Alternatives to the Apple iPhone

You have read articles that talk about alternatives to Word, Excel or other popular products There have not been many articles like these because it is very difficult to have a comparison between Apple and Oranges (no pun intended).
However this was the week of new phones for me, first my iPhone6+ turned up and then I saw this great deal for a Nokia Lumia 530 for less than $40 (though locked to a particular carrier, which is hardly an issue as I can use the device minus the phone features on a WiFi). The reason I was excited about the new iPhone was it is something that I need to test/develop (My iPhone 5 is in pristine condition and still running iOS 6.0) It was not being used for development at all. Playing catch up was getting difficult so I needed a phone with grunt to start with the bar up high. However with all that grunt and super wide-screen, etc it is a phone that is not comfortable to carry. I cannot imagine holding it up to my ear, so I have the headphones dangling off the iPhone 6+ (that makes it even more difficult to carry around)

So when I got the little Nokia Lumia 530, I was equally excited because this is the price range that is a good range for developers to spend for test phones. Plus since most of the phones do not last more than a year or two they should not be prices in the > $500 mark. It reminds me of the Huawei IDEOS 8150 that I had purchased as it came with Android 2.2 while most other android phones had 1.6 or 2.0. Honestly at the time I had no idea about the Android codenames and versions but the Ansca website said that you need an Android 2.2 phone to run a corona app. I learned one more thing about Androids and phones in general, they can suck. This was a phone that cost me about $200 unlocked from Dick Smith and it was slooowww and crappy. Not something that you can use for testing and worse still at the time, an Android app and made with Corona. That was a complete waste of money.

Then I got the HTC Mozart, a Windows Mobile Phone running WP7. However Microsoft had issues with the technologies one could use to develop and upload an app. You couldn't even developer unlock the phone until you had an app on the app store. So the only testing could have been on the simulator. This you could not run from a virtual machine and not off a 32-bit windows OS. Glad that Microsoft have changed a lot of things.

Androids on the other hand have gone in all directions and while the SDK is kind of singular, the devices are scattered all over the place. The one thing that Google should take from Apple's book is the way the apps scale on the new iPhone 6+. One of my app was created for the iPhone3 320x480 resolution, I know because at that time assets were fixed to that size and many positions were fixed too. That app runs as it on the iPhone4 (retina 640x960) on the 5 (640x1136) and the 6 and the 6+ (1920x1080) However if there was an app on the Android (Google Play Store) it would not work on another similar resolution android phone. Worse still if an app was run on the HTC 540x960 resolution to the Galaxy 1920x1080. However I must complement the hardware manufacturers, they are really packing the grunt into their hardware and pushing the envelope, where even Apple had to buckle and make a really big phone. Had apple made the 6 and 6+ with all the same features (Including image stabilization) then that would have truly given people the choice between a large handed and a normal/small handed phone.

So coming to the point and the title of this article, Microsoft/Nokia posted an infographic suggesting that there are choices for less ( Where they have compared a $700 iPhone vs a suite of Nokia products for less than $300.

I love my iPhones legacy and I love my new Nokia Lumia 530 and given the price even more. However in my opinion this graphic is a bit flawed. Or atleast when they do compare apples and oranges, they should include all Apples. While Nokia comes with Office, One Drive, XBox Tile, Mix Radio, Lync Apple also offers its own set of tools for Free; iWorks including Keynote, Pages and Numbers, GarageBand, iMovie, Game Centre, iCloud, Messenger, Facetime and iTunes Radio. So it all comes down to the actual hardware comparison. Apple has its own set of amazing Headphones and some even more awesome (read as Expensive) beats headset options.

If we compare any > $500 phone with a < $100 phone there is really no comparison. They are entirely different products, The plastic-y cheap feel of the Lumia vs the metallic sleek feel of the iPhone. The screens, the lack of a front facing camera etc etc. The camera is a 5MP camera but I tried using the RedLaser and QR Code reader apps to read a barcode, it failed miserably; The camera is crappy. Taking pictures of people and landscapes were ok with nothing much to talk about them. It would not be harsh if I felt that the 5MP camera on the Lumia took similar pictures as the iPhone 3 did. However the simple point is that a majority want a smartphone, one that has a camera (most want that it should be in a large number of MegaPixels) It should have a gyroscope and a touch screen and it should have loads of memory for apps and... The most important bit about phones is lost somewhere, that it is used to make a call. In that sense the Nokia Lumia 530 phone fulfills the ability to call, has a handy camera (no front facing one) has the ability to increase the phone capacity from 4GB onward with a micro SD card. It has loads of apps (The windows store is yet to mature and come of age, in comparison to the Apple and Google stores) The phone has a quad-core 1.2 CPU which is quite good for a lot many applications. It even has a GPS and an accelerometer. It has replaceable covers (not that I am a fan of that, but you can and also the fact that the battery is replaceable) My personal favourite is the Siri Alternative - Cortana. The first thing that I love about it is that it actually recognizes a non-American accent perfectly. However the results returned from the search is a big let down. If I say "Install Whatsapp" I expect the app store to start and give me the choice to install the app as requested. Instead I get a listing (I guess the results of a bing search). That is absolutely not what I wanted. The other favourite is the presence of FM Radio, which Apple could have added to the Phone (as it was already there in the iPods).

Note: Maybe this is not the feature called Cortana, this could be a simple voice search instead.

The other cool thing with Windows Phones is the Project My Phone feature, something similar to the new Quicktime recording from an iOS device connected with a Lightning cable and running iOS 8. This is similar to the functionality offered via apps like Air Server or reflexions, etc. Which is quite nice to take device videos or screenshots.

Another hidden gem in the WP8.1 is the Kids corner. It might be a bit misleading when it is called the Kids Corner, think of it as a guest account for your phone. You could set the apps you want for that profile and give your phone to someone, they can only use the apps that you have set for that profile. It's called Kids corner, because you might want the kids to use those apps only. The irony of this is that there aren't enough apps on the WP to really use this feature and there are several apps on the Apple store but Apple does not offer such functionality. They did have something in the form of Guided Access but it is no where close to the Kids corner feature. I believe this was also spoken about in reference to Samsung Galaxy 5. However the WP8.1 implementation is quite well done.

From the perspective of a developer, there are three major platforms that one might want to support namely the Apple iOS, Google Android and Microsoft Windows Phone. While there are others they are either part of Androids or are not worth considering as yet. For supporting iOS you have to get the latest and greatest, for example to test out Handoff, phone calls, etc you cannot do that with an older Mac Desktop and nor can you simply add a BT 4.0 dongle, similarly the iPad 2 could not support Air Drop. With Androids, there are a lot of options available and surprisingly for an affordable price. I am personally impressed with the new range of options from LG with the 2560x1440 WQHD displays and the near zero bezel on the sides. All of these options available for < $500 however as a developer I am not as yet impressed with the Androids. The cross-platform ability of Corona, Gideros, Moai etc was useful to develop for one and deploy on both the iOS and Android. Microsoft was the only child sitting in the corner, refusing to play nice with the developers. This has changed but there are still portions that prevent true adoption of the Windows Phone system and entice developers to make apps. For example, the list of apps are a long list and to get to settings (for example) you have to keep scrolling till you get to S and then start settings. You could add it to the live tiles, but if you have just installed a new app called Zebra (for example) and want to access it, you have to keep scrolling till the end and then invoke it.

In all honesty, the Apple iPhones are an amazing piece of hardware. It is the BMW of the Phones and some of the other phones are a Toyota, Nissan or a Hyundai. Which means that they are not bad, but they are a different class and also means that they are not the Great Wall, Cherry or the Tata Nano. So to summarize, there is no real alternative to the iPhone, as those that love the iPhones cannot love the androids as much. However there are some amazing android options in a more affordable range. I have snapped pictures for a lot of people at tourist spots when they hand over their huge Phablet, now I am also one of those with the iPhone 6+. I loved the big screen when taking pictures with the Samsung's and hope that I would enjoy better with the iPhone 6+. From a smartphone perspective, a more affordable option like the Lumia 530 works equally well.

Keep a look out for how good is the Nokia Lumia for testing applications from a developers perspective using different options like Visual Studio/Visual Blend and other frameworks like Corona.

Image Source: Nokia USA