Even in today’s gadget crazy culture where people change cell phones as often as they change their socks (ed. that was terribly cliche), it is surprising how often I hear terms being confused or used incorrectly. I think it mostly has to do with the media’s influence, i.e. manufacturer’s commercials influencing our perception of the various devices available. In any case, I thought I would take some time to clear up some of the confusion. The following may seem ridiculously obvious to many a gadget-geek, but again, this article isn’t directed at you, so why don’t you go and ogle over the N8 in the meantime. The rest of us will stay here and go over the difference between Droid, Android, iPhone, iOS 4, Blackberry, HP/Palm, and Windows Phone 7.

I won’t go into the specific details of the differences of the phones, because I want to finish this article sometime this year. This is more about clearing up the difference between a phone, a device (hardware) and a phone operating system (software).

For the purposes of this article, we will define a phone operating system (or OS for short) as the software which is the sum of the functions of the phone. E.g. calling, texting, emailing, apps, etc.; and the graphical appearance (i.e. how it looks).

We will define a device as the hardware that the OS runs on. The hardware is comprised of a screen, keyboard, antenna, battery, built-in camera etc.

Finally we will define a phone as a combination of a device and an OS.

Are you still with me?

Ok, now we will go through some details, it may get a little confusing, but I think at the end things will look a little clearer.

OS (Software)

There are several different OS manufacturers which provide the functions to make a phone a phone. And as I list them below, I am using the current or upcoming OS instead of listing all of them just to keep things simple.

  • Apple – iOS 4
  • Google – Android
  • Microsoft – Windows Phone 7
  • Palm – WebOS (actually now part of HP)
  • Nokia – Symbian^3
  • RIM (BlackBerry) – BlackBerry 6

After reading the above list, a friend of mine would already point out that it is too complicated for your average person to understand, and he might be right. However, I think it is important to at least expose everyone to the somewhat technical side at least a little. And I think it is particularly important when trying to clear up the incorrectly used terms, which is why I am bothering to write this at all. More commonly you will hear people referring to the above as below.

  • iPhone
  • [a] Droid
  • Windows Phone (actually I have no idea how people refer to this, no one has purchased a Microsoft phone since 2006)
  • Palm
  • Nokia
  • BlackBerry

Ok, so this list looks familiar and might not be so bad right? Mmm, not quite, when using the above terms, you are actually using a mix of terms which don’t refer to the same thing. Let’s continue on to devices (hardware) to understand why the above terms are slightly incorrect in use.

Device (Hardware)

Like the OS, there are many different device (hardware) manufacturers, here are some of the major ones.

  • Apple
  • HTC
  • Motorola
  • RIM (BlackBerry)
  • Sony / Ericsson
  • Nokia
  • LG
  • Samsung
  • Sanyo

So now you can see that some companies actually make both the OS and the hardware, e.g. Apple. And some companies only make hardware, e.g. HTC. Some devices can only run one type of OS, like the iPhone, and some devices can run all types of OS like many HTC devices running Android or Windows.


This leads us into phones, which are a combination of an OS and a device. Here is where a lot of the confusion happens. I will pick and choose some phones to define, and hopefully by example this will clear up the confusion.

Droid – “Droid” is a trademarked name by Verizon used for its line of Android powered devices. The Droid line consists of several versions of Verizon customized Android OS installed on devices from HTC and Motorola. The original Droid consisted of Android 2.0 on a Motorola device. Verizon now offers several different “Droids”, the Droid 2, Droid X, Droid Incredible, each with its own combination of HTC or Motorola hardware and Android OS.

If you go to, say, T-Mobile and ask for a “Droid” they will say, “oh well we have this nice T-Mobile G2.” at which point you will be confused because you thought you were asking for a “Droid”. T-Mobile (and other providers) have Android powered devices, but they will each have their own unique names. Again, the term “Droid” refers to Verizon’s Android line of phones. Unfortunately for the rest of us their brilliant marketing scheme brain washed us all into thinking that “Droid” was the term to be used for everything Android. It is not.

iPhone – this one is actually more straight forward. Like everything else in the Apple world, they manufacture both the device and the OS. So, you can only run iOS on an iPhone device.

BlackBerry – RIM (Research in Motion) is the company which makes the BlackBerry. This is another company that makes both the device and the OS. There are several iterations of the BlackBerry OS, but in general regardless of who your cell phone provider is, if you ask for a BlackBerry you are going to get a BlackBerry.

Windows Mobile /Windows Phone 7 – Microsoft has been more or less out of the phone game since the iPhone and Android phones launched. Most notably because the iPhone really changed the way that people interact with their phone. Comparing Windows Mobile and an iPhone, you can quickly see that whomever designed Windows Mobile had a desktop computer in mind when organizing the functions. And, after using an iPhone, one quickly realizes how cumbersome Windows Mobile is. Microsoft also recognized that Windows Mobile was a lost cause, and basically abandoned development. Then for a couple of years all was quiet in the Microsoft camp until earlier this year Micorsoft had announced a new, built-from-the-ground-up phone OS called Windows Phone 7 Series. Microsoft again changed the way that people interact with their phones, with a new interface that transitions away from Apple’s and Google’s icon based user interface to a truncated/overflowing panoramic interface. Ok, that got a little too technical, basically within the next month or so you will start to hear people talk about “Windows Phone 7”, and this is what they are referring to.

What was the point of all that?

Simply to clear up some commonly confused terms that I hear so often. Hopefully this answers some questions and clears up some confusion for those who ask, “I’m on Sprint, can I get a Droid?” and I respond, “Sure, but you need to go to Verizon.” Maybe instead now someone will ask, “I’m on Sprint, are there any Android phones available?” And I will smile and say, “Yes.”