What does the future hold for smartphone operating systems?

Wearables have so far been positioned as the second screen for your smartphone; Google and Apple are now pushing towards making the upcoming Android Wear and WatchOS platforms less reliant on a paired smartphone


Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

While young people typically focus on the specifications of a smartphone, it is the ever more powerful software that lies beneath its hood that is driving sales by enabling apps for health, better email management, document handling, video editing and photography, to name a few.

Back in 2007, when Apple Inc. unleashed the world’s first touchscreen smartphone—the iPhone, it ran a completely new operating system (OS). Apple’s iOS felt fresher and more intuitive than the Symbian OS (which, back then, powered the now-defunct Nokia smartphones).

In 2008, Google Inc. decided to jump into the fray with its Android OS for smartphones—the first phone being the T-Mobile G1. Both these operating systems were very different from the Symbian in Nokia phones, Samsung’s own OS for their smartphones, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and the software that BlackBerry deployed on its business user-oriented phones.

With the concept of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) being rapidly adopted by organizations, Apple and Google are wooing companies by making iOS and Android (with the new Android 7.0, or Nougat) even better for productivity tasks—enhanced security and easier plugging into the existing IT infrastructure being the primary considerations.

The rise of instant messenger apps meant for teams and businesses is another indicator of the changing landscape. When Apple unveiled the iPad Pro late last year, hoping to attract those who need to replace their office PC with something more portable and flexible, Microsoft was an integral part of the keynote address and the Office365 suite was in focus.

While Android and iOS are trying hard to attract the enterprise crowd, BlackBerry has made a much-delayed shift to Android, but what they managed with the Priv launched earlier this year, was the perfect blend of Android’s freedom and the tight security boundaries that BlackBerry is known for.

Microsoft’s decision to step back from the Windows Phone hardware was perhaps a tad unexpected, considering it was potentially in a strong position with the Windows 10 platform which promised so much with universal apps—apps that will run on PCs, hybrids, laptops,smartphones and even the Xbox console.

Meanwhile, it seems as though eventually almost all apps will somehow be linked to the cloud.

For consumers, the need is to overcome the limitations of local storage space in their phones and tablets and also backup data in most cases, while enterprises need to enable easier data access and collaboration options for their teams.

Be it the Office365 productivity suite and integration with Dropbox, or Google’s focus on the Drive package, or even Google’s latest Allo and Duo instant messenger apps which will rely on artificial intelligence and deep learning—guess where they all reside?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a big step forward for smartphones, particularly Android and iOS. At WWDC 2016 (Worldwide Developers’ Conference), Apple announced that the QuickType foundation for text typing on an iOS device will now use deep learning to enable more intelligent predictive typing, using expanded context.

That means iMessage and eventually other messenger apps will be able to help you with text responses, share your location and more.

Apple is opening it to developers to integrate third-party app recommendations. This is their response to Google’s AI foundations in their Allo and Duo messaging apps, smarter Google Assistant on Android and iOS, and also Facebook’s DeepText AI for contextual suggestions.

Wearables, such as smart watches, have so far been positioned as the second screen for your smartphone for checking mails, messages, handling calls and even using certain apps without having to take out the smartphone. But both Google and Apple are now pushing towards making the upcoming Android Wear and WatchOS platforms less reliant on a paired smartphone; certain apps will be able to run on the smart watches, without needing a phone for data.

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