Smartphone OS smackdown: WebOS vs. the world

WebOS needs to beat -- not meet -- Apple iPhone, Google Android , Microsoft Windows Mobile, RIM BlackBerry and Symbian S60

Does the world need another smartphone operating system? Apple's iPhone OS is still booming; Google's Android is increasingly promising; and three longtime contenders--Microsoft's Windows Mobile, RIM's BlackBerry OS, and Symbian's S60--are undergoing serious renovation to keep up with the times.

All of which presents a major challenge for WebOS, the much-anticipated, much-delayed phone OS that debuts on the Palm Pre. For WebOS to have a future, it must do more than catch up with its competitors. In one or more major respects, it must be better than existing alternatives. Otherwise, Palm--the beleaguered company whose PalmPilot and Treo were handheld-computing landmarks--might just as well have built a Pre that used Android or some other already-here OS.

Having spent a bit of time with the Pre, I'm very happy that Palm chose the hard route rather than the expedient one. WebOS, which looked so promising when the company unveiled it at CES in January, delivers on most of that promise. It's an exciting platform for next-generation smartphone apps; it's a fitting heir to the groundbreaking-but-obsolete Palm OS it replaces; and it's the most polished, inventive iPhone OS rival to date. Even if you never buy a WebOS phone, you may benefit from its existence. (I suspect that other mobile OS developers will soon try to replicate some of its signature features, such as its intuitive multitasking and its deep integration with online services.)

Read on for a look at how WebOS compares with Apple's iPhone OS, Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Nokia's Symbian S60 5th Edition, and RIM's BlackBerry OS. I judged the five operating systems on their capabilities, ease of use, and visual panache, and I assessed both their standard applications and third-party programs.

Apple iPhone OS

What it is: iPhone OS is a pocket-size version of Mac OS X, shrunk down and redesigned to power the iPhone 3G.

How it works: As you zip around the iPhone 3G's multitouch interface with your fingertips, hardware and software blur into one pleasing experience. With other OSs, it's all too easy to get lost in menus or forget how to accomplish simple tasks; iPhone apps, however, are remarkably sleek and consistent. Version 3.0, due this summer, promises to fill in most of the holes in version 2.2 by adding cut and paste, OS-wide search, better support for landscape-mode use, and the ability for programs such as IM clients to alert you even when they're not running. (The OS will still lack true multitasking, however.)

How it looks: Terrific. Everything from the sophisticated typography to the smooth animation effects contributes to the richest, most attractive environment ever put on a handheld device.

Built-in applications: What's good is great--especially the Safari browser, which makes navigating sites that weren't designed for viewing on a phone remarkably simple. The OS's music and video programs are truly of iPod caliber, too. But as a productivity tool the iPhone lacks depth: For instance, you get no apps for editing documents or managing a to-do list.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Windows MobilewebOSsymbianPalm PresmartphonesiPhoneGoogle AndroidRIM BlackBerry

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Harry McCracken

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?