Monday, August 23, 2010

Comparing Apples and Androids

I've been thinking about this topic for some time and decided now that the back-to-school and Christmas shopping seasons are upon it's to time do it - and nothing represents the Christmas spirit like a shiny new Motorola DROID 2 running the Android 2.2 "Froyo" OS and including Flash Player 10.1, a 3.7 inch screen, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a five (count 'em five) megapixel camera, an 8GB microSD card and a 3G mobile hotspot feature (for an amazingly low $20 per month.) Am I right?

All kidding aside (you did know I was kidding?) I thought it would help to summarize what is happening in the major technical competition of our day - the battle between Apple and Android phones. I use an iPhone so my knowledge of the Android market is limited to what I read and hear from colleagues. Any comments you can add will be appreciated. First a summary of major points you need to know:

Apple - Simplicity is the key - If you want to walk into a store, pick up a phone, set it up and begin using it in an hour, buy an iPhone.
• Easy to setup and use
• Easy to select - only two models and one decision - 3Gs or the latest 4G (16GB or 32GB)
• One operating system - iOS
• One carrier - AT&T - for now
• Number of apps - Huge
• Well designed portal - iTunes Store
• One source of apps - Apple App Store
• Tightly controlled apps - security, viruses, etc.
• Small size - pocket or purse

Android - Vast array of choices and decisions - If you want a carrier other than AT&T, or a physical keyboard, a larger screen or other specific hardware features and want no restrictions on your apps, then buy an Android phone.
• Choice of vendor - HTC, Motorola, LG, Sony-Ericsson, Google, Acer, Samsung and others
• Multiple designs - Each vendor can design their own phones and most have more than one version resulting in nearly a hundred different Android phones available today
• Wide array of features that vary from model to model - larger screen sizes, more physical buttons, physical QWERTY keyboards, higher resolution cameras, customizable screen layouts, dedicated social network functions, etc.
• Multiple OS variations - There are currently five different Android operating systems in use (1.5-2.2) and each vendor can add their own user interface (UI) to the OS.
• Multiple app sources
• Unrestricted apps
• Number of apps - Huge
• Competition will cause prices to drop

There are of course many other smartphones available but Apple and the Android family are all the rage today. Apple defined the category with the iPhone 3G in 2008. Google changed the game by introducing an operating system that runs on many phones and dozens of companies seized on this approach. This is reminiscent of the PC wars in recent years - Apple versus the "PC".

While it is often stated that Apple lost that battle, remember that IBM - the other major player - failed in the business altogether due to brutal price competition. Contrary to poplar wisdom, IBM tried to stop others from making PCs but less than ten months after the IBM PC was introduced in 1981, the first clones were announced.

The current hoard of Android phone manufacturers might look like an army storming the Apple "castle". What should not be overlooked in this scenario is that the attacking warriors are also trying to destroy each other - not a pretty scene. Who will ultimately prevail as the preeminent Android provider (like the 1990s Dell or HP) is anybody's guess.

The variety of choices in Android hardware and operating systems is confusing for many people. These differences can cause serious problems for vendors as well as explained in this article by JR Raphael in CompterWorld. Raphael is normally a vociferous Android proponent.

A footnote about Apple: Rumors have circulated for years about another carrier for the iPhone. In the past these have sounded more like hopeful speculation for the "I hate AT&T crowd" and those with poor AT&T service but recently the rumors have coalesced into a strong possibility that Verizon will be a choice after the first of the year. Stay tuned.

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