What the new mobile OS is all about

Most cell phone operating systems have been upgraded in the past few months. How will this change the way you use your phone?

twitter-logoNidhi Singal | Print Edition: December 2011

Until the birth of the iPhone, the common phone user did not bother much about the operating system. They were familiar with Symbian or Java and made no demands from a phone. Apple put the phone industry in a frenzy with the iOS, which led to the development of Google's Android and caused Microsoft to revisit its Windows Mobile OS. With time, and cut-throat competition, operating software has become a major factor in the appeal of a phone. For one, the OS is the brain of the ubiquitous gadget.

And then, phones today are a lot more than portable landlines. They are the primary devices for multimedia, Internet access, social networking and for culling apps from cyberspace. So periodically Apple, Google, RIM, even Microsoft, overhaul their systems. Phone makers too develop their own platforms, as Samsung did with Bada. By design or accident, almost all the major smartphone makers recently announced new versions of their operating systems or rolled out much awaited upgrades. We tested them and here is the report on what these new phone brains bring to the table.

Comes from: Google
What's new: Designed for both mobiles and tablets, it unites the best of Gingerbread and Honeycomb versions. This wedlock has brought a refined interface that has more visuals and is interactive along with new ways of sharing and communication. Virtual buttons have been added for navigating back, home and apps. The 'Recent Apps' virtual key helps switch among active apps for multitasking. The Notification bar has also undergone some changes. Users can drag an app over another to create a folder. Locking too comes with new options.

There is also a significant improvement in the soft keyboard as text input is faster and accurate, with a spell checker that underscores errors. Data usage being the biggest concern on smartphones, Ice-Cream Sandwich will have controls for managing data over Wi-Fi or mobile. Users will be able to sync and manage Google Chrome bookmarks and request for full desktop versions of web sites instead of mobile versions. Communicating and sharing is aided by a new people app. The camera has been enhanced with new settings (continuous focus, zero shutter lag, stabilised image zoom, etc). Google also uses the cloud for new browsing and email capabilities. NFC (near-field communication) will let two NFC-enabled device to share apps, contacts, videos and music at a single tap.

Handsets: Only Galaxy Nexus has been announced at the moment.

Comes from: Nokia
What's new: Symbian Anna is going to yield place to Belle, which is much easier to use. What used to be standard box icons on the homescreen have been enriched with differently sized widgets for personalising the screens. The limited 3-window homescreen has been extended to six. A notification bar appears when swiping from top to bottom. This includes basic settings along with pending notifications. Life has been added to the locked homescreen as well. With NFC all set to become the next big thing in phones, Nokia has extended support by allowing the user to share images, connect to an accessory and perhaps do a bit of e-buying with a simple tap of the phone.

Handsets: Nokia 700 and 701. (N8, E7, C6-01, E6 and X7 are upgradable).

OS 2.0
Comes from: Samsung
What's new: The ever evolving mobile operating system market pushed Samsung to come up with its own operating system. And the Asian giant did it with the Bada, which means 'ocean' or 'seashore' in Korean. Samsung had hoped to use this platform to offer a 'smartphone for everyone'. However, the effort failed to create enthusiasm. Some phones have now been put on the upgraded Bada 2.0. The new OS features an improved user interface with multiple windows and the ability to add shortcuts by holding the icons in the main menu. Other new capabilities include multitasking. (The task manager shows you all the apps running and you can then choose to either close them individually or all at one go). There is voice recognition too, which can be employed while typing messages. Wi-Fi Direct, NFC, HTML5 and improved Flash functions in the web browser are a few other highlights of Samsung's Bada 2.0.

Handsets: Samsung has announced three devices on Bada 2.0. These are the Wave 3, Wave M and Wave Y.

Comes from: Research-In-Motion
What's new: It's not only the phone leaders who are coming up with revolutionary upgrades. Research-In-Motion has also come up with the BlackBerry OS 7 that looks and feels completely different from the earlier ones. it is all set to offer the smoothest and fastest BB experience ever, including colours. The liquid graphics gives the OS a fresh look. The new browser onboard is powerful with and provides a 40 per cent faster page load and supports seamless panning, zooming and scrolling. Near-Field Communication is still a dream in India but the OS is future proof. It does support NFC and a few new devices from the BB stable are NFC-enabled. Finally, RIM has focused on multimedia and the phones on the new OS can capture videos at 720P resolution. As for networking, the new OS has the BBM6 messenger. Social Feeds 2.0 can be used for updating status on Facebook and Twitter. There is another piece of news from Research-In-Motion: the company has recently unveiled the BlackBerry BBX that will be the next generation mobile platform for smartphones and tablets. Although, OS 7 users won't be able to upgrade to the BBX, RIM doesn't plan to abandon the OS 7 users. So watch this space for more.

Handsets: The BlackBerry OS 7 was launched in India with the BlackBerry 9900. Since then, some more devices have been launched. This includes 9810, 9360 and 9860. Unfortunately, smartphones on OS 5 and OS 6 are not upgradable to OS 7.

Comes from: Microsoft
What's new: More than a year ago, Microsoft came up with a revamped operating system, the Windows Mobile 7. It looked refreshing with the two columns of coloured tiles acting as shortcuts. But then, it lacked copypaste, multitasking, etc. Microsoft has managed to fix these issues with the recent Mango upgrade. By holding down the phone's back button, you can multitask. There is a unified email inbox, similar to what is present on the iPhone. With a single tap and selecting an icon you can copy text or paste it across applications. The missing Twitter has been deeply integrated, just the way Facebook has been done. Indeed, all communication with a single contact across different channels appear together as a thread.

The phone even switches between chat channels like text messages and Facebook chat. Mango offers a significantly improved browsing experience. Local Scout helps in searching for nearby locations like a coffee shop. Microsoft also claims that the applications available in Windows Marketplace utilise the Metro user interface and will offer a rich experience. These can be pinned to the homescreen and gels well with the Mango UI.

Handsets: HTC Radar and Samsung Omnia W. Nokia has recently announced the Lumia 800 and Lumia 710.

iOS 5
Comes from: Apple Inc
What's new: The latest upgrade from Apple is aimed at enhancing utility. That's why we now have a much needed notification centre that brings all alerts to one place. Very similar to Android, you can access all pending notifications by swiping the finger from top to bottom. But it isn't restrictive. Users can choose the form in which they wish to receive the notification-a banner at the top or an alert that appears in the middle of the display. Even if the screen is locked, a simple swipe across the notification takes users straight to the required app. It also has iMessage, where text messages can be exchanged using Wi-Fi or GPRS across iOS devices, including the iPod, iPhone and iPad using your Apple ID.

Twitter too has been integrated with the phone's operation and users can tweet from Safari, photos, camera, YouTube and Maps. The upgrade also adds a camera key to the locked screen that appears when the homescreen is pressed twice. Editing and cropping images, auto-enhance and red-eye removal are the new features for editing images. Newsstand brings all newspaper and magazines under one hood whereas Reminder pokes you about tasks. The OS upgrade is accompanied by the public release of iCloud that aims to allow users to access content and data across all Apple devices without manual syncing.

Handsets: The iPhone 4S will be coming to India, but iOS 5 is available for upgrade on the iPhone 4 as well as the iPhone 3GS.

Courtesy:Gadgets and Gizmos

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