Android vs. iPhone: It's War–and That's Great

By  |  Friday, May 21, 2010 at 4:41 pm

As I sat in the audience at Google’s I|O conference yesterday morning, I watched Google VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra and others unveil Android 2.2 “Froyo,” an ambitious upgrade to the company’s mobile OS. Gundotra began the keynote by framing Android as a moral crusade against “a future where one man, one company, one device, one carrier would be our only choice.”

In case anyone couldn’t figure out who the man, company, device, and carrier were, he showed a slide that alluded to Apple’s most famous commercial. Then, for the rest of the Android 2.2 announcement, Gundotra and others punctuated demos of impressive stuff–such as dramatic speed boosts and Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities–with asides about the iPhone and iPad that appeared to be intended to elicit snickers from the audience. Which they did.

Apple’s WWDC conference kicks off in a little over two weeks. Like I|O, it’ll be held at San Francisco’s Moscone West. Apple hasn’t even formally announced that the event will include a keynote, but I’m assuming there’s a good chance I’ll sit in the same auditorium I was in yesterday, listening to Steve Jobs talk about the next iPhone. Even if he never mentions Google by name, he’ll surely aim some little jibes in the direction of Apple’s competitors, if only during the inevitable prefatory bit where he updates attendees on iPhone’s competitive position. Even if he doesn’t, we already know that he thinks Android is out to “kill” the iPhone.

Google and Apple both seem to take the competition between Android and iPhone as an existential, company-defining battle. They’re both pouring awesome resources into their work. They’re building really good products which, for all their similarities, express strikingly different visions of  what a mobile platform should be. And the market appears to be more than big enough for both companies to do well.

It’s great–some of the fiercest, healthiest, most consumer-benefiting rivalry I can think of in the entire history of personal technology. (That history has surprisingly few examples of sustained competition between two giants, in part because one of the giants was so often Microsoft, who–back in the day–played hardball more ruthlessly than anyone, and usually against companies who made some truly boneheaded strategic missteps.)

On one side, you’ve got Apple, which has built the world’s most usable, influential mobile operating system,. It’s got the biggest and best selection of applications, even though Apple’s developer agreement and App Store approval process seriously constrain what developers can do. The company says that keeping Flash off the iPhone is a good deed, and is willing to deny users basic features such as multitasking until it nails them. And it sells only one model of phone (unless you want the 2008 version), on one not-exactly-beloved U.S. carrier.

On the other side, there’s Android–a technically solid operating system which appears to have been designed by folks with minimal interest in issues of usability. (At yesterday’s keynote, I kept waiting…and waiting…for news of improvements to the Android interface.) It’s got a smaller collection of apps, but one that’s growing quickly in both quantity and quality, with no micromanaging restrictions on developers. Google is embracing Flash, and adding features to Android that still feel a tad futuristic. (Android’s about to get a built-in voice-recognition/text-to-speech autotranslation feature; the chances that Apple is working on anything similar are pretty much zero.) And there are a bevy of Android phones–ones with varying sizes, specs, and features, on every carrier.

I’m not saying that nobody’s allowed to grumble about these two companies and platforms–hey, I own an iPhone 3GS and a Droid and have aired my share of gripes about both of them. But with both the iPhone and Android in such robust health, everyone who buys a phone gets to decide which vision to buy into. (Or, of course, to buy a BlackBerry, a WebOS phone, a Symbian one, or something else.) And by voting with their dollars, it’s consumers–not Google or Apple–that will determine what the future of mobile computing and communications looks like.

Here’s the future I’m hoping for: one in which both companies duke it out in the marketplace (not the courtroom) for years to come. So bring it on–snarky comments, self-serving melodrama, and all.

 
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23 Comments For This Post

  1. Pierre-Luc Belzile Says:

    Yes, it is war – although I see it on a different level. What we're seeing here are two different visions of the future of technology – openness of the mobile and technology space against the "walled garden" concept that allows Apple to refine its products to a degree Google cannot do – alone. Two different visions, two different company cultures defined around them.

    Only time will say if those two visions will be able to live in harmony, or if one will gain the upper hand. The result of that "ideological war" will change a lot of things about our relationship with mobile devices and computing technology in general.

    Open versus Closed. Let the war ensue and participate with the two best tools you have at your disposal: your voice, and your wallet!

    (Of course, it's much more complex than a simple ying and yang…)

  2. kevgr5 Says:

    issues in usability? i can use android os jest fine, are you slow are something?

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    You aren’t the first person to figure out I’m a bonehead. But in this case, I think Android has real (though not fatal) issues–mostly involving inconsistencies and things that involve extra clicks even though Android phones have more buttons than iPhones–that aren’t my fault.

    –Harry

  4. cj Says:

    Godzilla Always Wins!

  5. NickAVV Says:

    No, I completely agree with you Harry. Android is a little inconsistent. It doesn’t bother me too much, but it would be nice if they could pull together a bit of an interface guideline and stick to it religiously. Android is still my favorite by a long shot though. All those futuristic features win me over, especially the voice based ones.

    In the car today with an iPhone user. I pulled out my Droid Eris, opened Google Maps Navigation and did the voice search for my destination. Her jaw dropped and all she could say was “That’s cool!”

  6. Josh Says:

    I agree, Harry. Although the rivalry has already gotten quite bitter, the competition is a good thing. I am not firmly entrenched in either camp and I see this as good for the iPhone, Android, and the handful of other minor players in the smartphone market.

    Like you, Android’s interface holds me back. Froyo looks good, but HTC Sense is a bit overboard. I would consider an Android phone if I could get it with the default UI.

  7. NickAVV Says:

    I actually like Sense a lot Josh, but if you get an HTC phone with Sense and dislike it you can actually disable it I’ve heard. Anyways, Sense is only on HTC phones, there are plenty of Android phones you can get without Sense.

  8. IcyFog Says:

    iPhone for me, better integration with my Mac and iTunes.

  9. yoasakura Says:

    I still think apple should give consumers the choice of having flash or not. I mean, do they have to restrict it or something? Can’t even watch crunchyroll >.<

    btw, bluetooth for ipod touch sucks, no support for ipod-mobile phone connectivity

  10. Tom B Says:

    Well, this is a war Google never should have started. They can’t win; ATT exclusivity is not forever and it’s their ONLY selling point. They’ll always be a few years behind technologically, and at risk of patent lawsuits.

    Plus, the real enemy, MSFT, though it hasn’t come out with anything interesting in– well, actually, they have NEVER come out with anything interesting– still forces hundreds of millions of people to use Windows every week. And still rakes in billions per quarter. I think the decline of Google began when Schmidt joined the team. The guy’s clearly an idiot.

  11. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    It’s weird how wherever you see or hear the word “Android”, the word “iPhone” is never more than 10 words away. It’s like a stalker or a roommate that starts wearing your clothes.

    How bizarre is it that at Google I/O, Apple, who hold no monopolies, was painted as Big Brother, while Google, who have monopolies in online search and advertising, led multiple “2 minutes hates” against Apple?

    Apple is painted as “closed” yet they have over 200,000 3rd party apps, while all the best Android apps are written by Google because their platform is so hard to develop for (fragmentation, Java.) Android uses Apple’s open source browser core yet there were people demoing Android at I/O who were simultaneously showing off Android’s (mostly written by Apple) browser and calling Apple “closed.” And Flash is not just closed, it closes open formats and closes the open Web. Google are hypocrites to push Flash, there’s no way around it. This is 2 PC monopolists uniting to extend their respective monopolies into mobile and turn mobile into the same monoculture as PC’s, with no consumer choice and huge barriers for new companies to enter a market. Such as you can’t advertise without Google and can’t build a Web browser without Adobe.

    The truth is, Apple is the most open choice in all their markets. The Mac is the most open name-brand PC (it’s an open source Unix with open source W3C browser and many open source projects, compare to HP or Dell, which ship a closed OS and browser core that is not even W3C-compatible and they do not ship a single open source project,) and iPhone OS is the most open consumer electronics platform (compare to PlayStation, XBox, Wii, it is night and day.)

    On the other hand, the Google businesses which make money (search and ads) are all totally closed. Never mind source, even how they work is a huge secret which they have refused to divulge even in court cases, and these are monopoly businesses. Android’s C API is off-limits completely, same as Chrome OS. The fact that Android runs Java and soon Flash doesn’t make it more open than a C platform, which is why iPhone has more apps and developers. The core of iPhone OS is open source also, that is not exclusive to Android. So there is a lot of hysterical BS being shoveled around these days.

    So I would advise people to be very suspicious when somebody tells you that you should use something because it’s “open” or not use something that is “closed”. Everything is open in some ways and closed in some ways. Instead, go try various products extensively and choose the ones that enable you to be more productive, or enjoy more entertainment, or be more creative, or whatever it is you are doing. Propaganda is no substitute for products.

  12. NickAVV Says:

    Hamranhansenhansen, you ignore the fact that Android is an open-source operating system while iPhone OS is not. You also ignore the fact that WebKit is not created by Apple, its an open source framework which Apple happens to contribute to. You ignore the fact that Android phones allow you to install 3rd party apps from any source, not just the closed environment of the marketplace. You ignore the fact that the App Store has a larger amount of apps than the Marketplace mainly because it has been around longer.

    Supporting Flash is a good choice because it allows you to have a fuller browsing experience on Android than on the iPhone. Apple will push HTML5 as the only option, but Android gives you both options. I see no reason to get bent out of shape over Flash support, and it really ought to be on the iPhone/iPad as well.

  13. GoGoCat Says:

    @Tom B

    Google is extending its influence from tradition web to mobile web. Advertising is its game. Android is just the means to achieve that goal, as well as the upcoming Google TV. Google is not trying to make money off Android, but rather, its content’s reach.

  14. Thomas Traub Says:

    Concurrence in the sense of being better, yes, but be careful with welcoming war, it might open doors You might want to leave shut, like patent law suits, like incompatibilities, like lock ins, like abuse of market positions.

    the vs debates : Let’s not forget that they’re in the market to make money and do whatever they think will maximize their profit. It’s our responsibility as consumer to choose wisely, it’s for all of us (consumer and provider) still a learning process.

    It’s also still a long way to have provider / platform independent data with it’s owner / creator in control.

  15. Tom Ross Says:

    NickAVV,

    “you ignore the fact that Android is an open-source operating system while iPhone OS is not.”

    He did not. He mentioned:
    a) That there’s always shades of openness. Even Android has lots of closed elements, like the Firmware, the private branches Google is driving and all the essential apps of the Google Experience without which an Android phone is useless.
    b) That other factors matter and shouting “open” at every corner is propaganda.

    The iPhone is compatible with all kinds of common standards, be it GSM, SMS, HTML, mp3, h264… You name it. That’s why it works so well.

    People that demand more are not speaking for the average consumer. They are
    - either hobbyist tinkerers
    - or they are profiting from the complexity of computing that Apple is trying to abolish
    - or they are hypocrites like Google who merely seek to incite the rage of the first 2 groups of people for their own gain.

    “You also ignore the fact that WebKit is not created by Apple, its an open source framework which Apple happens to contribute to.”

    Apple is driving WebKit (and has been since 2004, long before Chrome or Android), just like Google is driving Android. No difference. The difference is that WebKit is seeing wider support and market share than Android, in their respective markets.

    “You ignore the fact that the App Store has a larger amount of apps than the Marketplace mainly because it has been around longer.”

    Sure, 3 months longer. 22 months vs 19 months… But that’s not the reason. Apple is currently adding more than 20.000 apps per month, Google less than 10.000 apps per month. And that in spite of Apple’s restrictions! Imagine how big the iPhone AppStore would be without restrictions.

    “Supporting Flash is a good choice because it allows you to have a fuller browsing experience on Android than on the iPhone. Apple will push HTML5 as the only option, but Android gives you both options. I see no reason to get bent out of shape over Flash support, and it really ought to be on the iPhone/iPad as well.”

    Options have a price: Either in massive extra development efforts that take focus away from features that are actually new and innovative, or in lower usability for the user (which is Android’s way). I find all this Flash hubbub by the Android a questionable ploy to raise sentiment against Apple, and I believe Apple should just sit it out and watch Flash die within a year or two.

    I’m sure that once Flash is dead and the internet breathes a sigh of relief you will refuse to admit that it wasn’t Apple who killed Flash, because after all they don’t own HTML5…

  16. Tom Ross Says:

    GoGoCat:

    “Google is extending its influence from tradition web to mobile web. Advertising is its game. Android is just the means to achieve that goal, as well as the upcoming Google TV. Google is not trying to make money off Android, but rather, its content’s reach.”

    Android doesn’t guarantee that. If you look at AT&T right now: Their Android phones are hardwired to Yahoo services, not Google services, while the iPhone is still shipping with Google Search and Maps. Ironic. With Apple, Google has foolishly attacked their best partner in the mobile phone world.

  17. NickAVV Says:

    Tom, you bring up some good points, but Android is not less usable than iPhone OS. And its pretty clear that Apple’s primary reason for keeping Flash off of their iDevices is that they think it would jeopardize their App Store.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I’m a life-long Mac user and have a game on the App Store, I like Apple, but they’re only hurting their users by restricting their device. Then they put out lame comments like “Flash is unstable and it will crash your computer”.

  18. sm Says:

    @cj you’ve obviously never seen King Kong vs. Godzilla :P

  19. Strongfist Says:

    The new iPhone. Its nothing more then another implant of control over your mobile experience. I mean aren’t you guys tired of not being in control? For years you guys couldn’t even change your background. You were forced to look like everyone else. Thats a communistic society.

    Android can free you from this …i mean have you even seen Android’s latest accomplishments? you can view some here at ; http://getyourgadgetsgoing.com/2010/05/25/android-milestones/

    ANDROID JUST DOES!

  20. misteranony Says:

    Wow. Just… wow. Lots of very biased positions here. I might as well chime in, and I’m trying to keep this based on experiences I’ve had dealing with everything as a web and software developer.

    Flash is not going away. HTML5 is definitely not a replacement. For video? Sure. But for many other things, HTML5 is not the appropriate tool to use, nor is it capable. Let’s not forget to mention that with Flash, you get a consistent experience across all browsers it runs on. That’s one of their selling points, and it’s one of the many reasons it’s going nowhere. Like it or hate it, people will keep using it, despite what mighty Jobs insists upon.

    To those Android naysayers that say they shouldn’t have picked a fight with Apple… why not? Last I checked, they’re doing VERY well. So well, in fact, that it PASSED Apple’s mobile market share in the U.S. That’s surely nothing to scoff at. Google has proven it’s very capable of many, many things. Bravo to them to being able to simply take over the market like that.

    Now, I personally like the iPhone. However, I detest the requirements for developing an app, and the approval process is ludicrous. For example, it’s a different OS than OSX, yet I am forced to use the absolute latest and greatest version of OSX to develop apps for iPhone OS, which further requires me to buy an expensive Apple computer. Yeah… no thanks. I’ve developed on other people’s machines, but have since stopped because of the hassle.

    Comparatively, for Android, it’s just a quick one-stop download, and I’m developing in minutes – even on my Linux desktop.

    Yes, Google has some questionable monopolistic ownership with certain advertising companies, but nothing pisses me off more than someone very blatantly using their market position to butt out the competition because they can’t handle the heat, which Apple seems to be doing quite readily at present. So, take from that what you will, just please recognize it all for what it is.

    Lastly – I agree with the article and absolutely love the fact that there’s such heated competition. It’s sad that it’s starting to turn into some lame patent war as that hurts only us consumers, but I’ve never seen innovation and technology evolve so fast! Bring it on! Now, if only we could do something about bringing all these phone models across more networks…

  21. TlalocW Says:

    The differences between the iPhone and Droid is the differences between their advertising strategies.

    iPhone – for you misunderstood creative geniuses who march to the beat of a different drum (that different drum being whatever Jobs is saying at the moment).

    Droid – for you misunderstood geniuses bent on world domination, working day and night to get Skynet off the ground.

  22. Tom Ross Says:

    Tlaloc,

    “iPhone – for you misunderstood creative geniuses who march to the beat of a different drum (that different drum being whatever Jobs is saying at the moment).”

    That sounds like Apple’s 1997 “Think Different” campaign to me, released at a time when Apple was the quirky underdog. Today they are the eminent market leader, and the iPhone ads have nothing in common with that. They are all about “look what my app can do”, talking to the widest range of consumers possible, especially beyond the geek crowd that’s already buying smartphones.

  23. The Kostas Says:

    APPLE = money money money, take revenge on Bill Gates (personal favorite of Jobs)
    GOOGLE = new mobileOP in the market and of course money money money (that's the way it goes today)
    User number wins!!!
    But there is a but. All Apple users buy nowadays stuff just because it's Apple. Their products are great, I don't deny it. The truth is THEY SHOULDN'T COST SO MUCH because THEY DON'T COST SO MUCH! So let me just be that Anti-Apple dude just like on that episode of The Simpsons with Mapple and Mipod Lisa wished to have. And the truth goes on …with all those other choices we have that are equally great and cheaper or on the same price better than iPhone. That's a fact. I own an Android phone and I've also used an iPhone 3Gs. Android phone wins because I have choices. I mean it should be a smartphone not some phone with locked feats.
    Concluding,
    I believe it's all about being either Apple-used or not…oh sorry I meant Apple-useR.

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