Which OS and Why?

The first comments I got when I started this blog was, “Why the iPhone” or “Why not Android?”  The short answer is that I’m not married to any phone, and I intend to try many out in the process of writing this blog. But not everyone has the means or interest in trying out lots of devices. So they still need the question answered, “Which Phone should I choose?”

To answer that question, I need to give you a bit of background on how I view the ecosystem.  I don’t think about phones in a vacuum, I think about them holistically with their big daddy desktop/laptop operating systems.  So let’s look at the other options first:

Just a few of the Phones I’ve Owned Going Into This Project
Windows:

  • Windows 7 and 10 are both really nice operating systems to use.  Say what you will, but Windows has done a really nice job with those operating systems if you need to be productive.  We can all joke about how bad Windows 8 was, but why exactly was it bad?  In my opinion it’s because Windows was fighting to make Metro a part of the desktop environment and it was their first very bad attempt to make that happen.  Why does Metro matter so much?  It matters because if they get it right, there will be a seemless switch between mobile and desktop.  If I had a Windows Operating system on my phone that was powerful enough to act as a desktop, which they are for most people, it should be a seemless switch to pick up my phone and take my tools, my data and my environment with me.  A phone that can act as a desktop is the holy grail and Microsoft gets this design ethos better than anyone.  When Windows 10 came out, you saw them shrink the Metro interface into the start menu and behold, it looks a lot like the phone viewport now.  Windows 10 gets it right.  It’s an open (not as in open source, but open as it I can install and run virtually anything from anywhere) OS.
  • Windows Mobile – the little phone OS that could.  I know a lot of people who swear by it.  I actually really enjoyed my Windows phone when I first started using it.  It’s nearly identical to the Metro interface of Windows 10, which is to say, it’s kinda ugly but very powerful.  As a tool for doing work, it’s a solid choice.  Apps, however, are lagging way behind the iPhone and Android market and Metro is actually different enough that many things don’t work the same.

Android:

  • Chrome OS is the most locked down desktop operating system on the market.  It’s designed to limit the user to only certain types of cloud based applications or whatever can run in the browser.  I admit that cloud based applications give the user an incredibly large array of things, but as a desktop operating system it’s a poor choice for someone who needs to install and run applications, have local files, or do any meaningful non-web related work.  Therefore it would never be an option for someone like myself.  But I do get the appeal for users who need a lightweight, cheap and powerful email and browsing platform.  It’s enough to use TurboTax online and shop Amazon and for most people that’s good enough.
  • Android is the most open mobile phone OS on the market, which is odd, because their desktop environment is so closed.  This is one of the weird paradoxes of their stance on security and it makes it nearly impossible to consider Android and ChromeOS as the same family of product or even compatible beyond whatever cloud applications they tie into.  Android is comparable to iOS in terms of security, but Android third party app market places are as Old Ben Kanobi said, “the most wretched hive of scum and villainy.”  Google’s stance on privacy has always made them incompatible with my needs as a privacy/security guy and that requires a lot of work on the user’s side to correct/mitigate if they are concerned about it.  Android is really a family of phones, and therefore some software that might work on one phone perfectly may not run at all on another, which can make the app store experience frustrating.  So although Android is easily the best choice for flexibility and power, it’s lack of compatibility with a desktop OS and it’s messy third party app store/ecosystem makes it a bit of a wash.

Apple:

  • OSX is a nice looking OS with relatively nice features.  It’s based on FreeBSD, which is a very robust Unix derivative that has wonderful security features.  As a result, it is very easy to develop applications for it, and run a full feature set of software, giving you as granular access as you want – as long as you’re not publishing commercial software, which is a different story.  But as a user and producer of content, it’s a very nice operating system.  I do have a long list of issues with the usability of the OS, but it’s come a long way.
  • iOS on the other hand is basically perfect in terms of usability compared to OSX.  Literally children and pets can use it.  iOS, however, is an extremely locked down OS – similar to ChromeOS in that regard.  It has virtually no congruence with the Desktop operating system either beyond a syncing application, some of the UI elements like search and it’s “Handoff” function.  But what makes up for that is that it does have the best app store of any product in terms of safety and offerings.  There can be some compatibility issues with screen resolution in apps – particularly with newer phones until everyone adjusts.  But Apple has also made a commitment to trying to make their phones harder to break into, which is a big plus for a weary privacy advocate/business traveler.

I know I didn’t mention some esoteric phones operating systems like Firefox OS, Sailfish OS, Tizen, Ubuntu Touch, or even well known ones like Blackberry OS.  That is intentional.  For this experiment, I’ll be focused on the most common devices.

After having dozens of phones, and having plenty of opportunities to try this experiment before, the current generation of phones have all, almost accidentally become the perfect phones to attempt this experiment.  The answer of “Which smart phone is best” will end up being a matter of preference, security needs, corporate policy oversight, hardware features and possibly a matter of app capabilities.  There is no perfect phone for everyone.  But there are a lot of really excellent phones out there.