Mobile OS Wars A comparison between Android and Windows Phone

Mobile OS Wars: A comparison between Android and Windows Phone

Almost a decade before smartphone boom, Microsoft was the dominant player in mobile operating system market with its Pocket PCs and Windows palm devices being the most popular hand-held devices/ Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system subfamily was adopted by leading manufacturers of mobile devices, Windows Mobile being a popular platform. However, these devices were used mostly by businessmen to keep contact information, maintain schedule and organize work related information. With arrival of Android operating system in 2007 (already acquired and being marketed by Google), the popularity of the operating system grew phenomenally so that by end of 2014, it had captured global smartphone market share pf 81.3%. Android’s rise also coincided with the exponential rise in the sale of smartphones globally with more than 1.2 billion smartphones having been sold by 2014.

However, in 2010 Microsoft replaced Windows Mobile with a new family of mobile operating system for smartphones called Windows Phone which took a departure from the previous approach, incorporating the slick Metro interface to target general consumers rather than the enterprise community. The latest Windows Phone 8.1 release has seen a surge in popularity, throwing a direct challenging to Android.

Differences Between Android And Windows Phone
The fundamental difference between Android and Windows Phone is that while Android is open source software supported by Google, Windows Phone is a proprietary software owned and marketed by Microsoft. Since Android is open source software available under Apache license, other manufacturers are at liberty to customize the operating system to suit the specific needs of their devices. Although Google has launched its own Android-based smartphone series called Google Nexus which may be purest form of Android operating system, there are 6 different versions of Android running on 24,093 thousand types of devices (as of August 2015, according to a survey by network data collector OpenSignal1). This is called fragmentation of Android or absence of a single Android version or a device, which has its own pros and cons. A major drawback of this is that a large number of devices may not receive updates and continue to run on older version depending on policies of the device manufacturers. In fact, some device manufacturers may and do use this option to upgrade to newer device. On the positive side, fragmentation has helped grow Android market share by supporting devices ranging from entry-level, low-end smartphones to the latest high-end smartphone.

Windows Phone is proprietary software which means that other device manufacturers cannot adopt the operating system without arriving at an understanding with Microsoft Corporation. This implies that proliferation of the operating system across a range of devices like in the case of Android is highly unlikely. Yet, one of the advantages this closed system offers is updates are delivered via Microsoft Update, ensuring more security.

Look And Feel
The most distinguishing feature of Windows Phone 8.1 is its stylish interface based on Microsoft’s Metro design language. In contrast to Android’s static icons laid out spaciously on the home screen, Window Phone’s full screen interface of Live Tiles line up neatly in a color coordinated manner, taking up empty space but without really cluttering up the home screen. But the important thing about Live Tiles are that they don’t serve as icons but as dynamic links providing live overview of what is going in individual apps such as notifications received or weather update. Android too has widget support which serves a similar purpose and customized widgets can be placed on home screen but the layout is dictated more by what the developers of the app envisioned rather than the layout that best integrates with other apps to give a unified look. Although Android interface can be fully customized, because of the inherent design paradigm it still lacks the elegance of the Windows Phone interface.

Windows Phone also has an advantage over Android when it comes to seamlessly integrating email and social media. While Android associates contacts with their respective social network profiles in the address book and receive update in individual social network apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Windows Phone provides “hubs” which combine local and online content. For instance the Picture Hub displays photos captured using the device as well as the user’s Facebook photos. From social network accessibility perspective, the People Hub offers a single interface to receive updates and interact on different social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as opposed to switching to different apps to access the particular social network.

Google Now Vs Cortana
A most recent introduction in Windows Phone is Cortana, the virtual personal assistant which is seen as an answer to Google Now. Like Google Now, not only can Cortana interact with user in both voice and textual format, it can also interact with features of the phone by carrying out web searches, setting reminders. Most importantly, both Google Now and Cortana gather user’s personal information to deliver tailored information and recommendation.

When it comes to apps for the two, Android as open source platform beats Windows Phone with more than 1,400,000 apps available in Google Play (as of November 2014) as opposed to 300,000 apps available on Windows Phone Store (as of August,2014). Much of this disparity has to do with the development model that Google and Microsoft follow. Although Google Play is the main repository of Android apps, Android as an open source platform allows third-party application market place like Amazon Appstore to exist, allowing developers multiple options to help distribute their applications. To publish an app on Google Play, developers can register for Google Developer account by paying one-time fee of $25 and submit apps which are then made available to users in Google Play after security checks to prevent malware or apps violating the approval terms and conditions such as sexually explicit materials, hate speech, violence and other such activities. However, Android apps (with .APK extensions) can also be directly downloaded from websites and installed on devices.

In contrast, Windows Phone Store requires the developer to pay an annual subscription fee to submit applications. Further it also imposes a limit on not only paid apps but also imposes a limit of 100 free submission of free apps after which there is a fee of $19.99 for submission of free apps. Although this helps ensure that the quality of the apps remains up to par, it also restricts more developers from adopting the platform for app development, as a result of which the number of apps in Windows Phone Store are unlikely to come close to the the number of Android apps in the near future.

After trailing behind in mobile operating system for a considerable period of time, with Windows Phone 8.1 Microsoft has thrown a credible challenge to the Android platform. From consumer perspective, Windows Phone now offers nearly all features that Android boasted of and provides a more elegant as well as functionality-laden interface, however, Android continues to be the more flexible mobile operating system and provides more options. However, the advantages that Android continues to possess are the platform’s availability in a huge and diverse range of mobile devices as well as the large number of apps available on the platform.

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