Choose the right mobile phone
What do you want most out of a phone?
If you love apps, picking the right operating system for your phone is crucial.
If there's one thing that has made a huge difference to the way we use our phones it's apps. It used to be that if you bought a phone, you bought into a fixed set of features. But with today's smart phones you can add extra features or functions via simple downloadable apps, often free and regularly updated.
If the native camera app doesn't have a panorama mode or snazzy arty filters, you can download an alternative camera app that does. If your phone doesn't have navigation integrated into its maps software, there's usually an app that will do it lurking in the phone's app store. Replacing the standard music playing app? No problem. Want something to tell you when the next bus is due at your stop? There is, as they say, an app for that.
Before Apple introduced its App Store, installing software on phones was a chore -- as anyone who used Microsoft's old Windows Mobile operating systems can tell you. Nowadays, though, all smart phones have some sort of onboard app store where you can download free or paid apps in the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, some phones are better catered-for than others when it comes to apps.
Number of apps The range of apps varies widely between different mobile phone OSes. The better-established platforms tend to have more apps available, while newer platforms will have less well-stocked shelves in their stores. If you want the absolutely widest selection of apps available then really you'll want an iPhone as its App Store has the edge when it comes to the sheer volume of apps available. What's more, the quality of the apps on iOS is pretty impressive too. Apple reckons there are over 800,000 apps available as of January 2013, which is a massive number in anyone's book.
Google's Play Store for Android phones is also growing at a phenomenal rate and now many of the biggest apps are released simultaneously on both iOS and Android, or an Android version follows shortly after it comes out on iOS. Google says that as of October 2012 there were 700,000 apps available via Google Play.
iOS and Android dwarf the other platforms. When BlackBerry recently launched its BlackBerry 10 OS it reckoned it had 70,000 apps available in its App World store, while according to figures from Nokia, the Marketplace on Microsoft's Windows Phone OS has more than 130,000 apps available.
Quality of apps You can't just count up the number of apps and decide that having more is better, though. You also have to take into consideration the fact that many of the apps available in these app stores are of poor quality or of limited use. Admittedly, iOS not only has a large number of apps, but the quality is also quite high. There are a couple of reasons for this. Apple's approval processes are pretty stringent -- more so than the other platforms -- and secondly the fierce competition between developers to get noticed in the App Store drives them to produce better apps.
In the early days, Android's Play store suffered a lot from poor quality apps, partly because there's no approval process. Developers can just launch their app straight into the Play Store without having to submit them to Google for quality checks. Over time, however, the overall quality of Android apps has improved dramatically. It's important to note that the Play Store allows apps that change your phone in more fundamental ways than those on iOS, such as how the interface looks. If you like to tinker with your gadgets, Android definitely has its advantages.
Both BlackBerry's App World Store and Microsoft's Windows Phone Store suffer from the same problems that afflicted Android's Play at its inception. There are many low-quality apps with poor functionality bulking out the store shelves. Naturally these problems will diminish over time if either of these two platforms gain more traction in the market, but at present sorting the wheat from the chaff can be difficult. Also, they're each missing several big-name apps, such as Flipboard and Instagram. In general you have to make more compromises when it comes to apps if you own a Windows Phone or BlackBerry device. You'll usually be able to find an app to do the job you want, but it won't necessarily be as good as the equivalent on iOS or Android.
App pricing One of the most jarring things about the different app stores on different phone OSes is that often the same app is priced differently on one platform compared to another. This is an area where Android scores over iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10. Apps that are paid-for on other platforms are often free or cheaper on Android because they're ad-supported. This means they display adverts inside the app as you're using it. These can range from full-screen pop-up adverts to less intrusive banner ads similar to those that appear on websites. If they really annoy you, you can usually upgrade to a paid-for 'Pro' version of the app, although this is often more expensive than its iOS equivalent.
App prices are usually relatively low on iOS simply because there's so much competition between developers. Most float somewhere between 69p and £2.49. Generally prices are higher on Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry App World, with the latter often being puzzlingly more expensive than the other platforms.
- High number of apps available
- Quality of apps is as important as quantity
- Modestly priced apps