The Apple and the AndroidJun 06
There are, in my humble opinion, several correlations between what happened with the PC market in the 80’s and 90’s and what is happening today in the mobile/smart phone space… but more on that shortly.
A couple of years ago I had an iPhone 3G for about a year, until it was rudely taken from me and at the time I never bothered to replace it even though I missed it like a lost child. About a month and a half ago, I got myself (by that I mean: my lovely wife got me, for my birthday) an HTC Desire… and I will reserve comment for now.
There is no denying that Apple did a great thing when they brought out the iPhone. It was a market revolutionising, world-changing event. It was spectacular. The first upgrade from iPhone to 3G was a great step in the right direction and while the 3GS wasn’t anything new and spectacular, it was still an improvement. Make no mistake, I loved that iPhone 3G of mine even though I have to admit I was initially disappointed.
The pro’s of the iPhone and iPhone OS are manifold. It’s easy to use, easy to learn, responsive, slick, stable, it looks pretty. It is an all round excellent device and that is why it has been undeniably ultra successful.
Enter Android into the market. We’re on version 2.1 (at least I am) of the operating system. The first distinction that has to be made here is that Android is an operating system, independent of the hardware while the iPhone is the hardware and software, since you can’t separate the two (without voiding warranties and breaking EULA’s).
Android runs on very many devices with the number increasing every day, is an open system based on a modified Linux kernel and makes extensive use of Java and related technology. Apple’s iPhone OS is none of those things.
I will be the first to admit that I am not an Apple fan as such (I loved my iPhone, but it pretty much ends there). There are many reasons and my location in the world didn’t help: in South Africa, Apple hardware costs a pile of money (much more than it should) because of some ridiculous monopolies and I have never been keen to spend that much money for no obvious benefit.
I am a software developer and one of the things that was most exciting about getting an iPhone was to write software for it. I giggled like a school girl when I first got the thing. It was embarrassing. Even now I blush when I think about that.
It didn’t take me long to figure out the ridiculous list of things you could NOT do with the iPhone, first one being the stunning ability to NOT copy files directly to it from my PC. It took me several hours just to accept that fact and to this day, tears come to my eyes when I recall the moment that I realised it. Stupid, silly, ridiculous. I can read PDF’s on it, but I bloody well can’t copy them on? What do you mean I HAVE to use iTunes? No MMS? No multitasking? Are you MAD? What fuckery IS this?
Another sad revelation was the inability to develop software for the iPhone on anything but Mac OS. In fact, you couldn’t get an app that wasn’t developed on Mac OS onto the App store. It was illegal to make the SDK work on anything but Mac OS. Apple decides what goes into the App store. Essentially, either I fork out for a Mac or Apple shows me the middle finger. And that is just what they did.
I didn’t have a Mac and I had no intention of ever getting a Mac and this somewhat limited my iPhone development ability and completely killed my enthusiasm for the entire platform. Also, I wasn’t exactly enthused at the prospect of having to use Objective C to develop iPhone apps, having had a brief 8 month stint programming a billing system in it and disliking almost every second of the experience. Nevertheless, I still liked the phone for what it was and there was nothing else that compared anyway.
Then I purchoised™ an HTC Desire with Android 2.1. It is, very happily, everything I had originally hoped the iPhone was going to be (and more).
Let me be clear on my humble opinion: The HTC Desire hardware is clearly superior to the iPhone 3G (I never owned a 3GS so cannot comment on that). The Android 2.1 operating system is clearly superior to iPhone OS 3.x. The phone CAN do everything I had hoped the iPhone could do but couldn’t (or wouldn’t ALLOW me to). The SDK is available on every platform you can think of, the market place is available to everybody who cares and there are no dictatorial fascist like control issues as to who is and how you are to develop applications. The language of choice is Java and while not near the top of my list of favourites, it is much preferable to Objective C.
I have, so far, only found a single thing about my Android/HTC Desire set up that was not as good as the iPhone: I have installed applications from the market place that did not work. I haven’t yet bothered to find out why, but I’m assuming software compatibility issues (could be hardware I guess), but I don’t really care, since I installed different applications that do the job.
Back in the 80’s there was Apple and there were IBM compatible PC’s. Apple made the hardware, made the software, controlled everything and their package was good. It was better than the IBM compatible PC’s but you couldn’t get a license to run Apple’s OS on non Apple hardware. Apple made Mac, everybody else made PC’s and so PC’s were cheaper. In the long run, PC’s won because people could afford them, everybody used them and even though the software was not quite as slick and the packaging not quite as pretty, it did the job well enough. Apple very nearly saw its end.
Fast forward 25 years and Apple brings out insanely good hardware and insanely good software and revolutionizes an entire industry to the point where the whole world is willing to fork out for their over priced (but very good and very pretty) package. They then go and make it nigh on impossible for people who are not Mac aficionado’s to develop applications for it and try keep total control over every aspect of their product. It’s almost like they refuse to learn…
It was inevitable that somebody was going to come up with competition that has a completely opposite set of values: completely open; the only reason this was even possible in a market segment completely owned by Apple was because of Apple’s obsessive control issues.
Google is supporting and building the ‘PC’, while Apple is again building the ‘Mac’. They didn’t win before and they’re not going to win this time because in the end, the numbers will determine which applications get used. When there are (and inevitably there will be) more Android powered phones out there, more applications will be made solely for it and more people will buy it for that reason. Already Android devices are outselling iPhone devices in the US and in China there are already more Android devices than iPhone devices in TOTAL and it’s terribly hard to argue against the fact that China is quickly becoming the place where the action is at.
What Google did right with the Open Handset Alliance is make it possible for everybody to get a slice of the action and through that ensure that the base system gets into the hands of as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
Google is also doing something with Android that would have shifted the entire PC market in the 90’s if a company like them had been around. If there was a Google to back Linux in the early 90’s, the desktop market may very well never have been dominated by Microsoft to the extent that it is today. Google has taken cognisance of this and is, at least in my opinion, doing it right with the smart phone market, betting their money on an open system with a wide manufacturer base and an even wider user base.
Apple, it seems has not learnt from past mistakes and I think it won’t take much more time to tell how this story is going to end. Look, I might be wrong, Apple may pull another world-changing miracle out of the bag next week, but I doubt it. In the end, the numbers will tell and the way things are now, the market is set up for Android to get those numbers.
The Apple Koolaid club’s complaints about Android has not changed either since the PC vs. Mac debate began: the hardware is shit, the software is shit, Mac works better.
The sad reality though is that the HTC Desire is better hardware than iPhone and the HTC EVO 4G sure as hell is a LOT better hardware than the iPhone. Android 2.1 is a better OS than iPhone OS 3.x and all of the applications I have on my HTC are every bit as good as the apps I had on my iPhone (but some, like my IRC application, that I can use while surfing the web and listening to music, is MUCH better).
“Apple will sort out the lack of multitasking in iPhone OS 4”, they say. I’m sure they will, but the point is Apple is playing catch up by fixing that glaring issue, it is no longer leading the way.
Because more manufacturers promote, support and develop Android, it doesn’t even have to be better than iPhone OS to win, it just has to be good enough. And it most certainly is.