First released in 2007, the iPhone turned the wireless industry on its head and kicked off a stampede of mobile device manufacturers and software developers all hungry for a slice of the customizable, "smart" cell phone market. Today, hundreds - and soon, thousands - of phones compare to the iPhone in all four major categories: operating system, apps, hardware and wireless network availability.
Mobile Operating Systems
The operating system (OS) is the biggest factor when comparing phones to the iPhone. The OS determines the look, feel and functionality of the user interface (UI). The four most notable operating systems on the market are Apple iOS, Android OS, BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone 7. Apple iOS is only available on the iPhone and iPod Touch from Apple. BlackBerry OS is only available on BlackBerry phones from Research In Motion (RIM) and Windows Phone 7 is only available on five licensed phone models by Dell, HTC, LG and Samsung as of 2011. The Android OS, on the other hand, is used on hundreds of phones from dozens of manufacturers, because Android is a Linux-based "open source" OS. That means software developers can access, use and change Android OS in whatever way they wish. All of these operating systems can do what the Apple iOS does, generally speaking. There is no "best" mobile OS; it all depends upon user preference.
Other Mobile Operating Systems
Like the Android OS, the Linux-based mobile operating systems Bada, Maemo, Meego and WebOS are also open source, but they have not reached the level of developer and market participation that Android has achieved. Another mobile OS is Symbian - a light, open source, mobile OS maintained by Nokia that dominates the world market - but the phones on which Symbian operates tend not to be as hardware-impressive as the iPhone, and therefore cannot be meaningfully compared to the Apple iOS.
The mobile OS of a phone determines what types of "apps" or compact mobile programs can be added to the phone. Each OS has its own app library that users can download from. They offer free or paid apps for added functionality. There is an endless array of apps. As of February 2011, the App Store for iPhone and iPod Touch contains more than 350,000 apps created by third-party developers; the number continues to grow. Android Market has more than 250,000 and growing. BlackBerry App World has more than 10,000 apps and growing, while the Windows Phone App Marketplace contains about 5,000 apps and growing.
The iPhone's main claim to fame is popularizing the high-resolution touchscreen phone in the mid-2000s. Today most smartphone manufacturers offer hi-res touchscreen models for BlackBerry, Android and Windows phones. Additional hardware to look for when comparing a phone to the iPhone: 5-megapixel still camera, high-definition video camera and LED flash; a backward-facing camera for taking pictures of oneself and running video calls; Bluetooth, USB dock connector port and headphone jack; accelerometer; and a compact size.
The Apple iPhone has exclusive contracts with the AT&T and Verizon wireless networks. This includes regular, 3G and 4G connectivity for blazing fast downloads and uploads while mobile. Other smartphones use those networks and more, including Sprint, T-Mobile, and MetroPCS.
- Nielsen Wire: Apple Leads Smartphone Race, while Android Attracts Most Recent Customers
- TechCrunch: Gartner: Android OS Sales Trump iOS And RIM, Grew 888 Percent In 2010
- TechTree.com: Mobile Phones: Smartphone OS Comparison
- TechRadar UK: News: iOS vs Android vs WebOS vs MeeGo
- Jaxov: Famous Mobile OS Features Comparison Sheet
- Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images