All other contenders have fallen by the wayside and there is now little doubt that the three smartphone operating systems to watch are Android, Windows Phone 7 and the iOS platform which is found on all Apple devices like the iPhone 4. In the coming years experts predict that Android will come to dominate in terms of sheer user numbers, with Windows Phone 7 in second place and iOS in third due to the relatively high cost of ownership associated with Apple products. However, price alone does not determine the quality of these platforms, so let us break down the boundaries and compare them as equals.
First it is sensible to talk about the types of smartphones which actually run each of these software behemoths. Android is available on high end handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S2 and much more basic models like the Orange San Francisco. The hardware varies wildly and it means Android performs differently on the plethora of handsets which run it but this means it is available to a wide audience. On the other hand both iOS and the iPhone from Apple and the array of Windows Phone 7 handsets are designed to be range-topping, powerful models which have cutting edge hardware. As such you get powerhouses like the iPhone 4 with its 3.5 inch Retina Display and the Samsung Omnia 7 with its four inch Super AMOLED screen which cost several times more than the most basic Android handset.
The interface of each platform is also markedly different. Android is an open source operating system and so individual manufacturers are allowed to tinker with the inner workings and create experiences which are wildly different, even though they are based on the same basic code. As such successes like the HTC Sense interface for Android are set alongside the perfectly adequate vanilla interface on Google-brand phones like the Nexus S.
Apple favours a more locked-down, cohesive interface for the iPhone. Smooth touchscreen interactivity and a deliberate lack of visual customisation keeps things feeling very tight and you can be sure of a consistent experience whichever model you choose. The same is true of Windows Phone 7, although the minimalist style of its Live Tiles homescreen is arguably the most intuitive of the bunch, with certain options for customisation available but a general sameness to the look and feel whether you choose a handset from LG or HTC.
One thing you should expect to see across the board, whether you pick Android mobile phones, an iPhone or a Windows Phone 7 handset, is a set of features which allow the models to declare themselves `smart`. Firstly web connectivity is an essential function, with Wi-Fi and 3G both minimum requirements in this market. Secondly access to a digital download service for applications, games and other pieces of content is a must. Apple leads the way in terms of sheer volume, with Android quickly catching up. Windows Phone 7 is a fledgling platform compared to its rivals when it comes to apps, but expect increases over the coming years as its position in the market is consolidated.