Imagine if you will that it’s 1984, and Apple’s Sledgehammer Gal has just faded away. Then the Macintosh was Apple Computer’s big promise for the future. It would change everything.
Now flash forward to some incidents that are less memorable in their visual impact, but perhaps more important to today’s computing environment. Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone 4, and then today, Motorola and Verizon announcing the Droid X.
When Verizon Vice President John Stratton showed the Droid X in a New York press conference (which the rest of us got to see in streaming video), he also showed why Apple hasn’t learned the lessons of the decades that followed 1984.
What Apple should have learned is that open systems work; people don’t want someone else putting limits on them, and that they want choice. The reason the Macintosh never got much above 10 percent market share (and subsequently sank below that) is that Apple didn’t offer a choice. You did things Apple’s way, or you didn’t do them at all.
Now, we’re 26 years later and it’s the iPhone that has all of the attention, and once again the lessons of the past haven’t been learned. As was the case with the Macintosh, the iPhone provides a choice between doing things Apple’s way or not doing them at all. You have one source of applications, one choice of carrier. You can’t even write your own software, which you could at least do in the Mac.
When the Verizon-Motorola team introduced the Droid X, it was a story all about choice. With Android devices you can get software anywhere you like. It’s up to you if you want to take a chance on buggy, ill-thought-out software, third-party drivers and whatever else you may want. True, some of these programs may be lousy, but at least you can decide. You don’t have to let Apple or anyone else bless them.
The same thing is true with the choice of carriers. You’re not locked into AT&T and its overburdened 3G network and famously bad customer service. You can choose service you like. You can go online and download Adobe Flash and use it to access that 75 percent of the Web that uses it. You’re not limited by silly decisions at the top of a self-serving corporate entity.
Android Backers Dont Need a Sledgehammer to Make Their Point
So here’s how this all compares with what was the Mac in 1984. Imagine that in those days Apple was contending with a broadly supported open-source operating system with a vibrant developer community. Imagine that there was a wealth of hardware support from a variety of manufacturers on a variety of platforms and processors. Would Apple have even had a chance?
Chances are, it would have, but chances are it wouldn’t have killed off its young clone industry, and chances are it wouldn’t have been able to stay a closed system as it did.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening to the iPhone now. It’s a closed system. Updates come once a year. Software is dictated by the company. Yes, the iPhone has a healthy market share and a lot of applications now. But in the face of competition from Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile and their steadily increasing supply of Android devices and software, that’s sure to change. As Nick Kolakowski illustrated in his slide show, the Android market share is already gaining on the iPhone.
With a product cycle that’s measured in weeks rather than years, and a broad range of carriers and manufacturers, that market share challenge is sure to pick up momentum. Apple, meanwhile, has painted itself into a corner. The company and the iPhone are running out of ways to grow.
By November, when Verizon is supposed to get the iPhone, the company may well have second thoughts. The iPhone is already behind the technology curve. Even the iPhone 4, which is only just starting to ship, has been surpassed by the latest Droid technology, and the Androids have a year’s worth of improvements to take advantage before the next Apple developer’s conference. You can guess how that will work out.
Does this mean that the iPhone is dead? Not really. After all, the Mac managed to hold on to about a 7 percent market share after all these years. No doubt it will provide inspiration for other devices if only because Apple has been truly innovative in some areas. But I think its days as a dominant platform are ending, and I think aggressive moves by the Android world are going to end those days more quickly than we currently imagine.
Verizon, Sprint and the others don’t need a Sledgehammer Gal. They’ve already got what they need to win this war.