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Android and iPhone, and Then Everyone Else

iPhone is becoming the standard-bearer, but Android is more versatile

More Than Email

Email was the killer mobile application for a decade or so. But not any longer.

Today’s mobile user still uses email of course, but there is so much more that defines today’s mobile experience:

  • Texting
  • Weather
  • Maps & Navigation
  • Music — and lots of it
  • Books
  • Pictures
  • Video & Video Conferencing
  • Apps, Apps, Apps
  • and of course, one of my favorites, the very expensive Alarm Clock

The smartphone of today must tackle the majority of features on this list to be considered a viable platform — and both Android and iPhone have risen to the challenge over the past few years.

Mobile internet browsing has surged since the introduction of the webkit powered iPhone and the browsing experience on the Android platform is no less impressive.

And both platforms have impressive Application Stores, further fueling their growth.

Android and iPhone are like two heavyweights. With each new release, they are trading punches, pushing each other from side to side across the ring.

BlackBerry is sitting near the ropes after taking one too many shots to the head. They are still a contender, but they really need to regroup.

Everyone else is sitting near ringside either complaining that the rules aren’t fair or desperately taking in some oxygen, hoping beyond hope that some unforseen intellectual property battle takes out the leaders and allows them into the ring for a round or two. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

I still feel that the BlackBerry platform has the best overall email eco-system when it comes to management tools and intelligent mail handling for corporate users. While the physical keyboard is more than a nice-to-have for many serious mobile messaging users, the BlackBerry has simply lost its edge now that “push” (or equivalent) email is the norm.

Of course email is only good if you can read it — now that so many email messages are either highly marked up HTML, or contains a link to a web page, the large cross-section of BlackBerry users just cannot enjoy that content.

Ultimately, the BlackBerry devices are just under-powered and out-muscled by both Android and iPhone. Sure, RIM is coming out with better browser capabilities but a case can be made that the horse is out of the barn and they are going to need to reinvent themselves to compete in the near to mid-term.

So, where do Google/Android and Apple/iPhone go from here?

To get a glimpse of what the future might look like, let’s start by examining the past.

New Super Powers

For years tech giants Microsoft and Intel dominated the computer industry and along with the likes of Dell and Compaq they ushered in an age of productivity gains, thirty year-old millionaires, and eventually a tech bubble in the stock market.

Somewhere in the middle of this, some fellow named Linus decided to write his own operating system kernel, namely Linux. Today that code-base and its derivative work powers millions of servers and devices around the world.

Linux has historically been compared to other operating systems, most notably, Microsoft Windows. Why Windows? Not because it was necessarily the best, but because of the market-share enjoyed by Microsoft and the perception that Windows defined the standard for user interface.

Great, that was then, this is now.

Today’s world is defined by mobile and “mobile to web”. Increasingly, the Software as a Service (SaaS) model is the dominant software distribution model of the day, thanks both to sound business cases and not a little hype about “The Cloud”.

Google, the muscle behind Android has driven much of that “consumer cloud” with GMail and Google Apps. However there is a bit of a gap between form and function when it comes to Android and the mobile eco-system, particularly when compared to the tight user experience that iPhone delivers.

In the mobile space, everyone wants to compare their phone hardware and software to that of the iPhone, even if just to boast how much better their Android phone is compared to the iPhone. Like them or dislike them, Apple is a leader in the mobile market. And in the content market, but that is a different and larger story.

If iPhone had a lead going into the summer, this is buoyed with the release of iPhone version 4 which introduces HD video recording, two-way video conferencing with “front and back” cameras and (finally) multi-tasking. So what that the multi-tasking is not as wide open as the model employed by Android — it is likely to be more than adequate for most iPhone users. Apple has kept their multi-tasking “powder dry” up til now, and they are likely to make some further headway with iPhone OS 4.0.

There is little doubt that Android is capable of delivering equivalent software functionality, but it is not just software that distinguishes iPhone as a leader in today’s mobile space.

Apple’s highly focused design and hardware manufacturing innovation permits iPhone to be a standard bearer for mobile phones in use by every day people for some time to come. Android devices and their manufacturers (HTC and Motorola, predominantly) are just not as focused and it shows — the precision hardware that iPhone is delivering today is remarkable, and Android continues to lack an effective desktop companion such as iTunes.

So where does that leave the very capable Android?

My feeling is that Android is going to increase in numbers thanks to a continued interest by a broad variety of mobile carriers getting on the Android bandwagon. The iPhone is going to sell more than any one Android device, however the “area under the curve” of multiple Android devices across multiple continents and carriers will outpace iPhone in the aggregate.

After all, markets like rivalries:

  • PC v. Mac
  • Coke v. Pepsi
  • Los Angeles v. Boston
  • Android v. iPhone

Once place where I see Android excelling is in the non-mobile phone space. This is a place where iPhone is not destined — Steve Jobs is not taking products to a place where there is no App Store, period.

Just as Linux powers routers and storage systems, I believe that Android can be used as a “better Linux distribution”, powering appliances in the consumer, commercial and even military markets. Short of some version of “Apple TV”, Android can expect some freedom from iPhone in these markets. And yes, I think BlackBerry will sit this one out too.

Comments on "Android and iPhone, and Then Everyone Else"

gamesbook

\”Somewhere in the middle of this, some fellow named Linus decided to write his own operating system kernel, namely Linux.\” Actually, this should read \”At about the same time, …\”. Why? Window 3.1 was released in 1990; first release of Linux was in 1991. Windows NT in 1993 and Linux Version 1 in 1994. So the rise of Linux has paralled the rise of Windows – its just that, for the most part, its taken \’the road less travelled\’.

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fableson

@gamesbook: thanks for the dates.

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ewildgoose

@gamesbook: I think it would be fairer to note that Windows 1.0 was released in 1985. Windows 3.1 had quite a bit of development behind it and Windows NT was actually an exceptional product for the time and standing on the shoulders of a ton of work done by IBM+MS in producing OS/2

For Linux to have got to where it was by 1994 was pretty exceptional, but it was still a very small project being worked on by a handful of users in their freetime back then. The level of contribution was vastly different back then and linux actually developed very quickly all things considered

I think Linux has always struggled by not having a display system which ticked all the right boxes for the end user. This hobbled in as much as it was harder to build desktop apps, which in turn drove all those early installation decisions. (Yes the X window system is very *clever* though).

Server based use isn\’t limited by output device support in the same way and hence linux has seen great support in that area (I personally wouldn\’t use anything else on a server).

Android, Maemo, the Intel thing, etc have basically sponsored turning linux into a really strong \”desktop\” operating system and this is really exciting to see. I just hope that other vendors will see the possibilities here and other desktop orientated systems will appear in the kind of strength necessary to grab a significant market share. Perhaps someone can take an Ubuntu/Redhat derivative and bundle it with some hot laptop hardware, plus an app store and carve out a range of profitable products…

The big problem will likely remain market fragmentation if one clear winner doesn\’t emerge. Android has taken a huge amount of development to get to the position it is and really that work needs to be re-used where possible and not expended developing 3 different user focused linux smartphone derivatives, each soaking up enough development that they all get close to being iThing killers, but none of them ever covering the last mile…

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