Apple's new mobile operating system iOS 5 could be the magic tonic the technology giant needs to help it beat Google Ice Cream Sandwich - the new ambitious Android OS.
Apple's iPhone, which has set the benchmark in the smartphone industry, is in danger of losing out to Android smartphones in terms of popularity. According to a comScore report, Google Android's US market share surged to 36.4 percent while Apple's iPhone, which runs on iOS, dropped down to second place with 26 percent market share. iPhone was barely ahead of RIM's BlackBerry (25.7 percent).
The report noted that Android's market share grew from 26 percent in November 2010 to 31.2 percent in January 2011 and to 36.4 percent by the end of June 2011.
At the current rate, Android looks good enough to capture almost 50 percent of the U.S. smartphone market by the end of 2011.
In terms of mobile phone sales in the U.S., Apple ranked No.4 (8.3 percent) behind Android smartphone makers like Samsung (24.5 percent), LG (21 percent) and Motorola (15.6 percent).
A Nielsen survey also reveals that Android users download more apps on average than iPhone users despite Apple's App Store being more than twice bigger than Android Market Place.
If Apple thought that things looked bad enough, it was wrong. Last month, Google rubbed salt to Apple's wounds by unveiling the latest version of Android (codename Ice Cream Sandwich) at its annual I/O 2011 event.
And unlike previous versions, the latest version of Android is being billed as the most pivotal update yet in the mobile OS battle between Google and Apple.
Why? Because Ice Cream Sandwich has been designed to integrate the smartphone and tablet variants of Android into one and elevate it to the same playing level as iOS which runs iPhone as well as iPad.
Google said the latest Android is its most ambitious release to date as it will combine Android 2.3 (the latest Android OS for smartphones aka Gingerbread) with Android 3.0 (Google's first tablet-specific variant of Android aka Honeycomb).
A unified platform (one OS that runs everywhere) will benefit developers, who till now were forced to develop applications (apps) for the fragmented Android market.
With one common platform, like Apple's proprietary iOS, the developers can now develop apps that will be compatible across all Android-based devices, be they smartphones or tablets.
Consequently, the gap between Apple App Store and Android Market Place will also narrow.
However, Apple has a few tricks up its sleeves too. Nearly a month after Google I/O event ended, Apple announced in its annual worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that iOS 5, the latest version of its mobile OS, was a major and incredible release for developers and customers alike.
The technology giants said iOS 5 comes with 1500 new APIs and 200 new features. Of them, the following 10 features look good enough to help iOS beat Android:
iOS users can send unlimited text message through iMessage, as well as other multimedia messages over Wi-Fi and 3G. It allows you to get read and delivery receipts and real time typing indication. The iMessages can be pushed out to all iOS devices a user owns, thereby allowing, for instance, the user to start a conversation in iPhone and continue the same on an iPad right where it was left off.
With the look of white loose-leaf paper, the build-in Reminders app in iOS 5 helps the user to manage multiple to-do lists. The reminders will be alerted based on due dates and also locations. The most attractive element probably is that the Reminders can work via iCloud, which means it can alert you on multiple Apple devices in real time. Mac users and PC users can also expect Reminders to sync with iCal or outlook when iOS 5 finally comes out.
A new, convenient notification system in iOS 5 was introduced which combine all notifications in one place. The Notification Center can be accessed by swiping down from the status bar at the top of the screen. Apple said the new push notifications have been “scaled beautifully” and are no longer annoying or obtrusive. The notifications will be displayed on the lock screen together with stock and weather alerts. Now, when a notification appears in a lock screen, tapping the notification will automatically open the related app. The UI also looks radically cool thanks to nifty animation effects.
FaceTime is one of the advanced features that Apple users love. iOS 5 will allow users to access FaceTime over WiFi. You can also set it in motion with your email as ID if the activation with phone number fails. However, there are rumors that FaceTime over 3G has also been enabled in iOS 5.
With the new feature of camera in iOS 5, users can capture the precious moments immediately by accessing the camera using a shortcut on lock screen. To take a photo, just double tap the home button and then tap the camera icon. And then simply tap the volume up button to capture. New Camera also makes it possible for users to use crop and rotate, edit, red eye reduction, auto focus and auto exposure, and auto enhance (using iPhoto) function.
 PC Free
iOS 5 is “PC free”, which means iOS updates are now possible over the air. There is no need to hook up mobile Apple devices with PC to access iTunes. As long as Wi-Fi is available, iTunes sync is now automatic and possible even while an iOS device is being charged. Also back-up and restoring can be done automatically via iCloud.
 Mobile Safari
The new mobile web browser now has several new features including tabbed browsing (switching between tabs is “lighting fast”) and the Safari reader feature that allows the users to quickly save stories for later reading in the Reading List. The Reading List can be synced across multiple devices.
The Mobile Safari also enables users to email story content together with link and if the user so desires. The Safari Reader will get rid of reviews, ads and other unnecessary content on the page to enable user to dive right into essential stuff.
 Twitter integration
Apple has integrated Twitter into iOS to make it easier to tweet from iPhone. There will be a single sign-in for Twitter and all related apps. Twitter UI has been integrated with the camera as well as Photos and Maps and Safari. Contacts have also been integrated with Twitter.
 Delta updates
Delta updates will be available on iOS 5 i.e. software updates are now over the air and you can download only the necessary update and not the entire app/software.
 Better accessibility settings for those with disabilities
Apple has enhanced the accessibility setting for users with physical disability on iOS 5. iOS 5 now support special hardware for people with visual, auditory, tactile, or cognitive disabilities. As the LED camera flash now works with a custom vibration setting, you can actually see and feel when someone is calling. Moreover, you can also set custom vibration patterns, so that you can easily identify the caller and make out the difference between a call, an email, and a text without even looking at the phone.
However, Ice Cream Sandwich is no pushover and the unified platform is expected offer the best of smartphone and tablet-variant of Android OS. For instance, Ice Cream Sandwich is expected to feature goodies like expanding and resizing widgets and apps, facial detection with the camera (so a video chat will automatically focus on the speaker who's talking despite multiple faces in the background), and even allow Android devices to be used as USB hosts so that one can hook up keyboards, mice or game controllers.
Moreover, the free, voice-guided GPS feature in Android that allow users to jump directly into navigation from address links in other apps and the benefits of Google Account Integration (unlike iCloud which can only store pictures, music, apps and documents but can't stream music or video to a browser, Android will let you edit your Google-Docs on your phone or tablet, and continue it from your laptop or desktop. You can also upload music and video and stream them directly to your phone. You even can do a VoIP call via Google voice) gives Android the look of an iOS beater.
Most importantly, like previous Android versions, Ice Cream Sandwich will support Adobe Flash while iOS 5 will not.
So can Ice Cream Sandwich beat iOS 5? Or will the latter prevail? Though it is hard to make a call, iOS 5 could be the winner, at least or now. There are five main reasons:
 No release date yet - Ice Cream Sandwich doesn't have a release date yet. On the other hand, iOS 5 beta has already been released to developers while the final version will be released this fall.
 Customization issue - The main appeal factor of Android till now has been its open source nature i.e. users and smartphone manufacturers alike can customize their devices, thereby giving each device a unique look, act and feel.
But with Google having locked-down the source code of Android 3.0, which means no more UI customizations, one is left wondering whether Ice Cream Sandwich will be customizable despite Google claiming it is still open source.
 Unify Android platform, really? - Google's One OS Everywhere dream could become a reality but probably not anytime soon. Unifying all Android devices is no easy task, especially as the Android market is fragmented. Moreover, if the Android updating process goes wrong, it could cause more fragmentation than before.
There is also the question of whether Ice Cream Sandwich updates will be available to all Android users right away, or whether they will have to wait for approval from each phone manufacturer and carrier?
 All Android devices, really? - No doubt Google is doing a good job in making sure that new handsets get the latest Android updates for upto 18 months after each phone's release. But with the release of Ice Cream Sandwich looking months away, there is a high chance that people will older Android-based smartphones will get stuck with Froyo forever.
 Poor cousin - Despite arguments to the contrary, Android OS has always looked rough on the edges and has performed like a poor cousin of iOS. Will Ice Cream Sandwich be any different?
What do you think? iOS 5 or Ice Cream Sandwich? What will emerge as the No.1 mobile OS in the future? Leave your comments below.