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Three of a kind

Three of a kind
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First Published: Tue, Nov 17 2009. 10 04 PM IST

Updated: Tue, Nov 17 2009. 10 04 PM IST
A few years ago, most of us thought that a Nokia E90, an N95 running on the Symbian 60 platform, or perhaps an O2 Atom with Windows Mobile 5.0, were the smartest “function-rich” smartphones money could buy. Then, along came the game changers: Apple with its iPhone and iPhone operating system (a pocket edition of Mac OS X), followed by Google with its open Android platform. And the whole paradigm of smartphones changed.
Heftily specced hardware that worked well, though hugely important, no longer remained the all-important ingredient.
Efficient, evolved, slick software that exuded more intuitive, user-friendly interfaces that you could personalize without any fuss improved Web integration and browsing, and the availability of easily downloadable third-party applications began to gain the competitive advantage. This gave us so much more to do on—and with—our cellphones, while making everything much easier to do.
In fact, for all practical purposes, the silly cellphone had metamorphosed into a mini-computer that also made calls.
We take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the three latest operating systems — Apple iPhone OS 3.0, Google Android and Windows Mobile 6.5—vis-à-vis the latest phones in the market today. It’s no coincidence that all three phones that run these operating systems happen to be touch-screen phones—just an emphatic indicator of the future of cellphones.
Apple phone OS 3.0
It is not for nothing that iPhone fanboys dub it the Godphone. Now in its third major incarnation, the already good operating system (OS) has improved further over time—not so visibly on hardware as on software. Its much lauded, easy-to-use, intuitive multi-touch abilities exploit the iPhone’s capacitive screen to the fullest, making it a most enjoyable and effortless touch-screen to use. The iPhone OS remains the one to beat on the user-interface front.
What works: Of course, the expansive canvas of around 100,000 apps. Even if you discount more than half of these as “craplets” (crappy applications), you’re left with an awesome number of useful ones—for virtually every imaginable purpose and pursuit—to which no one in the competition is even close. For example, where else can diabetics plug their glucose meters into their phones and download readings? Add to that the no-fuss updation process of both OS and app versions. Its prowess for the enterprise and acceptance in businesses has also been growing steadily.
Compatibility with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 and 2007 allows you to wirelessly “push” email, contacts and information on events to the iPhone.
What doesn’t work: The chief sore points with the iPhone are its inability to multitask (run several applications at the same time). While Web browsing is fast, simple and efficient, you are compelled to use Safari and must make do without in-browser Flash. Battery life, though improved substantially, can still leave the phone gasping for life at the end of the day. A closed OS intended to run only on Apple hardware means it offers zero-tolerance in terms of platform adaptability and is, hence, monopolistic.
Google Android
With 47 technology and mobile companies in tow, Android is fast becoming the mobile platform of the future. Since it is a completely customizable, fully stacked (replete with OS, middleware and key mobile applications) open-source mobile platform, Android offers phone and application developers vast scope in implementation. The best example of the Google Android platform to cross our path yet has been the HTC Hero.
What works: Running HTC’s Sense interface atop Android, Hero is capable of seven customized home screens to which you can add widgets, application short cuts and certain Android-specific programs. Multi-touch works extremely well on its capacitive screen, making it the only handset that comes close to matching the iPhone in the pinch-flick experience.
As Android is built for multitasking, five-seven apps can be opened simultaneously. Other than supporting Flash in its Web browser, it also formats Web pages better than the iPhone. Even with multitasking, the Hero boasts a decent battery life.
What doesn’t work: On the downside, Android Market, the applications store, offers limited apps in India. So far, you’re restricted to free offerings. Shockingly, the implementation of Google Maps on the Hero is way poorer than on the iPhone.
You can’t download mail attachments without an additional plug-in. There’s no default video player and the pre-loaded audio player is quite basic. Android’s openness is also its foible and could substantially increase the risks of phone hacking.
Forthcoming phones with this OS: Motorola Milestone, Acer Liquid, Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, LG GW620, Samsung Spica.
Windows Mobile 6.5
So frenetic has been the pace of the mobile OS race that by the time Windows Mobile 6.5 launched, around a month ago, it was called “too little, too late” by all and sundry. And if none other than Microsoft’s head honcho, Steve Ballmer, admits that 6.5 needs a revamp, need we say more? No matter how you look at it, this version is more of a cosmetic facelift to the previous one.
What works: To be fair, the multitasking WinMo 6.5 feels nice, responsive and zippy on good hardware such as the Acer neoTouch S200 with its fast Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. Though much more stable and faster than 6.1, WinMo 6.5’s prime improvement is its interface, which adds to the user experience. The rejigged Internet Explorer is more finger-friendly and includes a nifty zoom slider. A useful My Phone feature now easily backs up all data—including contacts, SMSs, calendar and photos, among others—to a password-protected site. So switching or misplacing a Windows phone doesn’t mean losing personal data. Also, Exchange integration with the enterprise continues to be superb and the Windows trump card.
What doesn’t work: No under-the-hood changes aside, there’s a gross lack of customization abilities—you can’t add, remove or juggle icons at will. Sadly, Windows Marketplace, the WinMo app store, stocks around 400 apps, of which around 30% are free. That’s against about 15,000 unvetted (for security and compatibility) apps out in the wild on the Web. All this is bound to prevent the OS from taking centre stage in the mobile OS wars—at least until WinMo 7 debuts next year.
Forthcoming phones with this OS: Sony Ericsson Xperia X2, Samsung B7610, HTC HD2.
Send live photos
PhotoWALL, a live mobile social network service that allows you to send live photos along with many types of geo-tags and voice tags to a searchable website for public, network or private viewing, was launched last week. It is available free to all iPhone users on the App Store and many Sony Ericsson and Nokia users at www.photowall.com . PhotoWALL also enables simultaneous live uploading of mobile media to Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. In India, photoWALL is available as a co-branded site. Staff Writer
Online cricket tournament
Zapak.com has launched India’s first online multi-player cricket tournament to capitalize on the passion for the game in the country. In partnership with Hewlett-Packard, the ‘MP2 Online Multiplayer Cricket Tournament’ is free for you to challenge friends to win goodies such as laptops, bags and sippers. The contest is open till 22 November. For more information, log on to http://hpcricket.zapak.com . Varuni Khosla
Nokia N97 Mini
Nokia has unveiled the latest addition to its Nseries range, the Nokia N97 Mini. The N97 Mini is a smaller mobile computer with stylish stainless steel cues, featuring a tilting 3.2-inch touch display, Qwerty keyboard and fully customizable home screen. Available in three stylish colours —cherry black, garnet and white—the Nokia N97 Mini launched in India this week, with a price tag of Rs30,939. Staff Writer
Website builder
Airtel has launched the Airtel Website Builder , a site that lets users and small businesses create their own website with no need for coding expertise. A value-add for anyone who has an Airtel Broadband account, it offers a choice of of around 1,000 templates spread across 24 categories, from Retail Shops to personal portfolios. Packages, including your own domain name and hosting, start at Rs250 a month. Krish Raghav
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Nov 17 2009. 10 04 PM IST