Google unveiled Android 4.1 Jelly Bean today during Google I/O, the third major mobile OS coming this month from one of the major players in the smartphone business – Apple’s iOS 6 was announced in early June at WWDC 2012, while Windows Phone 8 was demoed just a few days ago during Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 Summit.
In what follows we’re going to take a look at the main features of these three mobile operating systems that will power Android, iOS and WP devices, respectively, in the near future. It’s worth noting at this time that neither version is available to consumers right now, although developers and OEMs (where applicable since Apple makes its own hardware) already have access to them.
Each company has demoed only certain features of its upcoming OS update during their developer conference events and we’ll get a broader picture only once each mobile operating system is launched.
In case you’re looking to buy your first smartphone and don’t know what mobile operating system to choose, then we’ll tell you from the start that no matter what OS you end up selecting, it will be the best choice for you, as long as the OS you’re going with is able to help you out with daily chores – although it can also be the worst if it doesn't. So let’s take a look at each of the three OSes and see what these major updates will have to offer
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
One of the main attractions of this year’s Google I/O event is Google’s next-gen update Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Android is currently the number one smartphone OS by market share in most markets, but necessarily by profit share. Since Android is open source, anyone can use it and to create their own Android-based smartphone, tablet or other device.
But because Jelly Bean is open source this also means Google can’t make money off it, at least not directly. Moreover, the company does not control software updates, which is why we currently have a pretty fragmented Android ecosystem and that can be annoying at times for end-users and developers. Since OEMs and carriers are in charge of software updates and since they’d rather sell new devices instead of updating the old, we’re not surprised to see Ice Cream Sandwich, Google’s Android 4.0 update that was released in late 2012, only available on around 7% of available Android devices.
We can only hope that Jelly Bean will have a much better faith than its predecessor, and that it will soon be available on current ICS handsets. What’s worth noting is that Jelly Bean seems to be rather an incremental update (Android 4.1) instead of a major refresh (Android 5.0), which must mean that most devices that are running ICS or are upgradeable to ICS would also support Jelly Bean later down the road.
Without further ado, here are the main features of Android Jelly Bean:
- Better performance: “Project Butter” describes a new Google initiative to offer Android users a faster, more responsive OS starting with Jelly Bean by optimizing hardware usage, improving overall user experience and prolonging battery life.
- Home screen and widgets: in Jelly Bean users will be able to better customize their home screens as the OS will help them neatly place widgets by making the most of the available space on cluttered screens.
- Text input: Google revealed it has updated both its touch-based and its voice-based typing (dictation) features in Jelly Bean. The stock keyboard comes with a refined dictionary and predictive text support, while the dictation feature is also available offline.
- Accessibility: Jelly Bean will offer several gesture- and voice-based features that make Android more accessible to visually challenged users.
- Camera: the camera app has been slightly updated to offer faster image access.
- Android Beam: the app now supports NFC-based picture and video sharing with other NFC-enabled devices as well as NFC-based connectivity with Bluetooth devices
- Notifications: the app has been updated to better serve the needs of mobile device buyers. The new Notifications area now lets users do more things right inside the Notifications screen without having to switch to the app that pushes notifications in order to perform certain app-specific tasks.
- Google Search: one of the main features of Jelly Bean, Google Search has been redesigned from the ground up. The search offers a new user interface, advanced voice-based search and a Google Now feature. Instead of displaying regular web results, Google Search now displays cards with information and images, both for typed and voice-based queries, although regular Google Search results are also available. The search engine has been upgraded to employ the Knowledge Graph technology, which understands what the users are actually looking for. Finally, Google Now takes into account all the data Google has about you to offer tailored, automatic responses based on Search and triggered by daily activities.
- Other features: not all the Jelly Bean features have been demoed on stage and we expect to learn more as we move forward.
- Maps: while Google did not mention Google Maps during the Jelly Bean section of its first keynote, we'll remind you that the company held a special media event ahead WWDC 2012 to demo its next Google Maps update which will offer 3D maps and Google Maps offline support.
- Google Play: over 600,000 apps that work automatically on most Android devices without the need of further customization.
Formerly known as iPhone OS, Apple’s mobile platform has been rebranded as iOS two years ago when the first iPad was launched. iOS is the mobile operating system that helped revitalize the smartphone business and make the transition from keypad/keyboard smartphones to touchscreen devices. The operating system can be run on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, with Apple trying to minimize fragmentation as much as possible.
While iOS 6 will run on a vast majority of iOS devices from the moment it’s rolled out by Apple (carriers don’t have a say in software updates, nor do they poison it with any crapware), not all iOS 6-capable handsets will be able to run all the new features.
Speaking about new features, you’ll have to know that iOS 6 will come with several improvements and additions meant to offer users and even better iOS experience:
- Siri: the virtual assistant is still in beta but it will offer support for a variety of new features including sporting events and movies details, app launching, Twitter integration, Eyes Free car integration, local search and turn-by-turn navigation. The assistant is now available in more languages and local dialects.
- Facebook: just like it did with Twitter in iOS 5, Apple is now offering iOS users a deep, OS-wide Facebook sharing integration, starting with iOS 6.
- Phone app: updated to offer more features than just answering or rejecting a call. These include answering with a message or setting a reminder, when a phone conversation is not possible
- FaceTime: Apple’s proprietary video calling application will now work over 3G.
- Safari: iOS 6 will let users sync their Safari desktop browser with the mobile version. Offline Reading and iCloud Tabs are also coming to the mobile browser.
- Shared Photo Streams: iOS 6 will let users share photos with friends and family and comment on them straight from the photo app.
- Mail: the default mail application has been updated to include VIP contacts (priority emails from favorite contacts) and support direct picture and video insertion.
- Passbook: this is a new Apple app for iOS 6 devices which will store all the e-passes including store cards, boarding passes, movie tickets, coupon cards and all other tickets available in electronic format.
- Guided Access: a new feature that will let parents and/or schools customize the experience kids and/or students, respectively, have on their iOS device.
- Maps: maybe one of the most important features of iOS 6 is the revamped Maps application. Apple ditched Google Maps and replaced it with its own Maps application complete with turn-by-turn navigation and 3D support.
- 200 other new features: are promised in addition to the ones mentioned above.
- App Store: over 650,000 apps – of those over 225,000 are customized for tablet use.
Windows Phone 8
You would have thought that Microsoft knew better than to let its smartphone market share slip through its fingers in the years following the iPhone and Android launches. The company had Windows Mobile 6.x out well ahead of its competitors announced iPhone OS and Android, but the OS was a lot more limited and user-unfriendly, especially when compared with Apple’s and Google’s advancements in the field.
Microsoft tried and failed to patch things up with Windows Phone 6.5, a transition mobile software that preceded Windows Phone 7, the major mobile OS refresh we’ve been waiting for. And what a refresh that was! Microsoft introduced a totally new mobile operating system with a fresh Metro user interface that looked nothing like its predecessors. But that happened in 2010, or two years too late, as iOS and Android quickly became the favorite mobile platforms of smartphone buyers, at the expense of former glories such as Microsoft, Nokia and RIM.
While analysts keep saying Microsoft will get back its market share in the business, and then some, the fact remains that Windows Phone sales are nothing to write home about.
Microsoft is hoping to change all that with Windows Phone 8, but before we get to features we’ll notice that the company is ready for some OS fragmentation of its own. Current WP handsets will not be able to run all WP8 features. Instead they’ll get a Windows 7.8 update that only includes some of the following features, which means everyone that's specifically interested in WP8 handsets will have to buy a new handset. Here are the main WP8 features:
- Hardware upgrades: starting with WP8, the company will support dual-core and multi-core processors, two extra screen resolutions (1280 x 768 and 1280 x 720) and microSD memory expansion.
- Native Code: WP8 and Windows 8 will share some common platform elements which will let developers, with the emphasis on gaming companies, to bring their digital products to both WP8 devices and Windows 8 machines.
- NFC: future WP8 phones will come with NFC support, which will be useful not only for mobile payments as WP8 handset owners will be able to do all sorts of sharing and even app launching with NFC.
- Wallet: Microsoft is creating its own Wallet Hub in WP8. The application will share elements from Google’s own Wallet (mobile payments) but also feature support for storing various other coupons and cards (in a similar manner to Apple’s Passback).
- Maps: Microsoft does not have its own mapping application like Google or Apple, but it has a strong WP partner, the Finland-based Nokia. Nokia Map tech will be available on all WP8 devices, complete with offline map support and turn-by-turn navigation.
- Enterprise: Unlike prior WP version, WP8 will be ready for the business environment as it will offer security features like encryption and secure boot, device management, Office apps and line of business app deployment that does not require approval from Microsoft’s digital store.
- Start screen: the live tile home screen has been updated by Microsoft to offer users the ability of better customizing their experience. Users will be able to move tiles around and resize them in order to adapt them to their needs.
- Other secret features: not all WP8 features have been unveiled during the media event, so more details about WP8 will be available down the road.
- Marketplace: over 100,000 apps that work only on WP handsets. Tablets will run Windows 8, a different OS, which means they will need slightly modified apps.
The three operating systems will be available in the coming months, at which point a more thorough comparison can be made. iOS 6 and Windows Phone 8 will be released at an unannounced date this fall and each launch will be complemented by new hardware announcements. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean will be coming to certain devices (Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus and original Xoom) in July, but it’s not yet known when it will hit other existing ICS devices.