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Throughout the years, mobile phones have turned into do-it-all devices. They now range from the most basic (which can do “only” calls and texting) to kitchen sink gadgets that double as cameras, music players, GPS navigators, and even portable computers that run their own kind of software.
Attempting to catalog the different kinds of mobile phones that have popped up over the years will easily take up a book. For brevity’s sake, only the most popular categories are detailed below.
These are the most basic type, so named because aside from calling and texting, they are dedicated to one notable feature and nothing else. An example is the Nokia 100, a really simple product that has an FM radio built in.
While feature phones can be very limited, they have the longest battery lives around. That’s because the hardware driving them are very simple, and thus consume little power. Feature phones are great for those who can’t afford the more expensive options below, and people who live in areas where access to a power source is limited.
There’s only one product in this category: all kinds of iPhones past and present. The iPhone brought touchscreen phones to the mainstream, forcing competitors to adapt and come up with their own versions of the iPhone’s “multi-touch” interface and thorough support for third-party applications (or “apps”). Practically all high-end mobile phones today are either the iPhone itself (or its latest variant), or a device that was inspired by it.
A key reason why iOS Phones are popular is because they are easy to use. Phones before the iPhone had touch screens and extras like a camera and WiFi built-in. But Apple’s creation ran on elegant and intuitive software, which was appealing to average joes who found the high-end phones of competitors too intimidating. This remains an advantage today.
Such ease comes at a cost however: Apple exercises strict control over how the iPhone is used, particularly in what kind of software can be used with it. In some ways this is why using an iPhone is easy—Apple makes sure developers make apps adhere to a certain set of standard. But it also means that compared to the types below, the iPhone lacks versatility in certain areas.
Developed around the time Apple was finalizing the iPhone, Android is a competing software platform that defines the phones it runs on. Acquired by Google back in 2005, Android was finally launched in earnest months after the first iPhone debuted, by a new consortium of companies called the Open Handset Alliance.
In many ways Android phones borrow a lot from their iOS counterparts (which has promoted Jobs to accuse Google, Android's primary backer, of thievery). Everything is controlled on a large multi-touch display, and there are also third-party apps that can be downloaded and installed to extend the phone's capabilities.
The key difference is that while Apple keeps the iOS platform in a tight grip, Google is a lot more lenient about Android. It's easier for owners of Android phones to install and run "unauthorized" software on their devices, because Android was designed from the ground up to be "open", mainly in response to the iPhone's limitations.
Thus Android phones are a lot more versatile than iOS alternatives. The drawback is that because there is less control over what software runs in Android, some apps are confusing and hard to use. Still, Android is the only viable alternative against Apple’s dominance of the high-end mobile phone market.
Before Apple came out with the iPhone, RIM dominated the business phone world with its BlackBerry line of mobile phones. Almost all BlackBerrys have a small keyboard which facilitates faster typing, and are designed to let users receive email no matter where they are.
A reason why RIM phones are becoming less popular is because much of the functionality they offer is no longer unique, specifically the business-friendly features that are now found on other kinds of phones. Worse, compared to iOS and Android phones, not that many apps are available for RIM phones.
Windows Phone 7
Microsoft was also a victim of the iPhone’s rise to power, with its old Windows Mobile platform making the switch to Apple’s user-friendly alternative. The company is attempting to reclaim its stake through Windows Phone 7, its latest mobile phone operating system featuring an entirely revamped interface and an iPhone-like reliance on touchscreens.
And Windows Phone software is easy to use, because the main interface divides everything into easily manageable areas. Unfortunately, like RIM, Microsoft hasn’t been able to entice that many developers to create apps for its Windows Phone 7.
If you have a limited budget or just need a phone that does texts and calls, go for a feature phone. For more advanced uses, choose the iPhone for its user-friendliness, or an Android for more versatility. Android phones are also available at different price points, though the less you pay, the less powerful your phone will be.
Find all the best offers from Black Friday 2013
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