Android is made for anyone heavily invested in the Google ecosystem (Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar); people who prefer their maps with public transit directions and a high level of accuracy; people who like control over their computer systems and who are fans of customization and tinkering; anyone looking for a low-cost smartphone and are unable (or unwilling) to pay the Apple premium; and buyers who want a large screen.
Apple's iOS operating system powers iPhones, iPads and the iPod touch. It's is the second top-selling smartphone operating system; 14% of all smartphones sold worldwide in the last quarter were running iOS. The gap between Android and iOS is huge, but keep in mind that Apple's platform only runs on one smartphone line, the iPhone.
This is the most straightforward interface in the bunch, and it's been relatively unchanged since the first iPhone came out in 2007. There have been nice minor tweaks, such as the addition of folders and notifications, but the gist is the same.
The home screen displays icons for each app; they aren't stashed away in any second location. You can organize apps in folders or search for them using the Spotlight search feature.
The iPhone doesn't display live-updating content on the home screens like Android and Windows Phone devices do. It does have a notification center and notification badges that can appear on icons. The lock screen isn't very customizable beyond the background photo.
A fixed dock along the bottom of the screen can display the four apps you use the most.
Apps and content
Apps must be purchased in the official Apple App Store, which currently has more than 700,000 apps and games in stock. The importance of a platform with a large volume of apps is overblown. What matters is the availability of quality apps and the willingness of major developers and companies to produce good products for that platform.
Content including music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, books and audiobooks are purchased through the well-stocked iTunes Store, though you can also buy them through another company such as Amazon and synch them to your iPhone. Books are also available directly through the iBooks app.
Apple has the tightest control over its operating system and the heaviest hand when it comes to editing exactly what features reach the final product. That means no extra preinstalled apps, just the necessities.
The iPhone is iOS's killer feature. It is a stunning piece of industrial design, and the newest version is durable and lightweight.
The voice-assistant feature, Siri; ease of use; and high-quality, third-party apps are other big selling points. If you're near an Apple store, the free tech support is a great perk.
Apple's iOS operating system only runs on Apple's iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. The latest version, iOS 6, runs on the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5, though some features such as the camera's panorama mode and Siri are only available on the iPhone 4S and later.
The cheapest phone currently sold by Apple is the iPhone 4, which costs $450 unlocked but is free with a two-year wireless contract when you buy it through AT&T, Sprint or Verizon.
Who it's for
iOS is designed for people who want a simple interface; nontechnical types who will appreciate the convenient and free hand-holding available at the Genius Bar; Mac users; and design lovers.
WINDOWS PHONE 8
This is the second generation of Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system, which began in 2010. Windows Phone 8 was launched in October, and Microsoft hopes the expensive marketing campaign and improved features will help it climb up from fifth place. Last quarter, only 2% of phones sold in the world were Windows Phone devices.
Instead of icons, the Windows Phone 8 home screen is covered with a quilt of brightly colored squares and rectangles. Each tile can display live information, such as a photo album or your newest e-mail, which can save you a trip into the sometimes jumbled innards of the operating system.
A swipe to the left brings up an alphabetical list of installed apps. Tap and hold on an app to place it, or "pin" it, on the start screen. Tap a tile and hold to change its size or placement.