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.