The Google Android Opportunity: Follow Apple's iPhone
Did Google err by unleashing its mobile operating system to open source and letting hardware manufacturers and phone carriers decide what Android smartphones get built?
Has Google damned Android to the uncontrollable, unpredictable machinations of too many parties with too many moving parts and disparate agendas?
Is the go-to-market strategy phone makers are practicing for issuing Google's Android smartphones destined for failure because it doesn't match the way Apple creates and sells its iPhone?
In short, is Android in danger of failing because of not being as closed and controlled as the iPhone?
Those are some of the questions I'm pondering after reading John Gruber's post on Daring Fireball, "The Android Opportunity."
Gruber, pointing out that three developers have tried switching from Apple's iPhone to Android and found the iPhone to be superior, noted that Android would do well to take advantage of Apple's recent bashing by media over banning Google Voice from the iPhone App Store to create and sell better phones.
Gruber said Android phone makers must:
Start by copying what Apple has done right. Release one new phone per year, every year. Split that one phone into separate models by storage size, keeping all other specs the same. Apple has shown you can make a lot of money by charging an extra $100 for less than $100 worth of flash memory. One single phone gives developers a single device to target, and makes it easier on consumers. It also gives the press a single device to focus its attention on.
Gruber goes on to write that Android phone makers need to build a fantastic device that rivals the iPhone, and that phone makers can provide over-the-air calendar, contact and e-mail syncing through Google to beat Apple's MobileMe. Moreover, Gruber said they need to tout the notion that the Android apps are background-capable, and that they don't suffer from a controlling App Store.
Android phone makers should consider Gruber's wise advice.
When Google announced Android two years ago, I thought the model was great; release the operating system code to open source and let manufacturers build the phones, programmers write the applications, and carriers service and market the daylights out of them.
Now I'm not so sure. The G1 launch in September 2008 was promising, and while T-Mobile shipped over 1 million G1s after it was released to retail in October, it didn't capture the imagination of users the way the first Apple iPhone did two years ago. The iPhone was the iPHONE. Everything else was, well, everything else.
Google Android creator Andy Rubin has promised up to 20 Android phones by the end of 2009. I originally thought this was great because I believed the Android pitch that more choice via more devices was great for consumers, which would be great for Google, partners HTC and T-Mobile, and apps developers everywhere.
How could Apple possibly compete on choice with its controlled iPhone iterations? Apple couldn't.
Gruber and the testimonies from Steven Frank, Alex Payne and Andre Torrez have made me think that the additional choices don't matter. Fact is, the Android user experience has failed to match, let alone outdo, that of the iPhone line.
Better is better, as in superior design, functionality and features. Whether it's the first iPhone or iPhone 3GS, iPhones are superior.
It's too early to conclude the Android way won't ultimately work, but it's clear we need to see not just more phones, but better phones.
I can't help but wonder if Gruber is right and Android phone makers might need to copy a bit of Apple's go-to-market procedure regarding the iPhone to gain some real traction.
How much crow are Google and the phone makers and carriers prepared to eat if the iPhone continues to outsell Android gadgets?