Android vs Apple, We Have Seen This War Before

With Google I/O several days behind us, you are starting to see fewer posts about the announcements. Now, you are starting to see some personal blogs with their personal analysis of various products and competitors. This post will be no different in that respect. However, I am taking a view that may not be too popular, at least for the Apple fanboy crowd.

Google announced several products and upgrades during the conference, and they are attacking competitors on various fronts. There were tons of upgrades to Google Apps to compete with Microsoft, they announced Google TV which will compete with Apple TV, and they announced Android 2.2, codenamed Froyo, to compete with the iPhone. This last bit, the Android 2.2 release, is what I want to focus on.

With the most recent release of Android, Google is trying to spread its mobile operating system as far as possible. They are trying to get as much marketshare as they can if you are selling a smartphone that is not an iPhone. People are seeing this trend already, in particular Cedric Beust has needed to respond to John Gruber because of his heretical opinions. You will need to read the two blogs to get a little history, but Cedric has an interesting second response yesterday. In particular he has two opinions that will likely be repeated or complained about several times in the next few days:

2010 will go down in history as the year where the iPhone was dominating the phone market. 2010 will also go down in history as the last year that the iPhone was dominating the phone market.

This may be a bit drastic, but he does have a point. He mentions that Android has more marketshare than the iPhone already. Granted, this is for all versions of Android, but in the long term that does not matter. Gruber has not responded to this yet, but he has some post I/O thoughts:

Google’s competitive focus on the iPhone at I/O was intense and scathing. But it’s Microsoft’s lunch they’re eating. Apple’s and RIM’s game is selling the integrated whole — their own devices, running their own software. Google is playing Microsoft’s game — licensing a platform to many device makers.

Gruber focused on the right points, but came to an interesting conclusion. He does not see Google’s Android efforts as really affecting the Apple and its iPhone. He also mentions a key point in the Google plan, “Google lets carriers and handset makers license Android for free.” He mentions this in support of his argument against Microsoft’s chances in the smartphone market. However, I think he may be missing the bigger picture.

We have seen this war before. Back in the early to mid-nineties there were really two platforms fighting for personal computing supremacy, Windows and Macintosh. Windows was making good progress in the corporate world, while Macintosh owned education, graphic design and desktop publishing. In order to accelerate their growth, Microsoft released the Windows SDK which made it easier to create programs for Windows. Apple had the Macintosh Toolbox, which was similar in concept to the Windows SDK, but was known to be harder to develop on.

Overall, the tools did not really make the difference, the applications that were developed helped Windows a little, but the real difference was just marketshare. Windows could run on PCs from various different manufacturers. Apple took a purist view of their platform and only wanted the Macintosh OS on their own hardware. They continued this idealism by suing various companies that tried to make a Mac-clone.

Fast forward fifteen years and you see that the iPhone is a superior user experience and runs only on Apple made hardware. Apple is making life difficult for developers by needing to approve every application in its app store, using a somewhat niche programming language in Objective-C, and rejecting applications they see as cloning functionality provided by Apple. Android is trying to get as much marketshare as possible, has an app store of its own and uses one of the most widely used programming languages in the world.

Apple is following the same path it did all those years ago, and fully expects to have a different outcome. Macs still have a superior user experience when compared to Windows, but Windows has the developer mindshare. iPhones also have a superior user experience, but they are rapidly losing developer mindshare due to their somewhat draconian approval processes. Unless Apple decides to open up their platform a little more, they are destined to the same fate as the original Mac platform. Apple may out-design and out-innovate their competition, but they never did learn that companies can create something a little similar that is good enough. The mass consumer does not care about how beautiful your design may be or that you were innovative, they only care if it works good enough.

8 thoughts on “Android vs Apple, We Have Seen This War Before

  1. Full disclosure before I start: Microsoft and HTC are both clients.

    It amazes me that Apple thinks this will end any differently. Guber is right that Android is not hurting Apple. They are not losing any ground but they are back to the position they have been in for the majority of their existence, which is selling to their current customer base. You will see Apple steadily lose share as each wave of phone contracts come up. They may not fall dramatically but they will fall steadily. Especially as HP puts some real money behind Palm and starts pushing Web OS and as Microsoft Phone 7 releases. RIM also won’t go down w/out a fight.

    In the end it all comes down to open vs closed. Closed systems always lose long term, always. It doesn’t matter if it’s software, governments or biological ecosystems, open always wins, closed always loses; long term. Always. (And I don’t say always/never very lightly)


  2. Tac,

    I think what many people forget is that this smartphone market is still very immature. Apple was first to market was such ease of use, but HTC was not far behind, and others, like Google, RIM, MS, are getting into the game.

    I will not say open “always” wins, but it does win a large majority of the time.


  3. Tac,

    I had something in mind when I commented, and I have since forgotten it. One other example is graphics, OpenGL was the open spec, but DirectX really won at that time (late 90s or early 00s). Now that may be changing because Windows is not quite as dominant as they used to be. Windows itself is a mostly closed system that undeniably won. Granted, we are seeing more movement to other platforms now, but it took decades. The big difference between Windows and the iPhone is in how closed they are. Windows allowed you to install anything, whereas everything needs to be approved for the iPhone. I guess if you are “too closed” that is where the problems begin because you are stifling truly rapid growth.


  4. Ah yes, I see. I think we’ll quickly get into the ongoing and eternal debate over the definition of “open.” I by no means meant to imply that the MOST open systems win, but that open systems *in the long run* win out over closed systems.

    The trick is to find the right balance of open and structured. Too open and the systems can’t support itself, not open enough and the system can’t grow and scale.


  5. “Unless Apple decides to open up their platform a little more, they are destined to the same fate as the original Mac platform.”

    Er, the fate of that platform is actually pretty good, you make it sound like it isn’t. Shall I remind you that while today they still have only 10% maretdhare in pCs, they make a boatload of money and pofit from their high priced laptops. Great fate after all.


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