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Sure, on the surface Google’s Android seems more like a shot through the heart of Windows Mobile — or the head of Palm’s Linux-based OS 2.0 aspirations — but while those platforms enjoy their own historical and market share, it’s Apple’s iPhone that has all the mind share of late. That means, despite Google’s CEO being on the Apple Board of Directors, Google’s Maps, Search, and other services having a prominent place on both devices, and — let’s face it — Google’s full on tech-crush for the iPhone — no one is going to hesitate to pit the two systems head-to-head. Including us!
So, what advantages does each one have? What drawbacks? Here they are, in our opinion: the top five iPhone vs. Android Wins and Losses… after the break!
1. Hardware Options
Unlike the singularity of the iPhone, Android follows the current Windows Mobile model (and old Palm OS model) of creating a software platform meant to be implemented by a wide range of different manufacturers across an even wider range of hardware (some speculate beyond even the phone paradigm). Want a keyboard? Touch? Flip? Yellow racing fins? No problem, take 1 from column A and 2 from column B. After all, people tend to be diverse if not unique, and no single device can possibly meet the needs of each and every consumer. By letting manufacturers offer hardware choices, Android wins.
2. Developer Freedom
While the iPhone App Store has been a million (going on billion) dollar success, it has also been an endless source of controversy rooted not only in Apple’s desire to control seemingly every aspect of ecosystem, but the capricious — and callous — way in which they’ve thus far chosen to exercise that control. By contrast, Google is offering what amounts to a totally free Marketplace where developers can pretty much create and deploy anything, limited only by their innovation and determination. Podcaster? Fine. Mailwrangler? Okay (even though it likely duplicates Google’s built-in Gmail client). It’s the classic Open Source argument. (Heck, even the OS itself is Open Source!) By being free as in speech (though Google is wealthy enough to spot developers at least a few beers as well!), Andorid wins.
3. Killer Cloud Connectivity
Let’s face it, the cloud is the future, and while Apple has struggled (cough-MobileMe-cough) with that future, Google owns it. Google Search. Gmail. gCal. Google Docs. Google Maps. YouTube. Knol. Chrome. And the list goes on and on (and on). If they can flip the switch and truly, seamlessly integrate everything, not only between applications but across desktop, laptop, and handset, it will make for perhaps the most compelling offering ever on the market. By not being the next Windows-class platform (which superseded the earlier Mac), but by potentially being something even greater, Android wins.
4. DRM-Free Media
The iPhone is hooked into the largest and most successful media fountain in the business, iTunes. The record labels and Hollywood, however, fearing Apple will become another Walmart, able to dictate terms (taken, no doubt, to a Jobsian extreme) have with the exception of EMI, denied iTunes the higher quality, DRM-free music they are willing to give to competitors like Amazon. Google, despite being Amazon’s rival in the data-center-driven cloud computing space, is leveraging Amazon MP3’s musical advantage for Android. No word yet on whether they’ll ever break the DRM-free TV and Movie barrier (not when Hollywood is cutting off so many noses to spite that face), but for as far as it goes, by providing consumers with content free of DRM that never stopped the real pirates, but made everyday use difficult to the point of exasperation, Android wins.
5. Sergey and Larry
Steve Jobs is the archetypal benevolent dictator, and a divisive one at that. Google’s founders, by contrast, enjoy a shinier, happier public image. Whether it’s their “don’t be evil” motto or their willingness to let Google employees spend 20% of their time (1 day a week) working on solo “skunkworks” projects in the true spirit of innovation, (such as Sergey’s gleeful Android “hang time” app?), their youthful energy and enthusiasm powers the Google brand. By presenting a kinder, friendlier, and — arguably — funnerer corporate culture to consumers, Android wins.
1. Unified Hardware/Development
Controversies aside, the App Store has changed the face of application development and deployment (and how scary is it that this represents only one of the iPhone’s revolutions). Leveraging the ease of use and power of Cocoa, developers can create applications that will not only run on any iPhone (or iPod Touch) on the market, but be available for market (or for free), at the tap of a button, on each and every one of those devices. While Android developers will have to worry about whether some hardware has keyboards and some not, touchscreens or not (and what resolution?!), real headphones or USB adapters (really HTC? Really?) trackballs or accelerometers — never mind the endless snafu potential of any manufacturer or carrier making any changes they want to the Open Source OS — iPhone developers can “just work”. By providing a single, unified hardware implementation and the unlimited on-device marketplace that comes with it, the iPhone wins.
2. Best of Both Worlds
While Android enjoys the most complete integration with Google imaginable, we can’t forget that Google’s business isn’t making Smartphones. It isn’t Search either. It’s advertising. And to advertise, Google needs to be in front of (and holding on to) as many eyeballs as possible. This means Google needs to provide their services to the iPhone (and Windows Mobile, Palm, Blackberry, etc.) as well. So the iPhone gets Google Search, Maps, YouTube, and all the other Google applications they need anyway. What’s more, Apple gets to carefully craft their own unparalleled user interfaces and mobile technology on top of and into those Google Services. Google’s Android, however, gets nothing from Apple. By iPhone users getting the best of both the Apple and Google worlds, the iPhone wins.
3. Google Getting Slightly Less “Not Evil”
Apple can be smug, uncaring, and wrong-headed redacteds, fair enough. But while Google professes “don’t be evil”, their growing size and power should be a concern to everyone who values privacy and security. Bottom-line: they know everything about you. You search for “very private personal issue”. They know that, and your IP, and can cross-reference it with everything else you’ve searched for, and mapped, and (with the GPS in your phone) whether you’re on the move. And their business is advertising. They own DoubleClick. Sure, Apple hooks into Google for Safari web search and maps as well, but on the iPhone you can at least choose not to search, or to search Yahoo!, and to turn off GPS. Maybe you can with Android, maybe not. Chrome has set a very poor precedent (no URL box, just search, means Google parses avery web address you type — never mind the ULA controversy). Given their shiny, happy facade, this makes them all the more terrifying. By the sheer nature of Apple’s business model being predicated on pleasing consumers enough to buy their hardware, and not slipping in advertising on the down low with little or no oversight or accountability, the iPhone wins.
4. iTunes International & iPod Ecosystem
For all the greatness that is Amazon MP3, it’s entirely USA-centric. Sure, for many people that seems like the whole world — but it’s not. While Big Media deliberately won’t give iTunes higher quality DRM-free music, the nature of international media rights is every bit as unfair to Amazon and their offerings. iTunes has had years to navigate this archaic quagmire, however, and while they’re certainly not everywhere yet, iTunes Stores are available to a huge number of consumers around the world. And unlike Android at launch, iPhone users in some areas also have TV (including NBC… again), Movies, and the rest of iTunes’ massive media content library available to them. Likewise, the Apple ecosystem is mature, providing everything from easy media conversion tools for personal content, to a plethora of accessories, to Apple’s full line of other hardware and software products. By providing such a vast, and vastly simple set of content and spherically-integrated supporting environment, the iPhone wins.
5. Steve Jobs
Call him Steve, El Jobso, Dear Leader, or an arrogant expletive, Steve Jobs has proven time and again to have an uncanny knack for knowing “what’s next”. Not innovation in the strictest sense, Jobs instead takes futuristic technology and realized it for the masses — in whatever elegant shade of this and gorgeous material of that he knows is lust-worthy at that very moment. From the CLI of the Apple II, to the GUI of the Mac, to the portability of the iPod, to the multi-touch of the iPhone, Jobs more than anyone this generation has, over and over, pushed the boundaries of consumer technology and the entire industry around it. That’s why every Stevenote brings the internet to a grinding halt, and Android’s announcement barely registered a stutter on the tubes. You don’t dent the universe by committee (which Google’s Open Handset initiative and Android Platform most certainly are), and there’s no better proof of that than the achievements of Apple under the — admittedly dictatorial — guidance of Steve Jobs. By walking onto the stage at Macworld 2007 and pulling the jaw-dropping surprise of the iPhone from his pocket, and by keeping every consumer on the edge-of-their seats waiting for the next Stevenote, and the next “one more thing”, the iPhone won.
Every industry needs competition, and while we can’t help but worry about our friends over on the Windows Mobile and Palm platforms, we also can’t help but think, win or lose, Android will force the iPhone to up its game (and vice versa) as well. Either way, we consumers are the ultimate winners.