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Bill Bennett

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Android phone OS: Third among equals

Android, iOS and Windows Phone are all decent mobile operating systems.

Last year I spent a week working exclusively with each. You won’t go far wrong with any of them. All three cover the basics adequately. None of them is perfect and none has a fatal flaw. Each has pluses and minuses.

You may find yourself in one camp almost by accident, if, say, someone gives you an iPhone. It may be a deliberate choice: after researching the market you chose a Surface Pro 3. It could be that you work for an organisation that standardises on the Galaxy Tab S.

Once in a camp, your relationship with that world tends to deepen. As an iPhone user you may learn to make the most of iOS. You may spend money on apps, store everything in iCloud and commit to Apple’s way of doing things. This works the same with all three operating systems.

Market share

While the three operating systems are equal in many senses, there are ways in which they are anything but equal. Android has by far the largest market share, Windows Phone has a tiny market share. There are roughly 25 Android users for every Windows Phone user.

Market share is often overstated. Its implications are misunderstood. More customers do not always mean more profit. Android device makers struggle to break even while Apple, on a smaller market share, is highly profitable.

Many developers focus on iOS despite there being fewer users because that’s where there are app sales.

Which us brings to “Android is third among equals”.

While the three mobile operating systems are, to a point, largely functionally equal, Android doesn’t have things nailed down as neatly as Windows or Apple. This is a blessing for some, for many people, it’s a problem.

You always know where you are on any Windows or Apple device. That’s just not true on Android. Samsung’s Android user interface is different to LG’s and so on. Not all apps run on all variations.

Usability, the Android weak spot

From a usability point of view, Android isn’t one thing, it’s many. For Android owners getting all the productivity benefits might mean sticking with Samsung, LG or HTC. Working with one maker’s Android phone and another maker’s tablet can be almost as jarring as moving to another operating system.

Android users are lucky to see one OS upgrade on any single device. When iOS or Windows Phone moves from one version to another, everyone gets to move so long as their existing hardware can support the new software. This rarely happens with Android. It’s not uncommon to get left behind.

This is important for some people, it doesn’t worry everyone. For many Android as the least best choice of the three operating systems. It’s harder work for everyday users who want to get business or other tasks done efficiently.

Google’s phone operating system appeals to more technical types who like to go beneath the surface. It’s a great OS for those who want the freedom to tinker. If that’s you, then fine, you’ve not made a silly or dumb choice.

However, Android is often the lowest cost option and because of that, it is often the OS used by the least technical users. That’s as a problem. Some will struggle to do simple things because of this. Many will not enjoy the full functionality of their tools.

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