Each new contender in the mobile operating system market has one overriding ambition: to stick it to Apple. The iPhone, in its various guises, has dominated smart phone sales, accessories, app development and media coverage in recent years. However, it is facing increasing pressure from a growing number of upstarts, each of whom promise a unique approach to the art of capturing the entire universe in a cassette-sized hunk of transistors. While the iPhone possesses an entire orchard’s worth of gadgets and gizmos, Apple’s Achilles pip is flexibility of service. The resulting consumer quandary boils down, essentially, to this: would you rather be able to play chess against a rooster, or choose your brand of smartphone?
Apps are gaining something of a mixed reputation. The majority of Apple’s competitors have realised that in the right context, it is possible to apply cable TV logic to them – the more there are, the less weight each one has, and the easier it is to dismiss the whole lot as useless, time-wasting cack. Hence, Apple’s App Store could arguably be seen as a weakness rather than a strength; while a few apps are undoubtedly of great benefit to the information obsessive at large, too many clutter the mind and bore the long-suffering spouse.
On the other hand, Android, the most sensible platform driving the current generation of smartphones, won’t tell you the time in the voice of John Motson but will work on a mobile phone that wasn’t built by its parent company. It’ll also host more than one app at once, offer a fast and easily-navigable interface and eschew that bane of the modern communicator – an automatic spellchecker. If you really want a spellchecker, Apple’s arms are still open, but you could just as well join forces with Blackberry or Nokia Symbian, both of which have their own perks – Blackberries are clearly just as limited in platform-choice as Apple, but come with their own touchy-feely joy-of-plastic keyboard for that all-important ratatat business communiqué, while the Symbian OS can, like the Android, be applied to a range of phones.
The most alluring aspect of the operating system for Android phones, however, is its open-source freedom of choice; it may not slip onto an iMac like a glove or channel all your emails to a single all-devouring feed, but it comes with a free license and no obligation to purchase other products and services from its creator, meaning that it can be used with whatever hardware you happen to have lying around, and thus whatever existing phone contract you’re lumbered with. In this regard, Android has not only stuck it to Apple, but poured toffee over the top. Still, Apple persist, and while they seem ready to shift the focus of battle up to tablet-size, their beloved little iPhone is not quite finished yet – after all, how else can you turn a map of your location into a real-life Pacman level?