iOS 6 vs Jelly Bean vs Windows Phone 8 vs BlackBerry 10
31st Jan 2013 | 18:18
BlackBerry has finally rejoined the mobile OS party, but can it compete?
Introduction and interface
After it's time in the mobile wilderness BlackBerry is back with a new operating system, but how does BlackBerry 10 stack up against Windows Phone 8 and the dominant forces of Android Jelly Bean and iOS 6?
Our smartphones are becoming more and more powerful as we demand greater flexibility, better features and faster performance which means the software they are running has its work cut out.
It's a highly competitive market and one the likes of Google, Apple and Samsung seem to be doing pretty well out of, but for others it's a hard slog as firms such as Nokia, LG and BlackBerry try to keep pace.
With four operating systems sitting on a myriad devices it can be hard to work out which one is best for you, so we've compared all of them to make that choice a little easier.
The interface is core to any mobile platform as this is what you'll be greeted with day in, day out and makes the most difference to how you use your smartphone.
Apple's user interface (right) is famously known for its locked-down approach with iOS 6 giving you very little control over what can be changed and customised, with just basic functions such as changing the wallpaper and moving app icons available.
There is an advantage to this walled garden approach though, as it makes iOS 6 an easy system to navigate as options are limited which benefits users who are less tech savvy, or new to smartphones.
iOS hasn't changed a great deal since its inception back in 2007 and it is starting to feel its age, especially as we're seeing rivals making significant advancements on their platforms.
At the other end of the scale to iOS is the open source Android platform, built by Google, allowing users far more freedom on their handsets.
Instead of just an app list, Android (left) gives you homescreens which you can place apps, widgets and shortcuts to provide a handset which is more tailored to your needs instead of the one-size fits all approach of its Cupertino-based rival.
While technology lovers generally love the openness provided by Android, the experience can be a difficult one for anyone who isn't so technically minded with seemingly endless options and settings littering every app.
That said, the latest incarnation of Android, known as Jelly Bean, is definitely the best iteration from Google and goes some way to overcoming the complexities found on previous versions.
Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10 fall in between the two leaders of the smartphone OS war in terms of openness, and are caught in a battle for the spot of 'third most popular mobile OS'.
At the moment Windows Phone 8 (right) has the upper hand simply because it's been on the market for several months with BlackBerry 10 only just launched.
Microsoft has chosen to go down the more insular Apple route with Windows Phone 8, offering an almost identical user interface on every device, with a very different layout to anything else on the market.
The homescreen itself consists of a mash up between apps and widgets in the form of Live Tiles, which update automatically to show you the latest information be it a new email or the latest scores.
With large, clear Live Tiles and an unfussy, uncomplicated app list and menu system Windows Phone 8 is great for first time users as it makes for an easy ride into the smartphone world, albeit a little limited in places.
BlackBerry 10 (left) goes back towards the general style of iOS 6 and Jelly Bean, but with its own twist.
Instead of various navigational tools below the display or at the top of the screen BB 10 opts for a gesture-based interface, encouraging users to slide their way around the system.
It's a radically different way of doing things and feels very alien to anyone who has previously used any other OS in the past, requiring the user to dedicate a decent amount of time to learn its ways.
BlackBerry talks about how BB10 "just flows", but unless they're prepared to put the hours in and trust a brand new platform users may get confused just looking for simple things like the settings option in an app.
Messaging and internet
Smartphones still make calls. No, we kid you not, they really do – but no one calls people anymore, messaging is king.
And it's not just simple SMS messages anymore either, as there are a huge number of ways to stay in touch on today's mobiles without ever having to mutter a word.
We'll kick off with Android (right) which sees separate text messaging and email apps pre-installed which are perfectly functional, but pop over to Google Play and you'll be met with swathes of messaging options (most of which are free) such as WhatsApp and Skype.
Because manufacturers are allowed to tinker with the Android platform before sticking it on their devices you get a slightly different experience from each company, so it will probably be worth trialling some handsets in store before making a final decision – with keyboards usually the sticking point.
The stock Android offering is serviceable but not every manufacturer decides to stick with it; firms such as HTC and Huawei opt to install their own keyboards, with varying degrees of success.
The beauty of Jelly Bean (and previous versions of Android) is the ability to download third party keyboards from Google Play, our favourite being the excellent SwiftKey – seriously, give it a whirl if you like typing at incredible speeds.
Over on iOS 6 (left) and unsurprisingly Apple allows you to use its keyboard only, with no support for third party apps to come in and steal the show.
That said, the iOS keyboard is a decent, responsive and generally accurate input method which allows users to rack up a good typing speed.
As far as messaging goes, like Jelly Bean, iOS 6 comes with separate text and email apps, but there's an additional offering out of the box in the form of iMessage.
iMessage is Apple's answer to BlackBerry's BBM messaging service, allowing iPhone users to message each over for free without the worry of eating into their text message allowance.
Third party messaging apps can be downloaded from the App Store in the same way they can on Jelly Bean with many applications providing cross-platform support.
BBM is still going strong over on BlackBerry 10 (right) which sports the all new BlackBerry Hub – a universal inbox for every message your phone is capable of receiving.
Everything from texts and emails to missed calls, BBMs and social updates pop up in the Hub, making it your one-stop shop for communication.
You can reply via any account via the Hub meaning you don't need to fire up the official BBM, Facebook, Twitter etc apps to tap out a response.
The Hub can be filtered to just show one account if it all gets a bit confusing and it's a system we're fond of - it's probably the best feature on BlackBerry 10.
Windows Phone 8 (left) returns us to the status quo with separate apps for texts, emails and third party messaging apps, but an added extra here is the inclusion of Windows Live messenger – something which is being rolled into the now Microsoft-owned Skype package.
From within the text messaging app you can slide over to your online Messenger profile and instant chat with any of your buddies who are online – handy.
Both BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone 8, like iOS, don't allow you to install alternative keyboards meaning you're stuck with the default offerings.
Neither is particularly bad, but we've had more accurate typing experiences on other handsets than both the Windows Phone and BlackBerry input methods. We'll be fair though and point out that it's really what you get used to that defines how good a system is... it's just Microsoft and BlackBerry's efforts are a little harder to learn correctly.
Web browsing is an increasingly important part of today's smartphone usage and operating systems need to make sure users have a simple and speedy experience.
Speeds are dependent on a number of factors: from the software and browser you're running to the hardware found under the hood.
While all four operating system come pre-packed with their own web browsers they all allow you to download third party alternatives from their various application stores if you're not happy with the initial offering.
Jelly Bean (right) now relies on Google Chrome as its default browser, a pared down version of the popular desktop client and it provides a simple and clean interface and generally good browsing speeds.
Android is the most susceptible to variable browsing speeds though as the vast range of handsets from bargain-basement to bank-busting have very different power capabilities.
iOS 6 (left), like Android and Windows Phone, has taken a desktop web browser and adapted it for the smaller screen using Apple's Safari.
More features such as offline reading and integration to iCloud allowing for tab syncing arrived with the iOS 6 update, plus there are Smart App Banners which help sites promote their apps, bringing a richer cohesion to the whole platform.
Windows Phone 8 takes internet browsing very seriously, bringing the latest version of Internet Explorer, IE10 (right).
This helps keep WP8 at the forefront of the mobile internet browsing, but also keeps you safe whilst you do. IE10 comes with a phishing filter and SmartScreen service to make it harder for you to be tracked by malicious websites.
Last, but certainly not least is the new browser in BlackBerry 10, which design wise looks very similar to IE in WP8 and it has all the features you'd expect including bookmarks and reader mode.
It also comes with the vaunted Reading Mode and supports Flash too, making it an almost unrecognisable change from the rubbish browsers found on BB7 devices.
Camera, apps and maps
Microsoft hasn't skimped on Windows Phone 8's Camera app (below), getting a new simple, clean look, with a small menu button that accesses the camera's various settings.
Nokia branded handsets are also set to bring over the PureView technology that was made famous in the Nokia 808 PureView.
A stipulation of handsets which run Windows Phone is they must feature a physical shutter button, which makes taking pictures and launching the app an easier experience.
The Android Jelly Bean (below) camera system brings in more changes. It's faster and has a better review system making editing and removing images simpler.
A new feature which arrived as part of the Android 4.2 update is photo sphere – allowing you to take a 360 degree picture of your surroundings for a slightly surreal image. It's more gimmick than practical, but it's fun to play with.
There are also varying scene modes, customisable levels white balance and exposure, all helping you to create your ideal shot. A panoramic mode and photo editing are also thrown in, alongside the impressive zero shutter lag.
iOS 6 (below) builds upon the work from iOS 5, debuted on the iPhone 4S. Continuing the simplicity theme, settings are all sorted automatically to allow users to focus (arf) on the picture they want instead of messing about with ISO modes.
Focus is also automatic, unless you specify a certain area by touching the screen. For those who require a physical shutter button, iOS also allows the use of the up volume button as well as the on screen option.
In terms of features the BlackBerry 10 camera app is the least well-equipped, with very few options to play with.
Luckily shutter speed to pretty decent and an excellent built in picture editing mode comes to the aid of the BlackBerry OS, plus like on iOS you can use the volume keys on the side of the handset to take photos.
Apps are big business and the selection available to customers can make or break a person's decision to buy a handset.
Jelly Bean and iOS 6 are far and away the winners in terms of volume with both Google Play and the App Store boasting over 700,000 apps each.
While there's a lot of dross in both stores there's also a lot of quality and the sheer size of the libraries and the market dominance the two enjoy means the big companies are happy to develop for the platforms.
Both app stores are well presented and are easy to navigate with plenty of top lists on show allowing you to check out the best apps around.
The news isn't quite so rosy for Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10 which can't match the number of apps which iOS and Android enjoy.
While BlackBerry is keen to stress it is quality not quantity that counts the fact of the matter is big name applications are missing from both BlackBerry World and the Windows Phone MarketPlace.
Both stores will continue to grow over the coming months but for anyone who wants all the big apps right now it's really a choice between iOS 6 or Android Jelly Bean.
We weren't overly impressed with the layout of BlackBerry World, but then again the Android Market wasn't exactly the nicest place to be back in the day, so we're willing to give BlackBerry a bit of time to improve the UI.
Android Jelly Bean, somewhat unsurprisingly, bases its mapping system on the well known and excellent Google Maps (right), bringing Street View, 3D and indoor mapping, free turn-by-turn navigation and live traffic information.
Integrating with Google Now, the mapping system continues the sat-nav experience for both pedestrians and motorists, providing details of how and when to leave to get to your appointments on time, plus public transport is also present if walking and driving is out of the question.
Windows Phone 8 surprisingly ditches Microsoft's proprietary Bing Maps. On the other hand, its new system is hardly shocking.
Windows Phone 8 now brings in the Nokia mapping system, bringing 3D street navigation, and Nokia's Navteq Traffic Service.
It's not a feature-packed as Google's offering nor is it as attractive to look at, but it does the job in hand.
iOS (left) has traditionally also based their mapping on Google's offering, but this all changed with iOS 6 when Apple Maps was launched.
Unfortunately Apple Maps hasn't been able to live up to all the hype it was given during the iOS 6 launch event as people found it littered with mistakes including incorrect locations and borked maps.
It's so bad in fact that Apple CEO Tim Cook came out and advised iOS 6 users to use competitors' solutions until it works out all the issues – and we're still waiting to get the all clear to use it again from Apple HQ.
BlackBerry (right) has teamed up with TomTom to provide its Maps app on BlackBerry 10 and like Windows Phone 8 is perfectly serviceable, if a bit light on features and design.
The maps themselves give a pretty good account of the lie of the land, although as an app it's not as polished as the excellent Google Maps.
There are far fewer features as well with just the standard map view available, no satellite overlay, no street view, no flyover – but at least it knows where places are.
Visually the maps are not quite as impressive as Google's offering, with the images not looking overly defined – especially when you zoom out.
It's almost impossible to say which is the best mobile operating system, with each one working differently for different types of users.
Those who have already invested in the Apple ecosystem with MacBooks, iPods, iPads or vast iTunes libraries may be swayed towards iOS 6 as the experience is pretty universal across devices and inter-device compatibility is very good.
However, the simplicity that once pulled smartphone buyers in like a magnet is becoming less of a draw as users are getting up to speed with the new wave of handsets.
Android Jelly Bean will appeal to people who want more freedom on their smartphone while still having access to a vast app store and a wealth of features.
It's also got the advantage of being the most widely-used system with the most development work being undertaken on it - plus there's the fact developers are increasingly choosing to make apps for Android first these days.
First time users should certainly check out Windows Phone 8 as its simple user interface and unfussy design makes it very easy to pick up and use straight out of the box, even for the most novice.
The handset choice is still relatively limited though, and there aren't a lot of high-end phones to choose from, although with Windows Phone 8 at least things have stepped up in that area.
That leaves us with BlackBerry 10 which can't be pigeon holed like the other three so easily, partly due to the fact that it's still very new and hasn't had time to bed into the market.
However without a distinctive target audience, apart from perhaps the business sector, it could make it difficult for BlackBerry 10 to steal customers from Windows Phone 8, let alone iOS 6 or Jelly Bean.
There's no doubt that users are spoiled for choice when it comes to today's smartphone ecosystems; from inbuilt browser that whip along at lightning speed to the ability to edit photos on the fly, any of these being unveiled five years ago would have caused most to fall to their knees in awe at what was on offer.
But times have moved on and we've got that awful thing: choice. Which is best? Where shall I put my money? Will it be any good in two years time?
For that reason, it comes down to a straight fight between Android Jelly Bean and iOS 6, simply for the maturity and polish - plus the amount of apps both offer means your smartphone can become something unrecognisable from purchase in just a few short downloads.
We're plumping for Android's Jelly Bean though - with it's richer functionality, greater ability for customisation and general all-round power it's the clear winner for us.