07 June 2010

Why the iPhone Cannot Keep up with Android

Although I have never owned an iPhone, nor even desired one, I do recognise that it has redefined the world of smartphones. In that sense, it is the leader, and will always be historically important. However, as my title suggests, I don't think that's enough to keep it ahead of Android, however great you may judge the feature gap to be currently. Here's a good explanation of why that is:

Through a bevy of handset makers, Android can offer a variety of phones that will make it difficult for Apple to beat with just one hardware release a year. While it is hard to ever go wrong with an iPhone, Android offers a ton of alternative form factors, price points and carriers: Sprint (NYSE: S) has released the first 4G phone on Android; T-Mobile has a new competitive Android phone with a slide-out keyboard; the HTC Incredible sold by Verizon has been flying off store shelves; and even Google’s Nexus One still boasts some of the latest hardware. Not to mention new Android phones from Samsung and LG (SEO: 066570) coming later this summer.

The thing is, no matter how amazing any given feature of the iPhone, in any iteration, sooner or later (and probably sooner) there will be an Android smartphone that matches it. And alongisde that handset will be dozens of others offering other features that the iPhone hasn't yet implemented - and may never do.

It's an unfair race: iPhone iterations, even blessed by Steve Jobs' magic pixie dust, can only occur so fast; Android innovations, by contrast, are limited only by the number of players in the market. Want a new Android handset ever week? Easy, just wait until the ecosystem grows a little more.

And don't even get me started on the fact that the Android code is already starting to appear in totally new segments, bringing yet more innovation, yet more players....

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25 comments:

Kevin said...

Except most of the time upgrading Android means buying a new phone or (if you're really lucky) just waiting a very, very long time for your handset manufacturer to customise the latest version of Android for your handset.

Android's biggest problem is fragmentation and with every revision it's getting worse. Customers are going to get increasingly hacked off that they buy a brand new Android phone and it can't do everything that Google announced and never will. Or that the apps they want will not work on their version of Android.

glyn moody said...

@Kevin: I agree this is becoming an issue (speaking as a Hero owner....), but I think that's partly a product of the sudden success of Android over the last six months.

Google now needs to sort this out as a priority.

Kevin said...

Of course it's also a pain for developers (especially smaller ones) who cannot afford to support their software on multiple legacy versions of Android.

Driving away developers as well as alienating customers not smart.

Apple have it easy as they control the hardware as well as the software. Everyone with a 3G, 3GS, 2nd gen iPod touch gets to upgrade to iOS4 in a few weeks. That's basically everything up to 24 months old.

glyn moody said...

@Kevin: certainly true - but I imagine Google is aware of this and working on it

ZombieProcess said...

The version issue is certainly a problem. As for features not working on some phones . . . The same applies to Apple. iOS4 won't bring all its goodies to one of the 3G iPhones.

Regarding takeup, across the market as a whole I think your statements are true. Apple can't keep up with the pace of development from multiple vendors bringing out new phones that people entering - or re-entering - the market for a new phone want to see in a handset. However, if I already have a phone, whether it's an Android or an Apple one, I'm not terribly likely to chuck it in favour of the latest and greatest.

My current contract is up in August, just in time for the initial rush on the iPhone 4 here in Australia to die down. I've had this contract - from Virgin Mobile - for two years, the price you pay for buying new technology on a plan. Carriers tend to jack up their prices on new tech so getting out of the contract 3, 6 or even 12 months down the track when the new gear is released is pretty expensive. For this individual, ditching what was bright and shiny 3 months ago in favour of the new bright and shiny simply isn't possible. I think this holds true for most users too, at least amongst my circle of tech savvy friends. None I know of will replace a phone they bought 3 months ago for a new handset from HTC or whoever. The cost isn't worth it.

Now if you buy your handsets outright and aren't locked into any kind of contract with a carrier . . . Go for it :) I'm tempted to buy my next iPhone outright sans plan to avoid this exact trap, but it still represents a considerable investment in hardware. I'm still running my gaming PC with a 4870x2 card from ATi that's getting a bit long in the tooth. But I'm not going to throw it out just yet considering the original price tag and the fact that it still does most of what I want it to.

Alex said...

Google can't be "working on it", since they don't control the hardware makers. The combination of software and hardware and the (benevolant) control that comes out of that is Apple's strength.

Because of that fragmentation, Android doesn't appeal to non-techies at all.

Roger said...

If Apple announced tomorrow that the iPhone would be available on every major carrier, Android would shrivel up and die at the high end of the market, almost overnight. It would cling to life as an OS for giveaway phones and cheap tablets, but that's it.

This is the reality: if most people COULD have an iPhone, most people WOULD have an iPhone. Android phones are what you settle for when you're married to an unsupported carrier. Android isn't a superior OS, the apps aren't better, the hardware isn't better, and there's no cachet inherent in the brand.

Android's glimmer of hope is in stuff like GoogleTV and the Android Marketplace filling up with expensive, cross-device apps. I mean, Apple has me for hundreds of dollars worth of iPhone/iPad apps... there's no way I'd jump ship and throw away that investment. Android has to develop that same level of fiscal lock-in. If it gets it, it'll be around for a long, long time. If not...

putt1ck said...

@Kevin & Glyn: my Android phone has updated twice in 6 months, with significant new features each time; and a third is expected in the next few months. Issuing (and compiling) updates is a handset and network decision, not a Google one.

I would imagine someone with profile (Glyn?) making public those who do provide updates and those who don't, along with a TTM/quality rating of the update, will soon result in most providing the updates.

glyn moody said...

@Zombieprocess: I wonder whether the flood of new phones might not make buying mobiles to avoid lock-in more attractive in future....

glyn moody said...

@Alex: I agree the total control of the stack is an advantage for Apple, but think that Google does drive things because it can choose when and how to update the software side.

glyn moody said...

@Roger: I certainly agree that Apple now has a Microsoft-like lock-in over its customers. But remember that the smartphone market is very young - especially in developing countries. It's easy to confound advanced Western economies with the rest of the world, and I think it's in the latter that Android will triumph.

glyn moody said...

@putt1ck: alas, I lack that power, but I think that the many mobile phone magazines and websites will indeed do precisely that, and the pressure on handset manufacturers will force them to get moving.

Keith Edmunds said...

There is little reason to buy any phone, especially a smart phone, from a carrier. I bought my Hero independently, complete with a Vodafone contract, and am thus not tied to Vodafone's crippled firmware and release schedule (not that they sell the Hero anyway).

Of more concern is the fact that some Android phones, despite running "Linux", are not open. One has to rely on bugs (oh the irony) to get root access. That isn't Free in the RMS sense of the word. I believe the Google Nexus isn't locked down in this way, but it's deceptive that some of the Android phones are.

glyn moody said...

@Keith: yes, the Android ecosystem is a step towards an open phone, not the end point....

Symon said...

The point that has been missed here, both from Glyn's post and the subsequent comments, is that Apple simply isn't interested in keeping up with Android.

I'm the owner of an HTC Hero, which I use most evenings and weekends (my main phone is a Nokia E71, a better phone than any iPhone or Android device, ymmv).

Having played with various incarnations of the iPhone, I can say that the Hero simply isn't comparable - the iPhone is a consolidated package: from the handset, through the airtime deals right up to the app. store. Android phones simply aren't.

99% of software on the iPhone looks and works the same way, whereas not even the bundled software on the Hero looks and feels the same.

The iPhone was explicitly designed to be used by people who want to do things: make phones calls, browse the web, etc.

Android was designed to be used by people who will extend their device to do things: tethering a laptop, installing a custom ROM, etc.

The difference between the two market is, in some ways, quite subtle - but of enormous importance. To compare the iPhone and Android is to compare a Caterham with a Maserati. Both are cars for people who like driving, but beyond that small similarity, are not the same in any other sense.

While Google and Android supporters may feel that Android is in competition with Apple, they should look long and hard at how Apple regards them.

So far there has been little recognition beyond a piechart label, which means that Apple knows (because it is, far more than anything else, a marketing company) that Android simply doesn't compete with the iPhone in the market that Apple cares about.

glyn moody said...

@Symon: thanks for that.

So, on your analysis, what does that say about the long-term, global sales of both ranges?

spc said...

http://arstechnica.com/open-source/news/2010/06/ars-explains-android-fragmentation.ars

This is quite balanced take upon the frag issue.

I reckon that big G will iron out this problems.

What really is interesting how Apple is supposed to be institution to be reckoned with when it comes to tech.
Maybe it is US, but outside of Great America this company is hardly relevant, up to nonexistent level.
95 % population of world won't ever put their hands on stuff with apple on it.
Android platform of peasants?? - well so be it.

Disclaimer:
I use nokia 1101 on daily basis - it gets the work done ... no fuss..

glyn moody said...

@spc: thanks for the link, it's a good piece on the subject.

And yes, I think that India and China will be huge for Android...

craig said...

I don't think Apple cares if/when they ceded majority market share to Android.

In most markets they usually sell as a "premium" device.

Android phones will be low margin sales, iPhones high margin.

No pesky anti-trust to worry about.

Lots of profit still.

... an no real competition in the tablet market still.

glyn moody said...

@Craig: I agree - but that means that Apple is restricted to being a niche player - a highly-profitable one, but niche, nonetheless...

Symon said...

@Glyn

Everyone seems to think that Apple will end up being a niche player with high profits, as they are in the PC market, but I think we're forgetting that in many ways the iPhone is more like the iPod than any other product.

Despite being more expensive and less feature-laden than many other products on the market, the iPod is still the market leader - mainly because of its huge mindshare and brand awareness. I can see this being the case with the iPhone.

Smartphones have been around for years, in many guises, but were usually toys for geeks and executives - the iPhone changed this by opening up the market to everyone else, while still (albeit slowly, over time) providing essential executive features.

The geek features, that pretty much define the difference between Android and iPhone, are virtually non-existent and that's deliberate on Apple's part. They want to keep eating away at Nokia and BlackBerry marketshare, by providing products that will convert devotees of those companies - neither of which is regarded as techie-friendly.

Android can differentiate by providing the geek features, but these alone, without really strong enterprise features yet to be seen on an Android device, won't maintain the present marketshare increases.

Of course this is all conjecture and opinion on my part, and my record on such predictions is pretty appalling, but I don't think things are going to pan out the way they have in the PC market - the iPod teaches us that companies can change their fortunes without needing to change their behaviour.

glyn moody said...

@Symon: thanks for the interesting analysis.

I supposed I'd say that the iPod was different, because it did something genuinely new: it made buying and listening to music very easy (unlike the previous MP3 players).

I don't think the iPhone is such a step change: it's a brilliant piece of design, but as we are seeing, the Android competition is catching up fast.

Maybe it will remain ahead, but the size of the Android market will mean that the price differential will open up in time. For the developing world, that's a crucial factor...

Symon said...

@Glyn

I think it can be argued that the iPhone does bring new things to the table, namely the app store and the seamless experience you get from iOS. This is why Apple is so anal about what apps are allowed through the approval process - they aren't selling a piece of hardware, they're selling a hermetic experience that they control utterly.

No-one else has adopted this approach and the results speak for themselves: Market is full of low-quality apps that don't run on anything except the hardware the developer has, while the Ovi Store is spartan to the point of uselessness. Meanwhile Apple are claiming, and probably somewhat accurately, that they have paid out over $1bn to their developers.

It'll be interesting to see how this market pans out over time. While we wait though I'll be slightly sore at the complete lack of firmware updates for the Hero while everyone new to this bandwagon swans around with their HTC Desire...

glyn moody said...

@Symon: yeah, you and me together....

putt1ck said...

Personally I'm swanning around with a Milestone ;)

We're about to get a load of them for the company, the keyboard makes it more useful than either the Desire or iPhone.

Android is far more useful for organisational use because of its openness and broad platform support.