So the two-year contract with your mobile service provider is up and it is time to get a smartphone. Exciting weeks lie ahead as you read through phone specs online, ask your techie friends for reviews, and visit retail locations to play with the latest gadgets. Never has the decision to purchase a new phone seemed so transcendental. Gone are the days when phone selection was limited to five models from two manufacturers, and one always chose the free one. Competition and choice make consumers happy, and these days, we are swamped with options. But behind the plethoric veil of gadgets there is a more fundamental decision that must be made first: Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android.
When it comes to operating systems and technology standards, sometimes less is more. I was happy when Blu-ray conquered HD-DVD in the latest consumer electronics war. I never really understood which technology was better, but once they finished duking it out, I could finally buy a high-definition DVD player without worrying. Like two heavyweight pugilists, Apple and Android are going through a similar struggle and it seems like it was go 12 rounds.
Unlike Google, Apple has maintained an overprotective business strategy and opts to keep their mobile operating system (iOS) proprietary instead of licensing it out to phone manufacturers. Does this remind anybody of their approach with computers’ OS in the early 80s? Microsoft pushed Windows to most major computer manufacturers while Apple continuously tried to create a superior product only they could use. Undeniably, this was a poor business decision. While Microsoft colonized the computer landscape, Apple was close to extinction and became a niche player used mainly by people in academia. Yet, thanks to Steve Jobs’ now heavily documented turnaround and restructuring of Apple, the company is now the second most valuable in the world (worth close to $320 billion, which is $100 billion more than Microsoft). But before we pop the champagne bottle and celebrate Apple’s success, it is important to see how their business strategy will play out in the mobile space since mobile, as we all know, will rule the world.
Will Apple pigeonhole itself as a niche player again? Will Apple license its software in the future? Will their media infrastructure help them weather the storm and come out on top?
The upcoming months will shed some light on the future of mobile. Recent reports of Android surpassing Apple in terms of mobile phone shipments may be an early sign that the tide is turning. I recently switched from BlackBerry to Android given that I speculate Google will come out on top.
Content in the form of media and apps is the driving force behind smartphones. On the media front, Apple has established an early lead with the iTunes platform, but as cloud computing and streaming services go mobile, Apple’s media advantage will fade away. In the app space, Google has encouraged a decentralized marketplace and this will allow specialization throughout the distribution chain. Rumor has Amazon working on an Android app store that is expected to launch in the near future. Why would Google allow and even encourage competition with its Android Market? Because their goal in mobile is not to monetize apps, or at least I don’t think it should be.
Remember, Google’s main revenue driver is their search. Therefore, their main objective with mobile should be to become the default search engine on every mobile phone on the planet. The best way to do that is to make sure they are the operating system on your phone. So an unofficial partner like Amazon that knows how to create user-friendly marketplaces will help Android grow and increase Google’s chances of monopolizing mobile search for good. Maybe in the not-so-distant future Google will be demonized in the tech community like Microsoft was. So much for their informal corporate motto: “don’t be evil.”
I’m clearly making a lot of assumptions and I may be jumping to conclusions, so keep in mind that’s just my take on things and I can be wrong – Steve Jobs certainly hopes so. As far as actually choosing a phone? Go out and play with as many phones as you can. Just know, you’ll also be placing an early bet on your favorite contender.