TUESDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2011
First Published IN TECHSTATE MAGAZINE
Who Will Win?
The question I will attempt to answer here is similar to the question:
Who will win between Lleyton Hewitt and Greg Norman?
They both hit balls with stick‐type things right?
Confused? Well, it’s like the question I get asked all the time:
Who will win between iPhone and Android?
On the surface, the question seems to make sense, but the problem is trying to establish a basis for comparison. The question is asking me to compare a mobile phone device with an operating system.
Better questions include:
iPhone vs a phone supporting Android OS?
The answer would be a technical review and comparison of the devices’ features.
iOS vs Android?
This gets closer to the intent of the question, and could be answered by comparing qualities and features. However, it fails to shed light on the complete picture.
Who has a better business model, Apple or Google?
Wow! That’s a significant question, but, as I will explain, this is a critical factor. The market is not just about making the best mobile phone or operating system.
The answer is wrapped up in these questions among others, so let’s consider different factors.
Market researcher, ComScore, has reported Google’s Android platform has surpassed Apple iPhone sales in the U.S. for the three‐month period ending November 2010. This places the share ratio of the Smartphone market at 26% Android and 25% iPhone. Three months is a short timeframe to indicate long‐term performance, and note that both have experienced growth through this period.
Over time, numerous reviewers have claimed (with an element of truth) the emergence of a new iPhone killer. However meaningful technical advantages are becoming difficult. Where phones once had a primary function of making calls and sometimes a secondary function, such as an MP3 player, smartphones are built to include every possible technology. It is inevitable that there will be a ceiling on useful mobile functions, and if smartphones allow you to have them all, there will be limited functional differentiation between devices.
Regardless of the truth in Apple’s claim that the resolution of iPhone 4 is too fine for the human eye to detect, there is limited scope for noticeable improvement in this area. Mind you, 3D might be a possibility.
Therefore, short of a revolutionary human interface development – battery life, storage capacity, and processing power are possibly the last bastions for manufacturers to get a leg up.
Most aspects of the two operating systems are similar enough that users without extensive use of both platforms will notice little difference. Early differences concerned multitasking and instant notifications, with Android leading, but the iPhone iOS has now addressed most of these shortcomings. However, lack of instant notification of emails can be frustrating.
By far the most notable difference – and for many, this is the crux for choosing Android – is the proprietary nature of iOS compared to the Open Source status of Android.
This is the primary reason Android comes out on top in reviews. The dichotomy is that, being Open Source, Google places minimal restrictions on what phone manufacturers or carriers can do to the OS to limit or augment features.
There are also few limits on what a coder with malicious intent can do. The full architecture of Android is available to anyone – making it much more susceptible to viruses and security exploitation.
Android can also be used on any phone, ‘smart’ or not, but not all handsets will support all features offered by Android.
There is also a trend that Android OS versions are being released too rapidly for manufactures to keep up. This isn’t limited to last year’s models. Phones are being released now supporting Android OS versions that are a couple of versions behind the latest.
So Google might have a philosophy of no limits, but the double edge sword also means no limits on how people mess with the OS. This certainly elevates the benefits of an integrated software and hardware solution like iPhone.
So do those who champion ‘Open’ have wool over their eyes, or do they actually have something worth bleating about?
There are plenty of limits that Apple places on their OS to direct attention away from the limitations of their hardware, and they communicate the reason for this as ‘user experience’. For the most part this is true.
However there are also limits that Apple place, which seem to benefit their business model with no tangible benefit to consumers.
For example, although I can access the internet on my laptop using my iPhone, I do not have the same privilege of connecting my non‐3G iPad to the iPhone’s internet. If I could, this would negate many users’ reasons for spending the extra for the 3G iPad model.
Open Android wins hands‐down in this test. Although, if I didn’t battle with the ethics of it, I could jailbreak my phone and effectively have an ‘Open’ iPhone.
The last feature Android users hold over Apple is the capacity for Android to display in‐page Flash content. If Flash could be viewed in a browser on the iPhone, it would put a dent in the success of the iTunes App Store, so one can only think that Jobs’ rhetoric on Flash being battery‐hungry and providing the performance of a dead dog is an excuse designed to protect revenues.
However, if Flash access remains a reason for you to buy Android, I would recommend testing your candidate to see if the experience stacks up. A few YouTube searches for ‘Flash on Android’ will show that performance can lack.
Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, but they did brand it with the iPod. So much so that MP3s on a website are still inaccurately described as a Podcast. Strong brands create a strong fan‐base, often loyal to the point of irrationality.
Apple fans make unsubstantiated claims of infinite stability, ultimate usability and downright sexy design. The same brand evokes the opposite reaction in digital anarchists, claiming Apple represents a controlling force to be opposed at all costs. This polarised view is only too evident if you were to read comments at the end of any online article. However, for what it’s worth, Apple has a brand advantage.
The App Store
Apple’s “There’s an App for that” campaign has been highly successful and highlights one domain where they still lead. While statistics are showing that the Android App store is growing faster than Apple’s, they have a long way to catch up. The US stores for each have Apple at around 300,000 applications and Android at approximately half that.
The question that should be asked of both stores is what percentage of Apps are unique and useful? For example, alongside our own App, Newton’s Cradle, which was the first of its kind, there are seven other copies of assorted quality.
There is no approval process for an App to get into the Android store, which is probably why it is growing faster, but is also likely to exacerbate the issue of cloning or useless apps for Google.
This lack of approval process is also seeing many dubious and possibly IP infringing applications appearing at the top of their charts. These include content and characters used outside of licence, emulators for other game consoles, and plenty of adult Apps – with ‘Naughty Dice’ rating number one in entertainment at the time of writing this article (I now have to explain to my kids why the dice are naughty).
But many users would appreciate these types of content and damn Apple for censoring it. After all, no one wants an Internet Blacklist right? Mmmm…
Android advocates say: “people want choice”
What is being ignored in this statement is that for many phone users in the US, where Android is experiencing its best uptake, there has actually been no choice.
In an article on Apple Insider, it’s reported that Jaffrey analyst, Gene Munster said: “Currently, Android phones outsell iPhones in the US”, however he also noted that: “in countries where the iPhone is available on multiple carriers and competes with Android, we see the iPhone outselling Android.” This is certainly the case in Australia.
While composing this article it has been confirmed that Verizon have announced that next month iPhone will be available on their network, removing AT&T’s exclusivity.
There is now a remarkable shift in internet use, with more people accessing the internet from a mobile computing device than a desktop alternative.
Until Android, Google was at the mercy of phone manufactures or carriers who could provide exclusive preference to an alternative search provider, reducing the amount of search traffic Google can acquire and the correlating drop of in advertising revenue.
Ironically, as presented earlier, the open nature of Google has already seen some installations released without Google’s information products, defeating the whole exercise.
Although Apple have consequently created iAds in the iPhone OS, Apple’s main revenues comes from creating integrated hardware and software solutions and, more recently, percentages of transactions for content sold within their iTunes store. Revenue from advertising is just diversification.
Competition within the Camp
A pressure that exists in the Android camp that Apple doesn’t have to contend with is the competing between manufacturers using the same operating system. As the features on phones become more homogeneous this may cause price to become the differentiator, causing some manufactures to be squeezed.
This will have the effect of less choice (currently important to Android fans) or cheaper and inferior product in order to compete. This lessened experience may well cause market share to be lost.
Which leads into the next question of:
Will People Switch
At the moment there are probably few customers switching from one platform to the other. Market share is being gained at the expense of other phones, and there is certainly room for both to grow without stealing market share already won.
Old Kid on the New Block
While attention is being diverted by the activities of two platforms in question, Microsoft has been putting in a tremendous amount of work both from a technology perspective but more importantly from user experience in the development of the Windows Phone 7 OS.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the entry of the software giant that has proved that it can create an integrated hardware solution with success of the Xbox, and continue to innovate with the Kinect addition.
I have no doubt that Windows Phone 7 will have an impact in this space and may see the question rewritten with Windows 7 in place of iOS or Android.
An important consideration as without these there would not be 500,000+ Apps between them.
Unfortunately for local developers, Android hasn’t been platform of choice due to Australians not being able to sell Apps on Android’s App store. This was finally rectified in October last year. Also the local take‐up of Android has also been much slower than the US meaning fewer customers to market Apps to.
However a benefit of Google is the lack of approval process realising an almost instant release.
Quite a few times our team has fallen victim to Apple’s App approval process and sometimes‐finicky rejections. The delay and uncertainty of duration of this process has also made it difficult for advertising campaigns to make use of the platform, especially in fast deadline scenarios. Mind you, the good folks at Apple have pulled out all stops for us on many occasions, meaning we have never missed a deadline to which they have our thanks.
The development tools of Apple are very good. The environment is within Xcode, and for simple Apps, Interface Builder works well. Their APIs are fairly straightforward and as a majority, well‐ documented.
Feedback from my team and other reviews shows Android is relatively straightforward to code for. However it is beset with an increasing lack of standards in hardware, resolutions and iOS releases, making it hard to ensure compatibility.
Something to look forward to is Windows Phone 7 Mobile. This will use Microsoft’s very mature development tools.
A recent coding competition in Budapest saw developers from three platforms: iOS, Android and WP7, have a live coding event.
The results of the competition saw the Windows 7 team trouncing everyone. Whereas the iOS and Android groups had created one page of the app, the WP7 team created a mostly working application, the Android team had most trouble with a component that kept crashing.
So what results from this evaluation of factors?
They both win!
It might sound like a cop‐out but for the time being there is plenty going for both platforms and so much market for them to share.
I expect that Apple will continue to make an excellent product and sneak in new innovations over time. Eventually they are likely to retain a lesser share but still have the potential to be the most profitable phone manufacturer. Apple will continue to pull in record revenues through percentage transactions on content sales, and will add to their family of devices that will use this content (Keep an eye on the Mac App Store and Apple TV).
Assuming that Google can keep control of an Open system and the dangers entailed, they will increase exposure of their content both free and paid and continue to earn revenues from these.
Their success is also the responsibility of many very large manufacturing and telecommunication companies that have much to gain from the success of Android, as long as they don’t cannibalise Android from within.
Where Enabled will be focusing energies? We already have a massive experience base in iOS, and appreciate a great deal about the platform. Android is a little messier but is becoming a market that we cannot ignore.
My take is that over time the choice of platform will not be Android vs iPhone, but will become a preference based on price or brand.
So back to my nonsensical question… actually a more aligned question to Android and iPhone would be:
Who will win between the Goodyear blimp and an Audi A4?
But I’ll leave you to work out that parallel.