2011: The Year Apple Went Back To Its Niche

Hello I'm Steve Lhomme. You may know me from the Matroska (.mkv and .webm) format I (mostly) created, or working for years on CorePlayer from CoreCodec on platforms like Windows Mobile (5 & 6), Symbian, PalmOS, iOS, Android, etc or lately from my work on the Plume Twitter client on Android for LevelUp Studio.

For many years I've followed and been involved in the rise of mobile computing and smartphones in particular. I've used and developed for about any of these OS'es (that would allow some form of native code). In that time I've seen the growth of the iPhone (from the early version without a SDK where we had CorePlayer already running) up to the point it became almost a world of its own. And with great power comes great responsibility. Except that Apple has been acting very aggressively, for their own profit.

Recently I've started noticing an unfair bias towards Apple from the press and from friends. Either because one gives credit to Apple for more than they deserve or because it gives advantages to the Apple platform that IMO is not good (more on that later). While Apple was mainly the only player with a modern platform, it was fine. But now that Android is on level with iOS and exploding in market shares, it's time to rethink the old habits.

The current situation is that on the OS level Android is more or less at the level of what iOS offers. The OS was not meant for tablets and thus the ones sold so far leave to be desired. It seems that Honeycomb (Android 2.4 it seems) will leap forward and make Android more than decent on tablets. I personally think the tablet market is overrated, but that's another debate. On the hardware level there is certainly a lot more experiment & innovations on the Android side. We now have dual-core, tiny devices, up to 4.3" screens, 4G/LTE, car dashboards, 5" and 7" tablets, tablets as TV companions from Vizio or Panasonic, etc. And depending on your needs, there's usually one device that is exactly what you need. Just like not everybody wants to be dressed the same, not everybody needs the same from their phone/tablet.

But with all the CES announcements, I've seen plenty of news/comments on Apple fanboy sites, that whatever, the iPhone/iPads are better. Even before Honeycomb was demonstrated and devices were tested by real persons. For many Apple has become a religion to follow, and denying all other "gods" that are not theirs. This is not new (Mac vs PC). But it's always surprising when it comes from bright minds. And it's even more dangerous when a whole economy has been built on feeding solely the iOS ecosystem (and 30% of it in Apple's pockets).

Things have changed radically since the last 6/12 months. Android is now dominant globally and even in the symbolic USA market. Unlike iOS it's completely free and open. That's why hardware and software innovations are now happening there. And the trend is not going to change. The head start that Apple had is now gone.

The freedom in Android means anyone with a Windows, Mac, Linux computer can develop for free their software and run it on their devices without paying anything to Google. That is not possible with iOS. One can easily see which one is going to be picked by coders in developing markets. Not only that, but Android doesn't require a PC for synchronization or system updates. In doesn't require you to put your billing information in iTunes before buying apps. In a world where more and more people use a (smart)phone and not a PC, that's an important growth factor. One may argue that poor people don't buy apps. But they are likely to buy food, detergents, gas, etc. So the advertising model can work in these areas. So I think the smartphones are going to be a lot bigger there too. It's a lot better if it doesn't require a PC.

Because of all this, I think Android is going to explode even more this year. And unless Apple has something special about to be released (rumors don't seem to show that), it's going to lose even more significant market shares. And like the Mac vs PC war, it's going to end up in a niche for trendy/hip/rich people. Which is probably fine for Apple as long as it has a good share of the #2 position. History is just repeating.

NOT sent from my iPhone (yes, I still use one)


Unknown said...

Great write-up! Feeling the same as you do on this issue, I wonder what your thoughts on Verizon's rumored launch of the iPhone soon (maybe at their event on the 11th?) are? I agree that the innovations brought forth by android and the varying devices are one of its strong suits, but I'm betting we'll see at least a small shift if/when iphone is available from vzw. And I think it'll be for exactly the same reason you've mentioned, people who want the Apple iphone because of their love for Apple or just because they think it's cool. Or do you think android has made enough of an impact in the last year that it won't make a ripple in the pond when iphone is available on the 2 major US carriers?

robux4 said...

Well, here is France the iPhone is sold by all 3 operators, which in the end prefer to sell Android phones (and more of them) because they have more control over the devices they subsidize. With Apple they get nothing and actually had to beg for the possibility to sell their iDevices.
I'm sure they will be a rush for the Verizon iPhone for months. But Verizon will still make less money from it than the Android devices they sell. And if the iPhone start looking outdated (no dual-core for ex) they'll have little interresting in pushing it much.
Unlike for the iPod, in the phone world the operators matter a LOT (for better or worse).

Andy said...

I think iphone on verizon is being blown out of proportion by the same people who discount android. Yes, the iphone hasn't been available on the nation's largest carrier, but for the most part, android hasn't been available on the nations nearly identically sized carrier. If we look at developed nations in europe android and apple are nearly equal with android growing faster, in asia android is slightly bigger and growing faster. There will be some pent up demand for the iphone on verizon, but after an initial sales bump and maybe some people who wait for a summer release the iphone will do what it does everywhere - capture a little over 20% of the market-while android cuts their growth from the falling likes of blackberry, symbian and microsoft.

robux4 said...

Looks like I'm not the only one to have the same 'not so advanced' conclusions.

robux4 said...

And another one agrees on the Verizon move.

Jeegar Patel said...

here in india, apple becomes a symbol of high-status value where android has some negative symbol value..!! one more negative thing in case of android is that because of open source & lots of released-version, some times application made for one version has not same result with another version. & this situation will going to be more & more..