Mobile update season

This is the season for expensive phone launches. New phones with hefty price tags are released almost every other day, and R40,000 is the new benchmark for high-end devices. However, if you are not in the mood to unburden your wallet — or credit card — to the tune of that sort of amount, you can always try upgrading the OS of your phone to get a taste of the latest and the greatest. And by some coincidence, just about every major smartphone OS has either received an update or is on the verge of getting one. Read on to find out what they offer to existing as well as new users:

As yummy as ever
Google continues with its penchant for naming new versions of Android after sweet-tooth bait. And it finally moves beyond Jelly Bean (which was used for versions 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3). Android KitKat also represents a significant step forward for Android as it comes with a number of tweaks and additions. An immersive mode lets an app dominate your screen by removing navigation buttons, the phone app prioritises contacts on the basis of people you call the most, and when you get a call, it actually tries to identify the caller by matching it up with local businesses listed on Google Maps. The e-mail app has been redesigned, support for TV remote control apps has been added, and those loving Emoji characters no longer have to download separate apps for them — they are there on the new keyboard itself. Most importantly, however, Android KitKat claims to come with better management which should result in speed boosts and better multi-tasking. The problem? Barring the Nexus devices, we really do not know which Android devices will get the update. Most manufacturers’ track record is a trifle spotty in
this regard.

The last roll of the dice?
When BlackBerry released the Z30, most attention was focused on the hardware of the device and its large display. However, the Z30 also marked the arrival of the BlackBerry 10.2 OS, which is also being rolled out to other BB10 devices such as the Z10, the Q10 and the Q5. Major changes to the BB experience include a priority hub which places messages that matter most to you right on top of the inbox, a further improved BB 10 keyboard (with support for Hinglish, for those who like to mail and message in more languages than one), and a much better sharing option, which learns with whom and where you share information and makes suggestions accordingly. But for us the two real power additions were the introduction of lock screen notifications, letting you see messages without unlocking your device’s homescreen and the Instant Preview. It gives you a brief preview of a mail, BBM or text on the top of the display the moment it comes in, irrespective of which app you are using at the moment. You can even respond to it directly without leaving
the app you are using.

Now, that is uber cool in our book.

Growing on people
When it was first announced, Apple’s latest edition of its mobile OS drew contrasting responses, with some hailing the overhaul of what they thought was an archaic interface and others criticising the ‘new look’ as being fuzzy. Well, after a few tweaks — we are currently on iOS 7.0.3 — iOS 7 seems to have made its peace with most users. The new icons might still not be winning in the popularity stakes, but users are appreciating the simpler multi-tasking and the improved notification bar and Control Centre (which lets you access basic settings by just swiping upwards.) And if people still hark to Instagram for camera filters, notwithstanding all that Apple has packed into its new camera app, they are also appreciating the improved keyboard and mail and Web browsing experience. What, of course, really makes the difference is that unlike other mobile OSes mentioned here, Apple has made the iOS 7 update available across every device it has launched over the past two years. Mind you, all features of iOS 7 will not be available to all users, but at least an iPhone 4 user will have the same interface and many of the features available to an iPhone 5S user. And that is what software updates are all about.

Third time lucky?
Windows Phone 8 might be slowly making its presence felt in the smartphone world, courtesy some very impressive devices like the Lumia 920 and Lumia 1020, but it is still considered by many to be lagging behind iOS and Android. That could change with the third update to the OS, which finally brings support for full HD resolutions and larger displays. There will also be support for quad core processors — another department in which Windows Phone was believed to be lagging behind Android. On the interface front (pun intended), there is the option to allot ringtones to contacts for text messages, a new screen rotation lock, and an app switcher which lets you close apps once you are done with using them. There is also an interesting new Drive Mode that limits notifications while you are driving. It might not sound like much, but just like Kid’s Corner, it is a very handy addition to the Windows Phone feature set. And with most Windows Phone devices set to get the update in the coming weeks, we might well see the OS turning the corner in terms of existing as well as new users. 

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