This caught my eye- Apple has released a new video featuring the full gamut of iPhone and iPad application developers, from tiny shops to tech startups to media giants. While I think it’s overall not too remarkable – merely an ad presenting the strengths of Apple’s development platform for mobile devices – I do think it very clearly presents Apple’s approach to the mobile market.
Seeing this video makes me wonder about Apple’s competitive strategy in the quickly evolving mobile device markets. In 2007, they forced the lazy rulers of the cellphone market to start innovating again – and now they’ve finally caught up and started producing high-quality phones, some of whose features apply to many niches better than the “one-size-fits-all” iPhone. Though not #1 in smartphone share, iOS (previously called iPhone OS) certainly dominates among those using their phones for more than SMS and e-mail. But has domination ever been Apple’s strategy? Since Jobs’ return to Apple, the company has shown no ambition to kill the competition; I think they in fact benefit from having competing products around to make the case of Apple products’ superiority. And while the iPhone and iPod certainly lead in their markets, OS X certainly doesn’t – and the three use Apple’s same approach to producing highly-polished combinations of hardware and software.
I’ve maintained that 2010 would be the year of the Android phone, and I think that so far things are turning out that way. Not in terms of an “iPhone killer,” but in terms of a serious competitor. The growth of Android devices, market share, and applications have all exploded, and the Android Marketplace is quickly evolving from a ragtag group of ugly tech utilities to genuinely amazing ones that contend with some of the best iPhone apps. I wonder how Apple views Android now, especially in the light of this video, which takes several shots at perceived downsides to the Android platform. It’s certainly true that today, iOS delivers the biggest return on investment for development work. But where will things go in the future? There are some critical differences in the platforms which affect their potential:
- Apple’s AT&T exclusivity in the US
- Approach to usability: Apple picks form & ease of use; Android says, “why not have an annoying menu button if it gives you access to a bunch more features?”
- Android’s double-edged differentiation sword: can better target various niches, but also introduces fragmentation and compatibility concerns for developers
- OEM and Developer innovation: On Android, new features can be created just about anywhere, anytime; iOS waits for others to innovate and then introduces a way to “do it right”
I don’t think most of these things are “X is better than Y” values but inherent differences in the appeal of different platforms. As an owner of both kinds of devices, I think we’re going to see Android push smartphone penetration to all kinds of new market segments, and be the new platform for innovation. I see iOS as a major player for the long term, though probably not hanging on to its current dominance of high-end smartphones. There’s plenty of room for both moving ahead, and the only thing that’s certain is that everyone gets more options in their search for the device that best meets their needs.