Cage match: Windows Mobile vs. Google Android

Cage match: Windows Mobile vs. Google Android

Summary: I posted on the status of Windows Mobile 7 that the Motorola CEO spilled out in a recent earnings call. This really wasn't much of a surprise since it has been rumored for months, but this was the first public official acknowledgement of the upcoming OS. The Motorola CEO also talked about the Google Android OS during that earnings call and stated that Motorola was focusing on Android instead of Windows Mobile in 2009 because Android "is more competitive" this year than Windows Mobile will be. Since I have spent an extensive amount of time with both the T-Mobile G1 (see my review) and several Windows Mobile devices (see my HTC Fuze review) I think I can offer up a fair comparison between the two operating systems speaking from real-life experiences so that you can make an informed decision about which is the better OS to focus on at this time.

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This morning, Motorola's CEO spilled the beans that Windows Mobile 7 is coming in 2010. Another thing he mentioned during the earnings call is that Motorola would be focusing on Google Android instead of Windows Mobile in 2009 because Android "is more competitive" this year than Windows Mobile will be.

Since I have spent an extensive amount of time with the Android-powered T-Mobile G1 (my review here) and several Windows Mobile devices (see my HTC Fuze review), I think I can offer up a fair comparison between the two operating systems.

Here's my breakdown:

Stability

Windows Mobile

There are people that jump on my Windows Mobile posts right away and complain about stability of their devices. There have been stability issues in the past with certain devices, and many of these devices are still available today. That said, every Windows Mobile non-touchscreen device I have used the last couple of years has been rock-solid, no reset necessary. Touch screen devices I have used recently -- Apple iPhone, my BlackBerry -- tend to lock up with lots of 3rd party applications. In fact, the only mobile OS I haven't had lock up is the one on Symbian S60 devices.

Google Android

I started using a G1 before they were publicly released and have loaded up and removed over 50 applications and pushed the limits of the device. It has NEVER soft reset or required a hard reset, and that is saying something for a brand-new operating system. I have had 3rd party applications freeze and then start back up, and I have even had low memory issues (drives me crazy), but the OS has honestly been much more stable than I would ever have anticipated.

Winner: Google Android, which has been more stable and reliable than Windows Mobile.

Multimedia (Image and video capture, music listening, movie viewing)

Windows Mobile

There are very few Windows Mobile devices that have good cameras for image and video capture and the best current model is the Samsung OMNIA. Music and video playing is managed through the lame Windows Media Player mobile application. This is a desktop application that was brought to the Pocket PC and has only seen small incremental updates over the years. I personally can't stand WMP mobile and think Microsoft needs to move quickly to getting something like the Zune multimedia interface on Windows Mobile. If this was done, I would be much more likely to use my Windows Mobile device for multimedia.

Google Android

The camera on the G1 is of typical HTC quality, but with no flash is very limited. It does have autofocus so it is better than some other devices and does surprisingly well with applications like ShopSavvy. There is no video capture capability either.

The Amazon MP3 store is integrated on the G1 and there is a fairly basic music player included. While there is a video player integrated into the Android OS, there is no native application that hooks into this. There are 3rd party apps that fill the video playing need at this time.

Winner: Neither. The G1 is not a multimedia powerhouse, and most Windows Mobile devices are not either. I think this area is open for groups to step in and improve in both operating systems.

Phone performance/integration

Windows Mobile

There are so many Windows Mobile devices on the market it is tough discuss their phone performance because it varies by device. Touch screen devices are definitely a bit more difficult to use as a proper phone (dialing, holding up to your head, etc.). Windows Mobile non-touchscreen devices excel in phone functionality and I can easily recommend them for people looking for a good solid standard phone.

Google Android

The G1, too, is a bit difficult to use as a proper phone, but where the G1 excels is in the notifications -- and I haven't found another OS that performs as well. The notifications on my Nokia E71 do come close to those found on the G1, though, and I would like to see them integrated across S60.

Winner: Tie. Both experiences vary device-to-device.

Software (integrated and 3rd party)

Windows Mobile

There are thousands of developers and software titles for Windows Mobile devices, and you can pretty much find an application to do anything you need with your device. Many of these improve on the software included with the OS so the sky is pretty much the limit with Windows Mobile.

Unlike Google Android, Windows Mobile has majorly failed in the "App market" area and it is sad to see they still do not have an on-device software store like the Android Market. We may see more on this at Mobile World Congress, but it may still be too little too late.

Google Android

On the other hand, the G1 is a fairly new device and there are already applications that are available for it that beat Windows Mobile applications. For example, there is ShopSavvy that you can use to blow away your family and friends as it shows them the product you scanned, where to find it cheaper online, and where to find it even from a store close to you using the integrated GPS receiver. There are also decent mobile clients for Twitter, Facebook, and Shazam that are rare or nonexistent on Windows Mobile. It is tough to judge applications for the Google Android OS at this time since all are still currrently free and I think (and hope) the high quality application floodgates will open when commercial apps are made available in the Android Market.

Winner: Google Android, thanks to its inventive Android Market.

Exchange (enterprise) support

Windows Mobile

If you work with an Exchange server and Outlook it is very tough to beat a Windows Mobile device for the complete Exchange experience. Motorola needs to get back into the consumer game now and waiting until 2010 to get going with Windows Mobile and the enterprise market may be a low risk venture, since enterprise clients are generally slower to change and adopt new technologies.

Google Android

I purchased and am enjoying the TouchDown application on my G1 and every few days they have been issuing updates that is giving me a better and more featured experience with my Exchange server. Today's update gave me the calendar views I wanted and I think the Exchange experience can be close to matched on the G1 with more work by third parties.

Winner: Windows Mobile, but Android isn't far behind.

Display technologies

Windows Mobile and Google Android

Currently, Windows Mobile devices have non-touch or touch (resistive) displays while the G1/Google Android has a capacitive display. There are pros and cons to both -- with the iPhone becoming so popular today, capacitive displays seem to be the future -- and they are definitely easier to use from a UI perspective. However, you cannot use handwriting input methods and there are some limitations with selecting items on the display. There are also millions of people who like non-touch screen displays with navigation and selection performed from hardware keys and we could see Android in both flavors like we see with Windows Mobile and S60.

After using my iPhone and G1, I do think that overall the user experience with a capacitive display is a better experience and is the wave of the future. That said, I imagine we will see Windows Mobile devices with capacitive displays in the future too so either OS could be used from a display perspective.

Winner: Google Android, thanks to the capacitive trend, but it depends on the hardware.

Wireless capabilities

Windows Mobile and Google Android

Both operating systems support all the standard wireless modes that are available today, but currently the Bluetooth stack is very limited on the Android OS. This may be a function of the G1 hardware, but we won't know for sure until more hardware is released. Both operating systems have 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS capabilities.

Winner: Windows Mobile, by a Bluetooth.

Security

Windows Mobile

For enterprise mobile devices, RIM BlackBerry seems to be the best from a security viewpoint, but since I am not the IT guy, I can't speak with certainty. From what I understand from research, Microsoft and Windows Mobile have come a long way with regard to security and security management through Exchange ActiveSync.

Google Android

The G1 is an "open" system that syncs with Google servers so the devices are not really manageable by the IT department. I am not sure what, if anything, can be done to make these devices secure for enterprise usage and will have to let others chime in with thoughts on Android security.

Winner: Windows Mobile, thanks to its closed-source nature.

Hardware form factors

Windows Mobile

Currently, there is no question that Windows Mobile has it going on with the hardware. We have some incredible hardware offerings like the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1, HTC Touch HD, HTC Touch Pro, Samsung Blackjack II, and many dozens more. The nice thing about Windows Mobile is that you can find a device that fits your needs in both touchscreen and non-touchscreen flavors on virtually any carrier you want.

Google Android

Android has a long way to go. The only Google Android device currently on the market is the T-Mobile G1. While it is a solid first device, it is definitely geared towards the mobile phone geek, with a rather inelegant and clunky slide-up display, funky chin, HTC proprietary port for headphones and charging, limited camera, and poor battery life. The trackball is slick, the display is very nice and functional, and the keyboard is quite useful.

Winner: Windows Mobile, but based only on current Android offerings.

Conclusion

After looking over these different aspects of each operating system, I think Motorola should focus on Android if they want to target the consumer, and Windows Mobile if they want to target the enterprise.

What do you think of this comparison? Are there other areas where each OS stands out from the other?

Topics: Android, Google, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Wi-Fi, Windows

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60 comments
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  • I think its a fair comparison.

    I would not try to compare media capabilities however. That is always going to be a function of apps or third parties on any platform. They both are capable of playing the stuff if you have the app to do it.

    Overall I believe Android is going to gain alot of steam especially if third parties take to customizing it. I'm looking forward to seeing the coming wave of Android devices including the Garmin device (GPS device I assume) and the Ipod Touch like tablet device. The apps seem to be rolling in at a steady pace with their quality improving and I imagine that there are many just waiting on the paid App Market to launch. Motorola might just be able to save themselves with Android if they are smart.
    storm14k
    • RE: .... fair comparison.

      <font color=grey><em>"<strong>Motorola might just be able to save themselves with Android</strong> if they are smart."</em></font><br>
      <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/blog/main/archives/2009/02/motorola_micros.html;jsessionid=H3TUJIKSQFLAQQSNDLPSKH0CJUNN2JVN" target="_blank">"Motorola, Microsoft In Suicide Pact"</a>
      <font color=grey>"So <strong>Motorola</strong>, too sick to rescue its own mobile division, <strong>is throwing over Windows Mobile OS for Google's Android</strong> (yes, those guys again!) in a last-ditch attempt at relevancy, while Microsoft watches its own inevitable slide into oblivion. They will be sorely missed."</font><br>
      ^o^<br>
      <br>
      n0neXn0ne
      • Why even bother?

        Everytime you post, you show more and more that you know less and less.

        Too bad. You where laughable at times, now just plain..........boring.
        GuidingLight
        • Can you quote me? Didn't think so.

          <font color=grey><em>"You where laughable at times, now just plain..........boring."</em></font><br>
          Glad to hear you read my post(s). ;)

          You are an id!0t

          ]:)
          n0neXn0ne
  • Agree, fair

    If anything I think you are being a little nice to WM.

    I use a HTC Touch HD. I don't like it much. The screen is awesome (the reason I chose it - so that I could read books online) but the device - especially browsing - is slow. WM is only saved by Touch Flo, but you don't have to dig much before the WM rears its head (windows 2000 style - wtf do I need <i>scrollbars</i> to take up screen realestate on a mobile??).

    Mobile IE is a joke. No, strike that. Mobile IE is an insult. I'm very happy HTC decided to bundle Opera on this device. Otherwise that device would have had an appointment with the parking a long time ago - arriving directly from 7th floor.

    Microsoft needs to up the ante - soon. Or leave the game.
    honeymonster
  • Closed source = more secure?

    To rate an OS as more secure because the source is closed is irrational. If that were so, Windows desktop should have fewer viruses than Linux, which it clearly doesn't.

    I'm not saying Windows Mobile is less secure than Android, only that the closed nature of the source is an irrelevant criterion. If you can't provide [b]relevant[/b] criticism or analysis of the security of either OS, score them equal (or leave that criterion out).
    Fred Fredrickson
    • It's teh market share, stupid

      <i>If that were so, Windows desktop should have fewer viruses than Linux, which it clearly doesn't.</i>

      Nah, number of viruses has nothing to do with with how secure an OS is and everything to do with market share of that OS.

      Linux has approximately <u>2 times</u> the number of vulnerabilities of Vista and XP. OS X has <u>3 times</u> the number of vulns.

      I agree that open source/closed source has nothing to do with how secure an OS is. Rigid QA, testing and developer education has much more to do with it.

      But as you can see, even the OS with the fewest vulns is still the most targeted OS. "It's teh market share, stupid".
      honeymonster
      • Interesting...

        Tried to google this one, but couldn't find anything really conclusive regarding your comparative vulnerability statistics. Out of curiosity, what was your source?
        rikasa
        • Research by well-respected independant IBM X-Force labs

          Read about it here:
          http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9595_22-265701.html
          honeymonster
          • Disclosures != Secure OS

            If OS A has 10% of the share of disclosures but reports all disclosures found and OS B has 5% of disclosures but only discloses 5% of vulnerabilities it knows about, which is the more secure OS?

            OS B is likely more vulnerable to someone researching security. OS A is likely more vulnerable to someone using unfixed disclosures as a starting point to breaking a system.

            The more popular system is usually least secure not only because there are a greater number of computers, but also because knowledge of the OS inner workings is likely more well known.
            aeriform
          • Security == Security

            Theres just no way around it. You can have 10 vulns or 100 vulns. The question is what can be done with those holes. Thats the question no one answers.

            Your last statements tends to make a case for Linux. All knowledge of the inner workings of that system are in the public eye. If you wanted to find a hole then you can easily look for one. However you can't expect the hole to remain open that long as everybody can see what you see and everyone can suggest fixes. Its more advantageous to find something that no one knows about yet and exploit it. It gives you the jump on your exploit taking root before people can find and fix the problem.

            You simply aren't safer due to a vuln being unknown. Its still there and still exploitable.
            storm14k
          • I've heard this a lot

            and it makes sense on the surface.
            "However you can't expect the hole to remain open that long as everybody can see what you see and everyone can suggest fixes"

            How many actually do though? How many people actually look through the code?
            There probably is not a hard number or reporting, but do you have a sense of how many people actually do contribute in this manner?

            Joeman57
          • @eb276

            Go to the community sites and see for yourself. I was just looking researching an issue on Ubuntu and saw the user community research and propose more fixes than the Ubuntu or Canonical team. And this wasn't even a security issue. You can look at almost any major FOSS project and see this behaviour. Once something is exploited people begin sharing information so they can try to get their systems closed rather than just trying to go it alone or wait till the devs find it.

            You said you've "heard" this but have you spent anytime in a FOSS project community to see for yourself?

            storm14k
          • Thanks Storm

            I haven't spent much time in those forums. Thanks for the anecodote, that was basically what I wanted.
            Joeman57
          • At least Microsoft and Linux report 100% of discovered vulnerabilities

            I don't know where you get the idea that it is
            not so. I believe that Apple also have been
            forced to me more forthcoming and less
            secretive about their vulns.
            honeymonster
      • Does Linux really have 2 times the vulns...

        ...or do you just know about ALL the vulns in Linux while the MS ones have yet to be discovered or reported. Anyone can see and report a vuln in Linux code.

        You also fail to address what can be achieved with these vulns. If all you can do is cause a buffer overflow that does nothing or just cause a DoS then whats the point when you can create a botnet on another system. Market share has little to do with the value of a vulnerability.
        storm14k
        • not everyone

          but only people with the knowledge, time and will to do it (without any payment) which are very few
          Azathothh
        • What makes you think

          that all Linux vulns have been discovered and disclosed while the Vista/XP ones haven't?

          I'd say that since this statistic has looked like this for the past 3 years, I could make a good case arguing that it is a sustained pattern which goes to code quality and QC/QA more than anything else.

          <i>Market share has little to do with the value of a vulnerability.</i>

          What planet are you living on??? Market share has <b>everything</b> to do with the value of a vulnerability.

          <i>You also fail to address what can be achieved with these vulns. If all you can do is cause a buffer overflow that does nothing or just cause a DoS then whats the point when you can create a botnet on another system</i>

          What makes you think that the composition of Linux or OS X vulns are different from Vista/XP? Source?

          On the contrary, I could argue that since at Vista is the OS with <i>the</i> most defense in-depth (more than Linux kernel and OS X), vulns on Vista tends to be much less critical than on other OSes. Cue IE7 protected mode.
          honeymonster
      • Not All About Market Share

        [i]Nah, number of viruses has nothing to do with with how secure an OS is and everything to do with market share of that OS.[/i]

        Well, web servers are not operating systems, but it would seem that the same principles should apply. However, we see many more worms and other exploits for Microsoft IIS than for Apache even though Apache has a greater market share. This seems to contradict the assertion that it's about market share.

        It's difficult to explain why the claim that Linux and OS X have more vulnerabilities than Vista and XP is likely false when no sources are cited for it. However, in the past claims like this that I have seen have been very misleading. Usually they are based on numbers of patches issued by Microsoft and Apple and some particular Linux distribution. There are several problems with using these numbers.

        First, the number of patches may not equal the number of vulnerabilities patched.

        Second, with Linux at least, the patches issued by a distribution include those for a plethora of additional applications available from the distribution besides the operating system itself. These applications have their counterparts on Windows which are not included because they don't ship with the operating system. On any particular system they are probably not all installed and almost certainly are not all in use, especially since several may be alternative applications for the same purpose.

        Third, the number of patches has even less reflection on the severity of vulnerabilities than it does on the number of vulnerabilities.

        Fourth, the number of vulnerabilities is not the sum total of operating system security. There are several other factors involved.

        It would be easy enough to make an argument as well that open source code is exposed to more QA than closed source source code ever can be. Of course, you could also argue that greater market share exposes code to more testing.
        CFWhitman
        • Oh yes

          <i>Well, web servers are not operating systems, but it would seem that the same principles should apply.</i>

          Yes.

          <i>However, we see many more worms and other exploits for Microsoft IIS than for Apache</i>

          Bzzzzzzzt. Fail. It been a long time since <i>any</i> worm successfully attacked <i>any</i> of these products. Back to IIS 4/5, I believe. IIS6 and IIS7 is easily the <i>most</i> secure webservers out there: IIS6: <b>4</b>recorded vulns in its entire lifetime, IIS7: <b>1</b> (one!) recorded vuln. Apache2: <b>23</b> vulns (apx. as old as IIS6).

          No, what is being attacked is web <i>applications</i> and it has nothing to do with webservers. And here PHP has a large market share and has certainly been attacked. As have popular products based on PHP (it's a hillarious piece of error-prone s...!). But then again they both have large market share and have been extraordinarily vulnerable (Joomla, Wordpress, Drupal).

          <i>It's difficult to explain why the claim that Linux and OS X have more vulnerabilities than Vista and XP is likely false when no sources are cited for it</i>

          The source is the publicly available CVEs. You can find them through secunia (who adds their own rating to them). Unsurprisingly, the CVEs at secunia show the same pattern.

          <i>However, in the past claims like this that I have seen have been very misleading. Usually they are based on numbers of patches issued by Microsoft and Apple and some particular Linux distribution. There are several problems with using these numbers</i>

          In this case the researchers have analysed the publicly available CVEs, thus avoiding double-counting for Linux distributions.

          <i>First, the number of patches may not equal the number of vulnerabilities patched.</i>

          Indeed no. Many vulns from 2006 have still not been patched. The "big" players all perform considerably better than the average, though.

          If you are somehow suggesting that MS may patch without telling anyone about vulns, think again. MSs patches always refer to knowledgebase articles describing the vulns. This is crucial information for sysadms.

          <i>Third, the number of patches has even less reflection on the severity of vulnerabilities than it does on the number of vulnerabilities</i>

          Howso? Do you suggest that Linux, Solaris and OS X vulns are less severe than Windows' on average? Think again. A lot of the "critical" MS patches are mitigated if you have UAC turned on.

          <i>Fourth, the number of vulnerabilities is not the sum total of operating system security. There are several other factors involved.</i>

          Oh yes. Like extra defenses. Like process integrity, load address randomization, no-execute stacks and heaps, heap/stack encryption, safe exception handling etc. All of which are on by default in Vista (post SP1). Only some of which are available and enabled in Linux/OS X.

          <i>It would be easy enough to make an argument as well that open source code is exposed to more QA than closed source source code ever can be.</i>

          Yep. But it appears to be false. Or they are doing a poor job. Not that I believe that open source is nessecarily more prone to security problems than closed source. I believe it has everything to do with QA process and developer culture and education. In that light the current results are not surprising. Microsoft was bitted badly at the start of the century and after that they put in place a pretty rigid process called SDL Secure development lifecycle. I believe what we see here is the result of exactly that process.

          <i>Of course, you could also argue that greater market share exposes code to more testing.</i>

          It certainly means that the bad guys put more effort into finding vulns.
          honeymonster