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How is Android different from iPhone, Symbian, or Blackberry?

In two words: flexibility & diversity! Android is a more open system than most other phone systems, which means you can tweak and customize to your heart's content. Apple's iPhone is a closed system, in which Apple develops and sells both the software (iOS) and the hardware (iPhones and iPads). Apple has to approve each and every app that is published for their system. The Android software is developed by Google, which then releases the open-source to device manufacturers (e.g. Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Sony, LG, Huawei, ZTE etc) who develop the phones and tablets and tailor the basic Android software from Google to their devices. That means there is much more device diversity. You can find Android phones and tablets with many different screen sizes, with or without keyboard, budget-friendly and super phones.

That power and flexibility also means it’s a bit more complex. Like iOS, Android is centered around applications, most often called apps. So Android phones feature app icons prominently. The home screen is simple, all the app icons can be moved or deleted, except for three unmovable icons: the Dialer, the Application Tray (a “drawer” that show all the apps installed) and the Web app (an earth icon). The drawer looks quite similar to the home screen of an iPhone.

As shipped by Google, Android includes five built-in home-screens, including the main home screen. Some other versions have up to 7 screens. You can move among them by either sliding your finger to the left or right, or by touching a dot at the bottom of the screen that represents one of the screens. Each of these screens can be customized by adding widgets, shortcuts and files. So, for example, you can devote one screen to social networking apps and communications, another to news and feeds, another to entertainment and so on.

Navigation Buttons

There are four buttons across the bottom of most Android devices for navigation.

Your phone may have slightly different symbols, even the order of the buttons may vary from one phone to the other. Some older Android phones have more buttons, some new ones fewer.

If you have a phone or tablet with Android 4 or later, then there are 3 buttons on the screen itself, so if you rotate the phone the buttons will move too. Thus, with Android you have more power at your fingertips to navigate and performs tasks.

Notification Bar

Android has a very useful Notification system, It’s the top line of your screen for phones and at the bottom right for tablets. it will normally be visible all the time. It may look something like this:

Here you can see the time, battery state, and network state icons. Android will also show icons in this bar when there is an update that may need your attention, for example a new text message, or email. Android will not give you any nasty pop-up messages in the middle of the screen. You will see a notification on top, then whenever you’re ready you just swipe your finger down and the notification bar will roll down like a curtain and cover your screen. Any messages will be displayed there and you can click on them one by one or dismiss all. You can learn more in the Notification Bar chapter.

Multitasking

Android 2.3 Android 4.0
Android has always been very strong in multitasking. It means you can e.g. listen to music at the same time as you surf the web, or download updates while you do other things. To get a list of your running apps in Android 4 you press the Running apps button, as shown above. You'll see a snapshot of how the screen looks like for that app. In older versions of Android you long press (press the button for a few seconds) the Home button. Then you'll see a list of the icons of the recent applications.

Widgets

A key feature of Android is Widgets. You can think of a widget as a small program that’s running and showing you live information. By using widgets you don't have to click on an icon to start an application, in order to get the info. Instead the widget will display that info right away when you unlock the phone. Examples of widgets include:
  • weather
  • calendar
  • stock market
  • switches to turn on/off WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth etc

You can learn more about how this works in the Widgets chapter.

Customization

There are many ways for you to customize your Android phone to make your phone suit your needs. Most users change which apps are on the main home-screen and the other screens, they add widgets, you can have live wallpapers, you can have your favorite photos rotate as your wallpaper, etc You can even replace the interface with a custom launcher, for example LauncherPro, ADW Launcher, and Go Launcher EX. Some very technical people even replace the entire Android OS with a custom ROM.