Buying a smartphone is daunting enough even before you consider what operating system it will run. From touch screens to QWERTY keyboards, candy-bars to sliders, e-mail to multimedia, choosing a smartphone has never been more confusing because of the vast range of handsets on the market.
Smartphones offer numerous benefits, such as the ability to synchronise your personal data with a PC or Mac, unified access to your contacts, calendars and appointment information, and the ability upgrade and improve your phone's software. Most smartphones currently on the market run one of the following operating systems, and the OS of the phone you choose will make a big impact your experience.
Current version: 3.1.2
The iPhone OS is Apple's operating system for its iPhone and iPod Touch devices. Best known for its ease of use thanks to the excellent capacitive touch screen used in Apple's handsets, the iPhone OS also has the largest mobile application store, the App Store. Already there are more than 85,000 apps available, and the App Store continues to grow. According to Apple more than 2 billion apps have been downloaded. The iPhone OS is widely considered to have the best mobile Web browser, Safari, and the best MP3 playback thanks to its iPod feature. Despite its popularity, the iPhone OS has been criticised for its closed nature, the lack of multitasking and Apple's stringent review process for third-party apps. In addition, heavy e-mailers may not take to the iPhone's on-screen keyboard.
Strengths: Ease of use, shallow learning curve, great mobile Web browser, excellent App Store
Weaknesses: Stringent app approval process, can't send files via Bluetooth, closed OS, lack of multitasking
Get it if: You want a shallow learning curve, like the idea of a wide range of third-party applications and want a good music player
Avoid it if: You like to customise and tweak your device, you want a physical keyboard for text entry or you frequently use e-mail for business
Current version: 1.6 (Donut)
Initially developed by Google, the open-source Android operating system is now controlled by the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), which brings together mobile phone manufacturers, software developers and telcos. Like the iPhone OS, Android is purely designed for touch-screen phones. However because it's open source it can run on a variety of devices, including candy-bar and slider smartphones. The Android OS is best known for being easy to customise and having tight integration with Google services such as Gmail. HTC was the first mobile phone manufacturer to release an Android handset in Australia with the Dream (followed by the Magic and the upcoming Hero) but the OS is still in its relative infancy. Motorola, LG and Sony Ericsson have already announced they will be launching smartphones with the Android OS in the near future, and Samsung has already launched the Galaxy Icon smartphone in Australia.
Strengths: User-friendly, open source, ability to tweak and customise, multitasking
Weaknesses: Still in its infancy, much smaller development community compared to the iPhone, not as polished as alternatives.
Get it if: You like the idea of personalising and tweaking your device and you want a choice of form factors
Avoid it if: You aren't typically an early adopter or you frequently use e-mail for business
Available on: RIM BlackBerry smartphones
Current version: 4.7
The BlackBerry OS is RIM's proprietary operating system for its range of smartphones. Renowned for superb e-mail integration, the BlackBerry was originally a device targeted specifically at corporate users. These days, the BlackBerry is as much a consumer device as it is a business tool, but its strong emphasis on e-mail remains. The BlackBerry is famous for its trackball and QWERTY keyboard design, and many users swear by its physical keyboard for fast text entry. A touch screen BlackBerry — the Storm — was launched last year to compete with the iPhone, but received poor reviews. BlackBerry App World, an application store similar to iPhone's App Store, has already been launched in international markets and should hit Australia before the end of the year.
Strengths: Fantastic e-mail, trackball or trackpad is easy to navigate, multitasking, complete wireless synchronisation
Weaknesses: App store still hasn't launched in Australia, touch-screen model was less than impressive, Web browsing needs improvement
Get it if: You are a heavy e-mailer, you want to synchronise your work and personal calendars, contacts and appointments and you prefer physical keyboards over touch screens
Avoid it if: You want access to a wide range of third-party apps and you want a great mobile Web experience