Microsoft recently released the technical preview version of their latest mobile phone platform, the Windows Phone 7. The platform was installed on a Samsung mobile phone called ‘Taylor’. These handsets were handed to some people from the developer community and the press for hands-on experience. Some of the previewers were impressed with what they saw, while others found drawbacks. Here’s a brief comparison of features of WP7 and Apple’s iOS4, based on the judgement of the previewers.
The user interface adopted for Windows Phone 7 is called Metro UI. The previewers from Engadget and ZdNet are all praise for the new UI. They say that it is very fluid, very responsive and fast. Multi-touch ability is offered as well. This sounds almost similar to what Apple’s mobile phone platform has to offer, and they’ve been pioneers at it.
The homescreen on the Windows Phone 7 phone has what are known as “tiles” or boxes to represent the various apps. Hence the menu is more graphical. There can be tiles for Messages, Social Networks, Pictures, Games, Music and more. Remember the “hubs” that Microsoft spoke about at Mobile World Congress 2010? There were hubs called People, Pictures, Games, Music + Video, Marketplace and Office. These hubs too can be represented as tiles on the homescreen. There is supposed to be no limit to the number of tiles you can have. Plus you can arrange them as per your convenience as well.
The iOS 4 on the other hand has icons on the homescreen for each app. These icons can also be customised and arranged according to the user’s liking. All active apps are displayed on a dock or a bar at the bottom of the screen. This plays an important role in the multi-tasking ability of the iOS4 device. This will be touched upon in the Multi-tasking section later.
While Microsoft’s approach to homescreen design seems novel and innovative, Galen Gruman from InfoWorld points out a drawback. According to him, this style of apps-arrangement uses up real estate on the screen and a user has to keep scrolling down (or up) in order to reach some of the apps.
According to Matthew Miller from ZdNet, the Windows Phone 7 is designed to allow the user to do things naturally and holistically. As such the core-concept of the platform rotates around the user and what he would want to do, rather than on applications. To give an example, he talks about the ability of the device to enter into camera mode just by pressing and holding the camera button, even if the phone is locked. Then again after taking a photograph, the user can easily upload them, without having to exit the camera mode or explicitly opening the social networks app. While this is possible with other smartphone platforms available today, Miller mentions that Microsoft has extended this kind of design into other aspects as well. The iPhone is more application-oriented, according to him.
Contacts details aggregation
Windows Phone 7 has followed the lead of Palm’s WebOS and added aggregating of details of contacts from various sources like social networks and email accounts.
This kind of cloud-contact syncing is missing in iOS4. The contacts list is referred to as “People” in Microsoft’s new platform.
Windows Phone 7 is host to Internet Explorer. According to Larry Lieberman, senior product manager for Microsoft’s Windows mobile, the browser will be based on IE7. Double tapping on a section on the webpage will take you to that particular section. Zooming and pinching can be done as per convenience, just like iOS4′s native Safari browser. Currently, the tech-preview version of Windows Phone 7 does not support Adobe Flash; again something common it shares with iOS4. However, it does support Silverlight, Microsoft’s web app framework similar to Flash. iOS4 supports HTML5 instead of Flash.
One intriguing fact here is that, despite the latest IE version reaching 9, Windows Phone 7 is only getting the version-7-like browser. Compared to the Safari and Google’s Chrome for mobile phones, this browser might lag behind in terms of speed and maybe user experience too.
The present tech-preview version of Windows Phone 7 allows multi-tasking of only first party apps (Microsoft’s own apps). You cannot be downloading an app, while streaming music from Pandora, for example. In case a user navigates from app A to another app B, the state of app A is saved and the app itself is terminated. Once the user navigates back to app A, its state is restored. This is called tombstoning.
The iOS4, on the other hand, does support multi-tasking and it extends this to third party apps as well (though this is only limited to streaming of music, downloading and location based services). All other apps are managed like Microsoft’s tombstoning.
WP7 supports Exchange, IMAP and POP email accounts. The user can have multiple Exchange accounts as well. Apple’s mobile platform offers these capabilities too.
Either of the platforms support Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync for syncing up details with a PC. However, Matthew Miller from ZdNet writes that the ActiveSync experience on the WP7 device was not full fledged, as there was no Tasks and notes syncing. Currently, one will have to use OneNote for sharing notes with a WP7 device. iOS4 does support over-the-air syncing of notes. But maybe (just maybe) things might be better for WP7 when it releases in November this year. Even iOS4 had its own glitches with ActiveSync initially, which was fixed with a patch from Apple.
iOS4 brought with it the ‘unified inbox’ concept, where all emails from various accounts are displayed in a single inbox. This is a simplified, useful and time saving feature for those who interact a lot via mails. Windows Phone 7 however, does not support unified inbox.
While WP7 supports Microsoft Office for working with documents, spreadsheets and presentations, iOS4 supports iWork, which contains Apple’s own set of similar tools.
This YouTube video from MobilityDigest gives you an idea of the emailing system in WP7:-
WP7 supports Microsoft’s Xbox Live. Users can interact and play with other players online. Xbox Live has been quite popular with gamers around the world. iOS4 recently had its Games Center go live for developers to build games.
Since both these social games networks are coming to the smartphones for the first time, it remains to see how they fare with the users.
WP7 is home to Zune, from where one can download music, videos and TV shows. Presently, this online store cannot compare with Apple’s iTunes, which is already well established with a huge collection of music, videos and other media.
Here again, Apple’s App Store is the world’s largest online applications store, brimming with apps. There are enthusiastic developers all over the world too.
WP7′s app-store, Marketplace, is still a budding store and requires great support from developers around the globe to get it running.
The iPhones and microSD cards have always been poles apart. These smartphones have always had huge internal memories, of about 8GB or more. Now WP7 is following in these footsteps. It will not support SD cards. However, there will be high capacity internal memories, with the minimum being 8GB.
Copy and Paste
Despite Microsoft being the mother of Office tools with Word, Excel and PowerPoint, they have missed out 2 important functions that are commonly used in these tools – copying and pasting.
Apple has however included both these 2 functions in the iOS4.
The iPhone 4 can be linked to a PC or laptop either via USB or Bluetooth. AT&T, in the US, recently started supporting tethering too, i.e. allowing the iPhone 4 to be used as a modem to access internet on the laptop or PC. However, extra charges apply for this. While Windows Phone 7 phones do support a USB port and Bluetooth, it will likely not support data access by tethering to a PC/laptop. This might change in the future though.
Windows Phone 7 is a Bing-centric platform. It lets you search the web, use the Bing maps and even do a voice search. The voice recognition is powered by Tellme.
iOS4, on the other hand, lets you choose among Google, Yahoo! and Bing to set as default search engine. Hence maps from these search engines can be used. Google had already made an app for voice recognition. In addition to this, you can as well download Siri, a free app, for voice recognition. [Apple bought Siri some months back].
These are some of the basic differences between Windows Phone 7 and iOS4. As aforementioned WP7 is set for a release this November. There might be changes in what we’ve seen currently. So let’s hope for the best!
By Guest Editor: Trinity Nick