Yesterday I drew some ire from Android fans for pointing to John Gruber’s post on the opportunity before Android phone makers.
Gruber’s post pointed to posts from three developers who have sampled Android-based phones and found them unequal to Apple iPhone for mobile computing tasks.
I also wondered if the Android open-source, multiple-phones-for-multiple-tastes approach was doomed because it differed so greatly from Apple’s controlled, one-great-phone-at-a-time approach.
The reader response was interesting, with impassioned Android fans rushing to defend the Android model. I picked out a few of my favorite comments, which offer some compelling points. Terance wrote:
“You have to understand. They are taking two madly different approaches at this. And honestly, they’re both pretty genius. To discount either would be ridiculous. Apple and Google need to continue doing their own thing. That’s the only way the industry will grow.“
I wasn’t saying definitively that the Android model doesn’t work. I was suggesting that the lack of control, control that has certainly served Apple well for the device itself (and put Apple in the line of the FCC’s fire for its exclusionary App Store), could put Android in a tough position.
Android phone makers may pump out too many phones, none of which offer an experience that is up to par with the iPhone models. So Android phone makers could conceivably dilute the Android brand.
I suggested, per Gruber’s line of thought, that Android phone makers should learn a thing or two from Apple. Release fewer, better phones and this talk will go away.
Readers are correct to point out that Android is in its first generation. In fact, certain things are conspiring against the T-Mobile G1 phone even as I write this. I’m referring to the RAM shortage that could prevent the “Ãclair” and “Flan” updates from making it to the G1.
It’s hard to argue with that; if there’s not enough memory, the phone can only go so far, and the device is not a keeper but a starting point that might have to be put aside in favor of better innovation. But such is the evolution of technology on the whole. We won’t hold that up as a G1-specific issue.
“You cannot create the perfect gadget that will appeal to everyone, and people don’t have the good sense to agree on what’s important. That is why you need choice.“
While it is next to impossible to prove one device is better than another, here’s one measure: If the majority of people say the iPhone is superior to Android phones, we may be inclined to believe them.
However, it is hardly fair to dismiss the people who say Android is better. These folks may opt for the T-Mobile G1 because it better suits their needs, or perhaps they find some level of comfort in the G1 that the iPhone lacks (a physical keyboard, perhaps?)
Donald Leka, the CEO of operating system and application maker TransMedia, told me he uses both the G1 and the iPhone, but prefers the G1 for Web browsing.
So you see the problems inherent in saying the iPhone is better. What do you say to the doubters? Trust me, the iPhone is better? I don’t think so.
But smartphones, while they are evolving into a technological bedrock of our culture, are also a business, and an increasingly competitive one at that. The iPhone has sold millions, while the G1 has sold a million and change.
If we go by the market numbers, we might reasonably conclude most people believe the iPhone is better. But that isn’t what this argument is about: It’s about pointing out that Android will find more success if phone makers do a better job than they’ve been doing to this point. There are only a few Android phones in the market — there is a lot of room to improve.
But Android needs to start now; it doesn’t need to beat the iPhone every time head-to-head, but it needs to sell enough units to merit continued innovation, or Android will fail.
Speaking of Android failure, Fred wrote that it’s okay:
“So even if Android would completely fail, Google would still be winning as we can’t argue they already succeeded [in the effort] to accelerate mobile web browsing and ads viewing.“
Yes, Android has helped accelerate mobile Web browsing and mobile ads viewing, but there’s no way that if Android fails, Google will still look like a winner. Maybe Google would not be financially devastated by an Android failure, but its credibility in the mobile market would take a huge hit.
That’s a battleground where Google can’t afford to lose. Mobile computing may be prevalent among the geekiest of consumers and knowledge workers now, but there is no disputing it’s the future of computing for the world.