I have with Windows Mobile is the need for frequent soft resets.  Without garbage collection/deletion by programs such as MemMaid and frequent soft resets, Windows Mobile comes to a halt.  This should have been solved by Microsoft years ago.  Again, their priorities.  A stable OS must have been far down on their list.

Point Three: How do I…?  Windows Mobile made it easy to get data files (music, videos, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, whatever) and other elements into, or out of, your Smartphone.  You could easily copy data to your desktop computer, then sync it to your handheld next time you attached a sync cable or synced wirelessly using Bluetooth.  You could copy files from your computer to an SD card, then pop the SD card into your handheld.  Not near your PC?  Insert an SD card into your handheld and copy the data from the card, run a program from the card, or copy data to the card which you could then pop into another computer.  Those choices are gone.  This is progress?

In this and other items, Microsoft seems to have copied Apple.  But they copied Apple as iOS was a couple of years ago, not today.  My iPad has more ways to sync documents and get documents in and out of the device than Windows Phone 7.

Point Four: There are winners in this new OS.  It’s meant for consumers.  Certain consumers.  There are many things left out of this OS; these omissions are touted as making it easier and more fun to use.  What??  I need more Koolade to drink!  Gamers and social media fans are among those who will like this new OS.  The gaming makes Windows Phone 7 look good relative to Android, the new kid in town.  Android has achieved remarkable market share and momentum at a startling speed, but looks weak in gaming compared to Windows Phone 7 and Apple.  Windows Phone 7 has the X-Box connection, and Apple iOS games are quite good and polished (and numerous).  If Microsoft takes advantage of the X-Box connection, this leaves Android as Odd Man Out in the gaming wars.

Point Five: The hardware looks quite impressive, but there are many things I’d compare before purchasing any Smartphone.  You’ll find lists of things to compare in other posts here.  Salesperson trying to rush you instead of helping you compare?  Thank them and go to another store.  Spend lots of time thinking and comparing; you’ll be living with your good or bad decision for many months!  Take pictures with the camera.  Compare the pictures with pictures from other camera phones.  Which has the most detail, best and truest colors, and pictures that are sharp and clear in a variety of settings and lighting?  The camera is an intricate combination of hardware and software, very hard to do just right in a Smartphone.  How easy is it to send photos to your computer, friends’ phones, and various web sites?  What is the total experience compared to iPhone and Android?  Which phone is the most intuitive for all functions?  Which phone has the best apps for Facebook, listening to music, web browsing, and other things you do most?

Point Six: Limited Availability.  In the U.S., WP7 is available from AT&T and T-Mobile, Sprint is coming soon, no Verizon on the horizon.

Point Seven: It’s the Apps!  The ability to run clever, ingenious Apps is one large reason, maybe the largest, behind the iPhone’s success.  You don’t have to be a techie to download, install, and use some of the greatest mobile software ever seen.  Apple reviews all apps before allowing them in the App Store.  Apple’s App Store has the largest number of Apps, and overall these apps are the most refined and polished.  The Android Market is a completely different experience from Apple, and offers the second highest number of Apps.  There is no quality review to pass for Android apps.  The Android Market is like the Wild, Wild West compared to Apple’s sophistication.  Few rules concerning what you can and can’t do, almost any app can be in the Android Market.  The Android Market is more “open” than Apple’s, but you take risks, and the overall app quality is lower than in the Apple App Store.  There have been Android apps that steal your personal data and send it off to the bad guys.  Then there’s the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace.  A much smaller selection – more than 7,000 apps and growing rapidly, tightly monitored and controlled by Microsoft, and obviously missing many of the cleverest apps.  Many people won’t buy Windows Phone 7 because of the limited apps, and many developers won’t devote time and energy to Windows Phone 7 until the sales numbers are higher.  Truly a Chicken and Egg situation.

When I bought my iPad, I visited the App Store daily.  I downloaded over one hundred apps and used many of them daily.  Then it dawned on me: I had become an addict, and I cut back my iPad usage.  Most of us have real lives, and those lives require time, attention, and nurturing.  Some apps are quite useful, so it made sense to continue using the iPad.  My iPad has 115 apps, but I really use 19 apps daily or frequently.  Some of these are built-in apps, so I really use only a few third-party apps on a regular basis.

The bottom line on apps is…you don’t need or use hundreds of apps.  If a platform has the apps you need, and those apps have great features and work well, that’s all you need.  If the platform’s App Store/Market/Marketplace is lacking, keep looking.

This will change for WP7 in the near future.  Some developers report that WP7 is the easiest Smartphone OS to write code for, due to the tools available from Microsoft.  Microsoft reports more than 30,000 developers have paid to join the Windows Phone 7 Developer Program.  This isn’t a freebie — you must pay to join — so these developers are serious.  Many of these developers have released apps on other platforms, and will likely recode and release similar apps for WP7.  There may be an explosion of WP7 apps in the near future!

Microsoft just ended a contest aimed at developing new app ideas.  The contest offered money and X-Box systems as prizes for the best new app ideas.  Microsoft will develop the winning idea into a free app; they’ll likely develop and release other apps inspired by this contest.  Every little bit helps.

The contest is over, but the desire for new apps is never over.  Whatever Smartphone you use, chances are some day you’ll think of a great app idea.  WRITE THE IDEA DOWN.  You may have the chance to submit the idea to someone who will develop it.  I can’t count all the app ideas I’ve done nothing with, then later saw an app like I envisioned.

I mentioned two WP7 competitors, so I should mention another.  WebOS is the two-year old “next generation” operating system from Palm, now a division of Hewlett-Packard.  Palm developed WebOS, then ran out of money to promote and further develop WebOS, before they were acquired by HP.  WebOS is a very capable and advanced operating system.  HP will unveil their WebOS plans for the near future on February 9.  Stay tuned!

 Point Eight: The initial WP7 over-the-air System Update, due any day, will fix some things but not everything.  You may not even like the fix for some things.  However, I must applaud Microsoft for the initial release of Windows Phone 7 working as well as it does.  It’s very stable for a 1.0 release.

Initial Windows Phone 7 sales to carriers aren’t bad.  Not in the same league as Apple or Android, but this is 1.0 trying to gain momentum.  The UI and the included apps seem very well thought out for version 1.0.  Gamers may find this platform attractive, but for most users I’d suggest letting this platform mature a bit.

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When the iPhone was first announced, I was ready to buy one that day.  It would feature a subset of the Apple desktop OS, which is very robust.  My questions: how much of the OS, which features, which Mac programs would it run…?  Then the details started leaking out, and the iPhone didn’t seem as good as when first announced.  When it was actually released, reviewers either loved or hated it.  I recently came across a forum post (not sure which forum) by Tim Hillebrand from April 2008, several months after the iPhone’s release titled, “30 Reasons Why Windows Mobile is Superior to iPhone.”   It was a well thought out list of iPhone deficiencies compared to what was then the most popular Smartphone OS.  At the time, I agreed with the post, although several points weren’t really important to me.

 I was going to delete the file (I had saved the post as a document), but decided to read it and see if any items were still relevant.  I was surprised by how many important features were lacking in that first iPhone!  Only Apple could have released a phone lacking so many features, charged as high a price as they did, and sold as many as they did.  Many missing items (lack of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, cut-and-paste, etc.) are now features.  Apple has added many features every year.  Out of 30 items in that post, 9 are still lacking.  So what’s left?  Here are the remaining items:

  • No expansion slots.
  • No InfraRed – can’t beam files, photos, tunes, text, contacts, applications…
  • Doesn’t have universal mini-USB connector for syncing and charging.
  • There’s no removable battery.  You have to send the unit to Apple at your own expense and suffer downtime.
  • There’s no FM or satellite radio.
  • Touch screen is not sensitive to a standard stylus, only a blunt instrument like a finger or a ball-peen hammer.
  • Finger gestures are crazy-making on a page with lots of hyperlinks because you cannot point precisely.
  • Cannot change page transitions or animations.
  • No programmable hardware buttons for easy control and access to such functions as volume control, camera, and digital recording.

How many are important to you?  Two of these can’t be changed; they’re part of having a capacitive screen.  No modern device has Infrared, so do we count that or not?  Will iPad 2 or iPhone 5 address any of the above?

The author didn’t just pan the iPhone, he also had praise for Apple and some words of wisdom.  He couldn’t have realized how true his predictions would become.

“However, I hasten to acknowledge that the iPhone does what it does very well indeed.  I never had it hang up on me and never had to reset it.  The screen is crystal clear and the graphics a pleasure to view.  The finger-friendly navigation has its problems and limitations but it is still a smooth solution that is fun to do.  Everything on the system is easy to implement and ideally suited for consumers who do not know about or care about power computing on a handheld device.”

“The bottom line is that in a year, iPhone has made a huge splash in the handheld market and is a tremendous success by any measure.  I am grateful to Apple for raising the bar and Microsoft had better pay attention if it wants to compete.  I am also pleased that Apple took control of its product instead of the sponsoring telco (AT&T) dictating the terms.  This is a healthy precedent that I hope will eclipse the power of the telcos and end to the silly stuff they put on phones to fill their pockets.”

I don’t have an iPhone but I do have an iPad so I’m quite familiar with iOS.  The iPhone and other iOS devices have come far, are leaders in their categories, and have inspired numerous copies.  In the first two hours Verizon Wireless made the iPhone available for pre-order (February 3, 3am – 5am), VZW sold more iPhones than any other VZW phone ever sold in its entire first day.  Microsoft and others touted tablets for years, but tablets were DOA until Apple introduced the iPad.  That market segment is now hot, hot, hot.  More than 100 tablets were shown last month at CES.  Phones, tablets, and other devices all descended from that first iPhone, introduced just four short years ago.

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