We’ve run down a pretty exhaustive list of features, but would be remiss not to mention a few additional things that make each platform unique.
Touch ID has become a great way for Apple to unlock new iPhone features like Apple Pay. Third-party developers are rapidly adopting biometric support, bypassing the need for passwords or PIN codes in popular apps like 1Password, Amex Mobile, and Dropbox.
Apple also made owning a Mac more convenient than ever with Continuity and Handoff, which allow OS X to send/receive messages and answer phone calls without ever having to touch the iPhone in your pocket. iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite can also now exchange files wirelessly via AirDrop, a long overdue feature.
And while not exactly a specific feature, it’s worth noting that Apple holds the advantage when it comes to timely OS updates, if only because it makes the only phones that use iOS. It drops off an old iPhone model every year or so, but it doesn’t have to deal with anywhere close to the fragmentation that can cripple Windows Phone and (especially) Android devices whenever Microsoft and Google want to upgrade their software. On the flipside, Android and Windows Phone, in that order, have far greater device parity.
From the outset, Android’s strengths usually had more to do with customization than anything else. From alternative keyboards to widgets and home screen launchers, Android users can truly make any device their own.
This even extends to replacing the OS — the open source nature of Android means anyone with a smidgen of technical expertise can create their own version to add new features or alter the look and feel of the software using custom ROMs. (Jailbreaking makes many such tricks possible on iOS as well, but Apple tends to squash those features with subsequent software updates.)
In many ways, Android feels more like a desktop OS, including the ability to manage downloads and easily open files in other apps. Android users can also clear browser and app cache files and, starting with Lollipop, natively set up accounts for multiple users, just like Windows and Mac.
Windows Phone offers a number of compelling features, especially for owners of other Microsoft products. The two biggest are integration with Windows and Xbox, ties that will only grow stronger over time after Windows 10 hits this summer.
iTunes lovers may think they’re chained to iOS, but in reality, Windows Phone can sync DRM-free music from Apple’s media player (but sadly no videos or iBooks) — a feat even the mighty Android fails to do all that well, even with third-party assistance from the likes of DoubleTwist.
Last but not least, Windows Phone offers the most consistent look and feel of the three mobile platforms. No matter which app you launch or what screen you’re on at any given time, Windows Phone buttons, typefaces, and overall design look pretty much the same, providing a pleasingly unified appearance across the entire OS.
Regardless of which mobile OS you choose, competition between Apple, Google, and Microsoft ultimately benefits smartphone buyers. We’re all better off today than in the dark ages prior to the iPhone — after all, how many of us can even remember which phone we had in our pocket at the time?
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