Android vs. iOS vs. Windows Phone

We compare three top smartphone operating systems

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Still, that doesn't mean that you can't customize the iPhone. You can have up to 11 home screens with their own apps and folders -- in this category, at least, it beats both Android and Windows Phone 7.

In addition, the iOS Settings app gives you control over all of basic features, including sounds, brightness level, Wi-Fi use, how notifications are handled, etc. Although you can't dig as deep as you can with Android's settings, it's simpler to use, presented more cleanly and clearly, and uses relatively understandable language. The General settings area, for example, is a model of clarity and simplicity.

In some instances, you get control not offered by Android. For example, the Restrictions area lets you ban access to certain apps, such as Safari, YouTube and the camera; it also lets you decide whether to allow certain apps to be installed. You can also restrict content so that, for instance, a child cannot view "adult" content. Corporations can restrict their employees from viewing that type of content as well.

All this is nice, but doesn't add up to an operating system that's as customizable as Android.

Windows Phone 7

Unlike iOS, Windows Phone 7 wasn't built for a single device, and in that way it resembles Android. However, manufacturers and service providers can't dramatically alter the Windows Phone 7 interface as they can with Android.

Windows Phone 7 is the least customizable of the trio, and that's clearly by design. Microsoft has built and marketed its operating system for people who want to get their work done quickly and efficiently, and don't want to fuss with customization and settings.

Because of that, as with iOS, there's no menu button, and few customization options for individual apps or the overall interface.

For example, you can change the location of some of the tiles on the main screen by pressing them until a small pushpin appears in their upper-right corner and then moving them to where you want them to live. However, not all tiles can be moved in this way -- you can't move the Hotmail or Messaging tiles, for example. In addition, you get only two screens, not seven as with some Android devices, or 11 as with the iPhone.

As with iOS and Android, there is also a Settings app, but there aren't nearly as many settings to tweak as there are with Android, and less than iOS as well. In fact, apart from basic settings, such as changing ringtones or wallpaper, there are very few settings that you can change.


Neither iOS nor Windows Phone 7 is the phone operating system for dedicated tweakers. When it comes to customization, Android is the clear winner.

The bottom line

For its features, customization options and openness, Android has no peer. The downside is that Android can be rough around the edges, and the exact feature set and implementation you get -- not to mention which release of Android you get -- are subject to the whims and control of device manufacturers and service providers.

If you're looking for the most elegant, simplest-to-use phone with the best integration of hardware and software and with the biggest number of apps to choose from, you'll likely opt for iOS and the iPhone. But you'll give up the ability to completely customize your phone and apps, and you'll subject yourself to Apple's rules about what is allowed to run on your phone.

If Microsoft software and services are the center of your world, Windows Phone 7 is an excellent choice. But if you want to be able to choose from a wide variety of apps that do remarkable things, then Windows Phone 7 isn't the platform for you.

Carrier choice will also likely play a role in which mobile OS you select. If you want the widest range of carriers with the widest range of price points and feature mixes, then you'll want Android. With iOS and the iPhone, the only carriers to choose from are Verizon and AT&T. If you go with Windows Phone 7, you'll have more carriers to choose from than you would with iOS (Verizon is expected to introduce a Windows Phone 7 device this month), but far fewer than you would with Android.

One thing is abundantly clear after reviewing these three smartphone platforms -- we live in a golden age of smartphones, and any one of these platforms will serve you well. The fact that there are three that are this good -- and that it is so difficult to choose one over the others -- is a boon for those who love technology, because competition can be expected to improve them even more for the next generation. The next time we offer a head-to-head look at mobile platforms, many months from now, we have no doubt that these three will all be significantly better than they are today.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works. (Que, 2006).

This story, "Android vs. iOS vs. Windows Phone" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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