The smartphone handsets that you touch and feel are just the front-end to the software operating systems that run them. This is the first article of a two-part series on how the latest compare with one another — iOS 6, Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) and Windows mobile OS 8 — as experienced by Karthik Subramanian

The latest mobile operating systems from the leading tech companies dominating global sales, released alongside devices over the past few months, have begun to run their course. It is likely that the three-way race as it appears now — iOS 6 vs Android 4.2 vs Windows mobile 8 — will dominate the mobile devices space for another year at least.

(Blackberry has not yet launched its modern OS upgrade BB10 and hence does not figure in this article.)

Here is how the top three modern mobile OSs stack up against one another. The article is based on the author's experiences with the iOS6 on Apple's iPhone 5 and the iPad (third generation), the Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) on the Nexus 7 tablet and Windows mobile 8 on HTC WP8X phone.

iOS 6: The latest mobile OS from Apple is the most settled of all mobile operating systems considering that it kick-started the modern smartphone race with the launch of the first generation iPhone in 2007.

The latest iteration runs pretty fluidly on all devices — iPhone 5 through iPhone 3GS. It is also the most widely deployed mobile OS there is. So its biggest advantage is its well-developed Apps (Applications) eco-system. If there is any path-breaking App being developed out there, you can rest assured it is going to be available on the iOS platform.

Android Jelly Bean: Android (4.1 and 4.2) Jelly Bean might seem like an incremental upgrade to Ice-Cream Sandwich (ICS) but Google's ‘Project Butter’ upgrade to the user interface seems to make the device work like, well, butter. It has improved the responsiveness of the OS, and has put it on a par with the likes of iOS 6. Android is an OS for people who love to customise their phones. Android's App ecosystem has begun catching up with iOS in terms of numbers. But since the manufacturers come with various iterations of Android phones, some handset users wait a long duration to get the latest OS ported on their devices.

Windows 8: The Windows 8 phone packs a lot of finesse that quite frankly people don't normally associate with a Microsoft product. Over the past two decades, its functionality notwithstanding, people have not considered Windows platforms aesthetically appealing. But Windows 8 with a brand new user interface looks like it could change it all. There is a little bit of a steep learning curve when it comes to understanding the phone. But Windows 8 phone scores on several counts, most notably the manner in which it integrates the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin right across.

Here is how the phones stack up against one another.

Customisation: Apple's iOS works on Steve Jobs basic principle: “the users don't know what they want”. In a way, iOS 6 enables even lay users to pick up a device and start using it without worrying too much about customisation. Not much of a learning curve here. The downside to this is that it is going to be hard to tell the difference between one iPhone and another.

Android Jelly Bean is easily the most customisable mobile OS there. Users can fill their home screen picking from several options of Apps and widgets.

The Windows 8 phone is the most appealing in terms of UI and is highly customisable too. Users can pick colour schemes and even get the screens to reflect their favourite content. The photos App, for example, allows the use of photos dynamically changing from one's Facebook account.

Widgets: iOS 6 supports only native widgets that are displayed in the drag down box alongside the Facebook and Twitter options. So users can check only limited information, including stock prices, the weather, the calendar and the like. It has been a long-standing wish of users and developers alike that Apple opens its widgets space to third-party applications.

Android Jelly Bean scores over the others here. It also comes with its own native widgets that provide several options to users. A case in point is the customised YouTube widget that allows users to view the recommended videos at a glance, without having the need to start the App.

Windows 8 substitutes the widgets with its “Live Tiles” concept that brings a bit of immediacy to the phone, in the way it displays information on weather, news, stocks, etc.

Digital Assistant: iOS stunned audiences when it introduced Siri as a digital voice assistant and has since extended it to the iPad. Siri has been upgraded with the iPhone 5 but still does not entirely recognise Indian accents. It can be a bit of trial and error to get Siri to work here. Also its Search does not include localised results in India, which reduces its impact quite a bit.

Android's Google Now (available on Jelly Bean upwards) is a fascinating digital assistant that collates personal data and offers various things, including Points of Interest, without even prompting. Though this has raised some queries on the nature of personal data and its use, Google Now is easily the best digital assistant on smartphones today, especially for an Indian audience.

Windows 8’s “Tell Me” is new on the block but seems to have already caught up with more established services. Also, it seems to be more responsive to Indian voices than other digital assistants.

VERDICT: Purely based on experiences of these three factors, Android Jelly Bean is marginally ahead of the iOS 6 and Windows 8 operating systems in the Indian scenario.

In the second part of the article which will appear next week in E-Lounge, more issues concerning the three mobile operating systems will be addressed.