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The Rise of the Mobile OS

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If the launch last week of the wonderfully impressive INQ1 didn't make it abundantly clear, there is an intense war now being fought across the mobile phone landscape and it has nothing to do with megapixels, gigabytes or even - despite what mainstream advertising might tell you - touchscreens. In fact, this war has nothing to do with hardware at all because at very long last it appears dopey manufacturers are getting the message that specsmanship is nothing without a solid foundation of software craftsmanship.

It's a simple, yet much ignored notion that if you want a handset to be used to its full potential it must have a GUI intuitive enough to entice consumers to make the learning process seem worthwhile. After all, if you equipped a car with a circular saw blade instead of a steering wheel, no one would learn how to drive.

The reason for this change is simple and polarising. No, not the Apple iPhone - if that's what you thought you've missed the point. It is mobile Mac OS X, the game changing software platform which turns a nicely designed but also in many ways flawed slab of a handset into such an incredible product. You've heard it all before: where both the iPhone and iPhone 3G flourish is in terms of usability for despite a number of spec sheet faux pas both generations are a joy to use, an intuitive quantum leap for the sector which has seen perhaps the best examples of convergence to date and the creation of devices which actually encourage owners to use all their featur... *SNORE*

Yep, boring. Grandpa Simpson boring. Mind numbingly, spirit crushingly boring.

Why? Well, don't get me wrong - the industry clearly needed the iPhone to kick it up the backside using boots fitted with steel toecaps and a cattle prod but to be almost two years on from the original iPhone announcement and still find ourselves eulogising about how wonderful/slick/fun the handset is to use is as much an insult to Apple's vapid rivals as it is a credit to Cupertino. We're in the tech industry for Heaven's Sake! Do you think we enjoy prattling on about this every time the latest example of ill-thought out steroid induced specsmanship from the Far East turns up on our desks? No, it's dull, dull, dull - until now...

You see Microsoft might have ambitious plans for Windows Mobile (6.5 and 7 are both scheduled to launch in 2009), Symbian might evolve beyond all recognition now the newly formed Symbian Foundation is going open source and with the Storm RIM might finally hit back against the iPhone which outstripped total combined BlackBerry sales in recent months.

On the other hand, there's a quirky little company headquartered in Mountain View, California that has actually gone out there and done it. It's name is Google - I'm guessing you've heard of it - and with the uncanny knack of turning everything it touches into gold, the search giant formed the Open Handset Alliance to create what is currently the most ambitious and exciting alternative to mobile OS X on the market.

Attractive, intuitive, App Store rivalling and - vitally - open source, Android is handset free, network free and yes, free. Praise be, the mobile market suddenly got interesting again.

So with this in mind let's take a closer look at the two most exciting platforms of the moment and see what there is to choose between them and where their future lies. Ding, Ding - Round One...

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