Android Crushing iPhone – Open Source For the Win

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Google's Android is spreading like wildfire.  In little more than a year phones based on Google's Android OS have gone from clumsy looking wimps to worthy Apple iphone competitors.  The latest reports show that Android smartphones are selling frenetically across the globe, even eclipsing the meteoric sales of the iPhone.  The success of Android is a watershed moment for advocates of open standards and open source software.  It also represents a huge win for consumers.   Thanks to Google, we have been saved from Apple hegemony.  The playing field for innovation and consumer choice in the smartphone market has been unleashed.  Long live Android, long live open source software.

Less than a year ago I was in despair, fearing that the iPhone was so far and above the rest of the smartphone market that Apple would completely dominate the field.  My willingness to own an iPhone in spite of this fear was the epitome of Apple's power.  I had always hoped that Android would save us from near complete Apple domination, but a year ago things were looking pretty bleak.  Compared to Apple's hundreds of thousands of apps, Android offered a laughable market. And the best phone that Android had to offer was the bulky and clunky G1.

Fast forward to today, and all of this has changed.  Phones based on Google's Android are witnessing an incredible worldwide adoption.  In May of this year Google claimed that 100,000 Android phones were being activated everyday.  By August, Google CEO Eric Schmidt confirmed that daily activations had catapulted to 200,000.  Recent reports indicate that daily activations are now nearing 300,000.  At this rate, Android based phones will easily ship more than 100 million units over the next year.  And the Andoid market for apps is absolutely flourishing, recently boasting more than 100,000 apps.

I have been an iPhone owner ever since the first iPhone was launched several years ago.  As a long time linux enthusiast and open source advocate, it was difficult for me to sip the Apple Kool-Aid, but the iPhone was just so much better than everything else out there that I could not resist.  The iPhone was a game changing device.  Elegant, feature rich, easy to use.  Most importantly the iPhone ditched physical buttons entirely and went all in with a touch screen interface.  I never tried a Blackberry - I never understood the appeal of those stupid little keyboards and the crappy UI.  I longed for the day that a phone would be beautiful and easy to use, and Apple delivered.

But the iPhone has always harbored a nasty dark side.  The iPhone is tied to an ecosystem of apps, music, books, video, and advertisements that are all controlled by Apple.  This closed model of censorship from one single company poses a very real threat to our digital freedom and holds back innovation.  The world needs an open competitor, and Google's Android is it.  Android represents the future of smartphones.  My next phone will be an Android.

This whole smartphone battle offers a fascinating window into the philosophy of innovation, open standards, and consumer choice.  On the one hand we have Apple's closed model in which one company controls everything.  Such a model offers several compelling advantages.  Only with the singular vision and tight control of an outstanding company such as Apple could such a groundbreaking innovation as the iPhone be developed.  Apple's closed model enabled the company to keep things simple and intuitive, ignore special interests, and cut out old paradigms such as the physical keyboard.  I applaud Apple for giving the world a smartphone revolution.  Yet even though Apple's closed model was crucial for starting the revolution, that same model is not appropriate as the revolution carries forward.

The cracks in Apple's "control everything" model are really starting to show recently.  Apple gets to play God and deny apps to its app store based on whatever reasons it chooses.  In the early days this helped to keep the nascent apps market a safe and trustworthy place to find apps.  But now Apple's control of the app market is showing its dark side.  In many cases, Apple has denied apps simply because they competed with Apple's own interests, or because they violated Apple's moral vision about sex, decency, etc.  Apple is the gatekeeper of apps in its marketplace, and if you get on the wrong side of the all mighty gatekeeper's interests, you are SOL.  On the flip side, if Apple decides it likes you and/or your app, you just might miraculously gain a position as a coveted "featured app" in the app store.

Even with its now 40,000+ employees, we also see that Apple is unable to innovate the iPhone as fast as the industry wants or needs it to.  Android competitors are able to come out with dozens of hardware models per year, versus Apple's one model per year.  Android manufacturers are able to offer users more choice - different screen sizes, access to more phone networks, and a plethora of different hardware configurations.  Android can cater to different market needs and demographics, producing phones like the Droid for high end consumers, but also super cheap phones for the billions of consumers with more restricted budgets in places like India.

With its open source model, any person, any company in the world can contribute to the Android software repository.  Essentially Apple's 40,000 or so employees are up against hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world.  Over the long term, there is simply no way iOS can keep up with the evolution that open source Android will achieve.  When it comes to a clean, intuitive interface Apple will continue to excel.  But when it comes to features, Apple is at a severe disadvantage.

Apple may have started the smartphone revolution with its elegant design and its paradigm shift to ditch the buttons and go all out for the touch screen, but the torch as the dominant player in this industry is now (and should be) passed on to Android.  Is Apple's iPhone then destined to die a miserable and dejected death?  Of course not.  The smartphone market is still in its infancy.  Barely 10% of the world's phones are currently smartphones.  In the next few years literally billions of individuals will upgrade their old school phones to smartphones, creating an enormous pie for both Android and Apple's iPhone to take a slice of.  Yet whereas just a year ago the iPhone pretty much owned the entire market, moving forward Android will be the dominant platform and the iPhone will take a back seat with an ever more niche role.

This is not to say that the open model a la Android is all perfect and wonderful.  Android app developers must deal with the headache of building apps that can work on multiple versions of Android software and dozens of different versions of hardware.  The UI for Android is not exactly consistent from one phone to the next, creating much confusion for developers and users.  Android offers greater choice, greater flexibility, and a heck of a lot more features, but this comes at the cost of losing much of the elegance and simplicity that comes from Apple's standardization.  You simply can't have it both ways.

History has shown us this pattern over and over again ad nauseam.  The closed smartphone model (iOS) and the open smartphone model (Android) represent just the latest example of decades of similar cases: Internet Explorer (closed) vs Firefox/Chrome (open), AOL (closed) vs ISP's (open), MySQL (open) vs Oracle (closed).  Both the closed and open models have offered their relative strengths and weaknesses.  In many of these cases the closed model is the early model that enables an innovative breakthrough that revolutionizes the field.  Subsequently the open model then takes over as the technology matures.  Smartphones appear to be exhibiting this pattern.

Notably absent from this discussion is any mention of Windows 7, Symbian, RIM, or other competitors.  Their omission is intentional, for these so called players presently aren't really players at all, and their future looks bleak.  As it stands right now this is a two horse race between iOS and Android.

Although we have seen the story of closed model moving to open model many times before, it doesn't always turn out that way.  Linux has emerged as the open standard for computer servers, but has been unable to unseat Microsoft's multi decade  monopoly on the desktop.  As a result, consumers have been stuck with a desktop environment that is monolithic, buggy, expensive, and severely lacking innovation.

Without Google jumping into the fray with its mighty Android it is very possible, even likely that Apple would have beaten the crap out of everyone else and achieved a Microsoft level of smartphone domination.  This in fact was my very real fear just one year ago when Android appeared to be a failure and RIM, Symbian, and the rest of the gang looked like pathetic antiques.  An outcome with near complete Apple dominance would have been disastrous to digital freedom and innovation within the smartphone market. Luckily for all of us, that outcome appears to have been avoided.

I wasn't one of the brave ones that ditched their iPhones even as Apple domination seemed imminent.  But the past is the past, and the future gives us the chance to make new, and better choices.  When it comes time to purchase my next phone, I intend to join ranks with what I feel is the positive force in the industry and buy an Android phone.  I hope you will do the same.

Discussion — 31 Responses

  • Che November 4, 2010 on 11:43 pm

    Its Microsoft which we have to fear. They are doing the same FUD Strategy to Android like they did in the Past to Linux. And They will do massive Lobbying Hardwarepartners to abandon the Android Plattform, HTC can not deliver enough Desire HD Phones but that obolete, unreliable Winmob7 Crap is rottening in the Shelves everywhere. Also LG env pro was canceled, is Microsoft behind that like the vanishing of the Linux driven Yopy Years ago?

    • gideon Che November 5, 2010 on 12:19 am

      I wouldn’t fear microsoft too much on this front. Remember Zune? Yeah me neither. They’ll get their feet wet in the market but they’ll try to sell at apples price point which won’t fly. I can’t speak for the rest of the android purchasees but what appealed to me was a more reasonably priced phone with more than just at&t (whom I despise, the few times I’ve been forced by regional circumstance to use them they would find new ways to rip me off every month). That and the stories I’d hear about apps being censored on the iphone, I’m not a child and I don’t believe that because children exist in this world that I must be forced at every moment to live on their level intellectually. I don’t know if microsoft would censor as well but they definantly would delete competitors so that’s going to work against them too. Also open source droid I believe has no cost other than the hardware while microsoft will never give a copy of their operating system away without you paying for it somehow. They’ll have to use marketing to trick every single one of their customers into thinking they should avoid droid (that rhymes maybe they’ll start with that) and pay extra for a phone that will do fewer things, just because it has that familiar windows load screen.

      • Roy Benson gideon November 5, 2010 on 4:55 am

        AVOID DROID !!! lol, serious though, the Windows Mobile 7 integrates with Windows 7 desktop, which makes it the dream phone for every PC user out there. I was considering Android however after reading the reviews, and actually tinkering with a Windows Mobile 7 beta, just have to say, Android has alot to worry about. I currently develop for the Iphone too. Iphone’s strength is it’s unstoppable market share lead. The Iphone is selling extremely well in China, Taiwan and Singapore. The Adroid is largely ignored by the Chinese market, and the Chinese Android phones are modified so that there is some limited functionality compared to the Iphone.

        • Anonymous Roy Benson November 22, 2010 on 6:34 pm

          So windows integration is a feature not a bug? I use a variety of OSes in my work and play from XP to Ubuntu with an ever growing contingent of Android devices. The fact that I can update, sync, and inter-operate w/o in a platform independent manner is one of the primary strengths of Android

  • The letter J November 5, 2010 on 1:07 am

    Very funny that you criticize Apple for censorship when Google engages in similar practices with it’s web index (though not on Android phones). But that’s just a side note.

    You make some good observations, and I agree that it’s excellent that there is some competition for the iPhone, but you fail to acknowledge the drawbacks of the “open” model, such as security. There are too many missing facts here for me to list, though, so I’ll just get to my point and say, with all due respect, that you are a lousy analyst.

    The paragraph that begins with “History has shown us this pattern over and over again ad nauseam” is the most hilarious! Hello, what of Linux vs Windows (or even OS X)? And MySQL vs Oracle, what kind of joke is that? Oracle is a 27 billion dollar company, my friend. ROFLMAO.

    The inevitable cracks are showing in Android’s armor. Platform fragmentation, software piracy, and security issues are increasing, and Android could end up getting a bad buzz among non-technical people.

    You are also making the classic techie mistake of thinking that most people want what you want in their phones. Most consumers have no idea what you are talking about, and they don’t even want to know. Imagine having an iPhone vs Android conversation with the average soccer mom; do you really think she gives a hoot about FOSS?

    Watch iPhone sales when Apple opens up to more carriers in the U.S., too. I would also wager that future iPhones will have world class reception because Steve Jobs will not be caught with his pants down twice for the same thing, and that will create good buzz for Apple.

    • Thepromised1 The letter J November 5, 2010 on 3:15 am

      Do you have a point… nope apparently not. I switched to the EVO, for one I was sick of Apples crabby customer service and two I went through four countem FOUR i phones before I gave up. The only complaint I’ve had about EVO is battery life… but… there’s an app for that and since I got kill app.. no more battery issues. I love this Andriod phone. The capabilities because of the apps far exceed what I had going with my iphone. Further as for security… I didn’t use my iphone for anything but phone calls and entertainment because I knew better than to pay bill and such on it and I’ll apply the same logic to my Andriod… those who don’t exercise caution with secure info and connections and such are foolish whether they are using their iphone or an andriod phone.

    • Jeremy The letter J November 5, 2010 on 4:54 am

      “You are also making the classic techie mistake of thinking that most people want what you want in their phones. Most consumers have no idea what you are talking about, and they don’t even want to know. Imagine having an iPhone vs Android conversation with the average soccer mom; do you really think she gives a hoot about FOSS?”

      And you make the classic mistake of thinking who makes the tech purchase decisions in a household.

      And the linux v. windows debate it pretty moot- linux distros didn’t go after the end-user market until recently, but servers? Complete domination.

      And you are right that Oracle vs. MySQL is a joke. First, because Oracle owns MySQL. Second, Oracle owns a lot- so while Oracle Database is one of their most successful products, making it seem like a 27 billion dollar product is utter bullshit. Third, Oracle Database has made its money primarily off linux/unix systems. Forth, Oracle DB and MySQL don’t compete- MySQL was never a good business solution, but it was THE web solution.

      But here’s the thing: this is a tech blog, not an economics blog. Market share is more important than profit share. When I read about a cool piece of tech, I don’t care if the company making it is a multibillion dollar company or a small start up- I care about if its going to be able to get into people’s hands.

      By the way, software piracy creates a bad buzz among non-technical people? ROFLMAO. Nobody has a problem with software piracy except proprietary software companies

      • The letter J Jeremy November 6, 2010 on 8:53 pm

        > By the way, software piracy creates a bad buzz among non-technical people? ROFLMAO. Nobody has a problem with software piracy except proprietary software companies

        Ugh… Funny and true! But, that’s really not what I meant. Just a side effect of brevity and haste, or call it an editing mistake.

        I had meant to say that platform fragmentation (*which* Android phone with which version of the OS are you developing for, exactly?) and increasing piracy were starting to turn off commercial developers. [Citation needed, sorry.]

        As for security issues: If any platform gets widely affected (or “infected”, heh…) by malicious software, the public could get turned off to it. Is Android more vulnerable than iOS? I’ve read so, but that doesn’t mean it’s definitively true.

        Anyway, I don’t mean to be a troll or an Apple fanboy. iOS is a great platform, and Android is also very compelling. As I said, I like the competition. For most people, just about any smart phone is cool, anyway!

        (BTW, do you really think that most households include a highly technical person? I don’t.)

  • Aprilsunincuba November 5, 2010 on 1:18 am

    Good story but you’re not comparing apples with apples. The proliferation of android-based smart phones doesn’t really effect apple economically as much as a stand-out genuine competitor would. I.e if a competitor (like microsoft is trying to be) could truly go toe to toe with iPhone in terms of sales then you would have a story. Instead what we have is iPhone with a huge chunk of the market and then Android-based phones making up the rest of a fractured market, essentially feeding of the crumbs. What I’m saying (through my long windedness) is that Android’s success is cool, but it would be cooler if a genuine competitor (read hardware product) could stake it’s claim against Apple. To me whether or not this competitor uses android though would be irrelevant (or a minor curiosity)

    • lassegs Aprilsunincuba November 5, 2010 on 10:59 am

      I don’t get why you and some others think like the tech companies of old. Yes, its cool with one product from one manufacturer, but its NOTHING against a whole platform. Android is becoming the platform of choice for handset manufacturers, and is already way more important than iPhone.

      • oldfrog lassegs November 5, 2010 on 12:20 pm

        Android would be cool if the devices were able to run vanilla sources, and the hardware was open. I tried hard to like Android phones, but what i found is just about every Android phone is shipping with irremovable bloatware.

        • lassegs oldfrog November 5, 2010 on 12:23 pm

          Yes, I’ve heard that US carriers do this (im European myself, our carriers have mostly learned to stay away from the software, thank heavens). But still, nothing stops you from rooting your phone, then you’ll have complete access to add and remove anything you like.

          • oldfrog lassegs November 6, 2010 on 12:39 pm

            Nothing stops me.
            1. Rooting (jailbreaking) your phone will erase EVERYTHING!!! (this includes SD card data)
            2. The process could damage your phone, and will void warranty.
            3. Rooting your phone will prevent future over the air updates. In other words when newer versions of android are released in the future you will have to manually install them.

            • adam oldfrog November 8, 2010 on 3:20 am

              oldfrog I call FUD on you. Rooting your phone will not do this unless you screw up the process…..but with apps like 1-click root it is fairly difficult

              • oldfrog adam November 11, 2010 on 12:37 pm

                Fear Uncertainty and Doubt are part of the reasons I listed. Or are you willing to guarantee that no bad will happen, and if it does you will then reimburse me for my losses.

  • Jaytee Foster November 5, 2010 on 1:27 am

    Android may be “crushing” iOS (not exactly the word I’d use to describe the numbers you linked, but I digress), but iPhone still crushes any Android handset. It’s not *that* surprising, given that in the US, there’s only one provider that offers iPhone. Everyone (including ATT) offer about 239042 Android smartphones.
    So really, Apple (and ATT) are raking in the cash, while nobody is really getting too rich off Android. Who’s crushing who?

    • Nik_c_shah Jaytee Foster November 5, 2010 on 12:01 pm

      i’ill tell you who’s crushing who. apple’s crushing you. not just crushing it is sucking your wallet dry. so keep your arguments of 1 phone 1 provider to yourself, you can only fool your self. coz when a supposedly non-geeky customer wants to buy a phone he has so many phones to choose for and he may not like iphone. which is why other phones sell

      number speak louder than fanboi rants

      • Nik_c_shah Nik_c_shah November 5, 2010 on 12:02 pm many phones to choose *from

        before grammar police sweep into action

    • Anonymous Jaytee Foster November 22, 2010 on 6:52 pm

      This mirrored what happened in the PC world. Apple offered a few models at a premium price with (until recently) an incompatible architecture. PC manufacturers as a whole built a plethora of models with considerable fragmentation in compatibility. The upside of this was that PC’s filled every niche, from tiny embedded computers, to cash registers, to multicore servers and Beowulf clusters. As a result the PC became overwhelmingly dominant.
      This is repeating itself in the mobile environment with a broad range of phones and tablets filling each need. You can get sub $100 tablets which are quite serviceable, up to tablets that rival the iPad in features and price. I just got a cheap but handy prepaid Samsung intercept w/ a TCO a fraction that of an iPhone while the EVO readily surpasses the present models of the iPhone. Finally, my beagleboard embedded dev kit runs android as well pointing to a rich future in interactive embedded applications.

  • Anonymous November 5, 2010 on 2:35 am

    Fandroids are just so cute.

  • oldfrog November 5, 2010 on 3:34 am

    Android is open, but the devices aren’t.

  • Roy Benson November 5, 2010 on 4:45 am

    Because of the fragmented hardware configurations that developers would have to deal with on the Android OS, Windows Mobile 7 will slowly take over what Androids market share. WinMo 7 is easier to develop for and there already exists a large base of Windows Developers ready to create apps for the WinMo 7. Because of Microsoft Installed OS base, Android will start to struggle as many Windows developers port their apps to WinMo 7 and the Juggernaut WinMo 8. With that in mind, however, the next generation Iphone will stay a step ahead of WinMo 8 because of it’s huge lead in market share and developer base. – Microsoft employee.

    • Etienne Savard Roy Benson November 5, 2010 on 4:21 pm

      Are you really serious or are you trolling?

      Yeah right, wait for WinMo7 Service Pack 2, the best thing since slice bread. Microsoft’s FUD.

  • aragon78 November 5, 2010 on 1:34 pm

    “Thanks to Google, we have been saved from Apple hegemony.”

    Of course competition is good, but this is another GOOGLE victory…
    Google OS, Google webbrowser, Google documents, YouTube, GMail… Google is a fabulous company offering fabulous service but in fact being saved from Apple to be eaten by the too big Google is not wishable either…

    Making the giant even bigger 🙁

    • Cybermancer aragon78 November 6, 2010 on 12:24 pm

      Seconded. The whole article sounds pretty single sided. Too many aspects are conveniently left out or simply ignored.

    • tseuG aragon78 November 8, 2010 on 9:42 pm

      oooh the big bad google hiding under your bed again? please… and google victories… let’s see:
      Google Web browser: with a very small amount of users… hardly a victory
      Google documents: Yeah i heard Microsoft is using it to make their market share spreadsheets nowadays…

      Hey everybody! Lets hate on google because they give us great stuff for free… It seems like some people can never be satisfied…

  • Jeremy November 5, 2010 on 4:35 pm

    You know, it kind of surprises me that Google hasn’t tried to turn around and parody this:

  • The Future Times November 10, 2010 on 5:53 pm

    I would hardly say Android is “crushing” the iPhone. There’s no one cell phone that comes even close to the sales of the iPhone. Sure there are a bunch with Android, and I’m sure Android will enjoy much success, but it’s just an operating system. Without a great company like Apple behind it, it’s just another phone. As for open source, it’s got it’s benefits and it’s drawbacks. Siding with open source against proprietary technology is like saying you should only get food in supermarkets and never in restaurants.

    • Jay M. Bakes The Future Times May 17, 2011 on 7:30 am

      “but it’s just an operating system.”

      Isn’t that what Apple said in the 80s? That’s the point. Google is going to control the space with software and not hardware.

      And all this explosive growth Apple has seen is coming to an end. Again. How are they supposed to keep achieving that when their market share continues to decline? And make no mistake, it is. Even in Tablets, Google (Android) is taking over the Tablet space even faster than it did with Smartphones.

      It’ll be the same thing as the 90s. Anemic Mac growth. You’ll see Anemic Iphone growth, Ipad growth. And that all means tanking share prices for a company that offers no dividend and bases itself as a growth stock.

  • Rob November 18, 2010 on 6:49 am

    I notice you repeated yourself with each paragraph… evangelizing Android and shunning iOS… one way to keep talking I guess…
    Soo… what about the carriers customizing the Android front end… installing their proprietary apps? Modifying the Android GUI… or perhaps locking particular services until the contract ends… and it’s different for each carrier globally… fragmented? They also prescribe to different Android builds.. fragmentation? Some do some don’t allow upgrades until contract termination.. fragmentation??
    Or perhaps the same overriding authority Google have to remove an app, it’s quietly buried in the conditions… walled garden?
    Or perhaps developer’s full access to private data on the phone, private API’s the average user has no idea about… or perhaps the trojan seeding via the browser or app…

    As for sales numbers… take any INDIVIDUAL manufacturer and they are crushed… or perhaps compare OS activations as a whole… it’s a different tune…

    And as for innovation… well looking at the patent trails it’s pretty clear as soon as an Apple patent on a particular feature is granted and published it takes only a few months before Google taps a parts manufacturer for it’s inclusion…

    Let forget that the moot ‘Walled Garden’ ideology patent was recently applied for by Microsoft… now that’s funny!

  • Seth January 11, 2011 on 11:06 pm

    If you are old enough to remember the Apple ][ and Lisa, then you will remember a time when Apple dominated the personal computer market. And then, along came IBM and Microsoft … and all of a sudden the ecosystem changed. Hundreds of companies came to the fore, surrounding Apple with choices of hardware, from complete systems, to system boards, to separate components from which one could build a complete computer system, and Apples fortunes went through a sudden reversal. The Apple iPhone/iPad vs. Google Android battle is a repetition of that … and the forces of choice, once again, will win over the controlled environment of the closed Apple ecosystem. Choice is a wonderful thing. Choice is powerful. The best gift once can receive is the gift of choice.