Mobile OS deathmatch: Apple iOS 4 vs. Android 2.2

As the mobile battle narrows, the iPhone finally faces a real challenger

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Another Android OS 2.2 omission: Exchange calendar syncing (though Motorola provides the Corporate Calendar app on its devices to add this capability). In contrast, iOS 4 syncs with Exchange calendars natively and lets you both initiate and respond to calendar invites from Exchange -- but you can't accept invites sent to IMAP, POP, or Gmail accounts. Android OS 2.2 also can't accept such invites if sent to IMAP, POP, or Gmail accounts.

iOS 4 also integrates Exchange contacts into its Mail app, so it looks at your Exchange contacts database as well as your local database when you enter a person's name in a To or Cc field. Similar to iOS 4, Android integrates Exchange contacts into the local Mail app, assuming you can connect to Exchange.

Neither operating system automatically puts Exchange contacts into their Contacts app; you have to add them manually from within an e-mail. This is not a bad thing; it means that departing employees don't have your entire company contacts database on their mobile device, and it keeps the Contacts app from being filled with contacts a user probably doesn't need.

Both mobile operating systems support multiple Exchange accounts (this is new to iOS 4).

There is a work-around to Android's Exchange omissions: The $20 TouchDown app creates a sandbox that encrypts the mail stored in it, so it complies with many Exchange servers' EAS policies. It also lets you choose folders to autosync and flag messages, but its UI for folders is unfriendly. Any folders designated for autosyncing are accessible via a menu at the top of the TouchDown screen, so you can look at specific folders, not just the inbox or all messages (the default view), though only one at a time and without the context of your folder hierarchy.

And TouchDown can't add e-mail addresses in mail messages to the native Contacts app in Android; it works just with Exchange and EAS-compatible mail servers such as Lotus Notes 8.5.1 with Lotus Traveler and the forthcoming Novell GroupWise Data Synchronization Mobility Pack. But TouchDown does work well with Exchange contacts, calendar items, and notes.

If you use Lotus Notes, you can work with IBM's Lotus Notes Traveler app on iOS if you're also running the Notes 8.5.1 server with the Traveler extensions. There's as yet no such app for Android, though TouchDown works with that Notes 8.5.1/Traveler server combination. Novell has no support for either device, but plans to add EAS support later this year that should work through iOS 4's Exchange support and through TouchDown on Android.

The winner: iOS 4, by a wide margin. The difference between the two operating systems is a classic case of the specs not telling the whole story. iOS 4 has a much more intuitive interface that makes using e-mail, contacts, and calendars far easier than on Android OS 2.2, and overall it has more capabilities. When it comes to corporate usage, Android simply fails the requirements of most organizations. The TouchDown app can work around much of this gap, but at the price of poor integration with the rest of the device.

Deathmatch: Applications

It's now part of the popular culture: "There's an app for that." There are tens of thousands of apps for iOS 4, from games to scientific visualization tools. Sure, there's a lot of junk, but there are many really useful apps as well.

Android doesn't have nearly the same library of apps as the iOS, but its portfolio is now in the thousands, with many useful apps -- and more coming as the OS gains popularity -- such as TouchDown and Quickoffice. But you won't find more specialized business apps like OmniSketcher or Concur -- yet.

The native apps for both operating systems are comparable, providing e-mail, contacts, calendar, maps and navigation, browser, a music player, a YouTube player, and SMS messaging. One strange exception: Android OS 2.2 has no native notepad app, while iOS 4 does. That's a very odd omission for a smartphone.

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