Android Is Apple’s Burger King

While we see the iPad garnering much attention during its official launch, Android fans are rejoicing. Given how many good reviews there have been for the iPad, this may sound kind of strange. However, sometimes being second best can still be the basis for a fantastic business. I call this the “Burger King Phenomenon”, where a business strives to follow in the footsteps of a market leader. The reason this can occur is that leadership in a market and innovation are extremely expensive.

McDonalds is a leader in process and market research. They continually research locations to find the best spot to build a new restaurant. They also created an amazing process that allows almost anyone to manage one of their locations. They can create this process because there is little customization to their burgers. If you order a BigMac it only comes one way, with whatever McDonalds decided it has for toppings. McDonalds spends millions to research the best locations and optimize its processes.

Burger King takes a different approach. They wait for McDonalds to open a new restaurant, then they look for a location that is near it. Their main slogan has been “Have it your way.” So, when you order a Whopper you can get it with cheese or without. You could always ask the servers to remove the onions if you do not like them either. By allowing the market leader to go through the research and development, they can focus purely on making their product better than the competition.

Apple and Android are following the same course. Apple is the market innovator. They created a new breed of smartphone, the iPhone, and now a new tablet, the iPad. They made this innovation through the use of closed systems and processes. They have a maniacal level of control over what is allowed on their devices.

Android is taking the Burger King approach. They let Apple do the core research and then create something similar but more open. Before the iPhone, how many smartphones had good touchscreen interfaces? The iPhone showed how that type of interface should really work. The Android system creates a similar feel, but you can also install almost anything on your Android phone. Because it is an open system, they can launch several different phones with many manufacturers. Tablet devices are already heading in the same direction.

By having several manufacturers using Android as their operating system, it allows Apple to lead the market in sales while still competing for overall market share. Android gives the consumer options and that should be a good thing. Granted, Android will be playing a game of catch-up for a while, but the market share is growing rapidly. Given the size of the smartphone and tablet markets, does it really matter if you come in second place?

15 thoughts on “Android Is Apple’s Burger King

  1. Both the Android OS and the iPhone OS took years of development. It’s not as if the iPhone came out and then Google decided to copy it. They were both innovating and developing at the same time, both copying each others ideas and coming up with their own. It’s just that the iPhone came out first.

    The market for Android is potentially much larger than that for the iPhone as it’s possible to run it on a much wider scope of devices without any further development.


  2. Mikeyc,

    You have a point with the years of development idea, but touch interfaces really took off with the iPhone. The mobile OS is important, but what Apple did was significantly different in its approach.

    The Android market idea was something I was trying to state. Because they are more open, they can run on HTC, Motorola and other devices, which has the potential to be larger than the iPhone.


  3. Very interesting perspective. However, if you look at numbers in sales and availability, comparing Burger King and McD, BK is way, way bigger than Android is compared to iPhone, and I have this gut feeling it will stay that way probably forever.


  4. Interesting analogy, with just one mistake: Android will be catching up Apple early next year in number of devices sold and then leaving them in the dust. Which is not surprising since Android is being sold by dozens of different carriers/manufacturers while the iPhone only has one. You can’t reasonably expect to keep up in such a situation.

    Everyone seems to agree that in a few years from now, Android will have 60%+ of the market and Apple in the low 20%, and the market will stabilize from there, which is not unlike the current Windows/Apple desktop market (90%/6%).


  5. A cell phone is not a burger. And in the past year, Apple has been copying Android features (like google maps, etc.), not the other way around.

    Have you seen the new android phone coming out this summer. 8mp camera and it even has a freaking hdmi port. Meanwhile the “low-end” android phones will be given away for free with contracts now.

    Meanwhile, Apple is going the exact opposite direction. The ipad has less, not more. No webcam, no usb port, and still no multi-tasking.

    Burger King? That’s like comparing a jet to a dog’s ass.


  6. Let’s not forget that Google’s ultimate goal is to keep the mobile playing field even. They don’t want Apple to get such a large market share and then use their clout to force google out of mobile search.

    Just my 2c.


  7. Who the heck considers ipad as an innovation?! Mainstream medias?
    Tablet PC have existed for years and the market never took off.
    Now just because a bunch of showoff people decide that Apple is the way to go, the tablet (sorry the “pad”) is the way to go, come on! We all know Apple is not a computer firm, it’s a marketing firm, and nothing more. These two company are just impossible to compare to each others, not the same approach, not the same market, not the same customer needs


  8. The “Burger King phenomenon” also known as second mover advantage can be as the name suggests a great advantage for a company releasing products in a market that has a dominant leader. Being the 1st one to the top means you have to protect it from all of your competitors when you get there. It’s true that burgers are not cell phones but the principle still holds up. Nice post Rob.


  9. You have an interesting point except you should but Microsoft in the McDonalds category and Apple in Burger King. Apple is always lets the others define a market opportunity then it comes riding in on it’s white horse a few years latter with a slightly better product and claims to create a new entirely new class of device.

    Smartphones had been around~5 years before the iPhone arrived!


  10. @jp: It is true that tablets/pads has existed for roughly a decade, equally true that they never took off. I believe the reason is because, until the iPad, tablet creators always tried to shrink and cut corners off a desktop OS (Windows) until it fit on a tablet. The result was a crippled down version of something they knew, no-one wants something they know is crippled. Apple went the other was with the iPad, instead of shrinking a desktop OS to fit the iPad, they build on a mobile OS until it filled the iPad.

    @will_s: Apple never claimed to invent the smartphone. Steve Jobs, quite smug I might add, did say Apple made the smartphone approachable. I would say there are two kinds of people making progress; those who dabble in the grunt work, like finding out the physics behind electricity. And those who takes said raw knowledge and uses it for something the general public can benefit from.

    Apple are mostly part of the latter crowd; taking known science and finding ways to make it useful for the general public. And they never claimed to do anything else.


  11. Yes, Android is catching up on the technology of iphone, but even with all the extraordinary innovations the iphone has brought, what makes people buy it is the apps available. Being open source, Android offers a much easier, flexible and affordable environment for even greater apps to be developed, so I think it is just a matter of time… iPhone’s buzz will pass, Android’s reality will sink in.


  12. @Joel: Open source is not some magic dust that magically improves any software project.

    I make my living developing fir both Android and iPhone, and I can tell you that Android is not even close to the quality of iPhone. The iPhone SDK has better tools, API, documentation and community.

    The percivied benefits, of multitasking and more common programming language with Java, only benefit a tiny fraction of apps. For any real world scenarios they are void and nil.

    Android is only a worthy alternative for developers who have not tasted both sides.


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