Apple’s iOS Development Manifesto: Are They Afraid of Android?

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.

3 comments

  1. Always remember, iOS isn’t just iPhone… in fact that’s a much smaller market compared to iPod Touch for app developers. Until other companies start making something that has sales comparable to the iPod touch, developers won’t be flocking to make apps for something with such a small market share. I think because of this the apps will be designed for iOS and porting to Android will always be on the back burner.

    1. True, this is something I hadn’t put too much into the equation. I think it’s especially true for games and utility programs – stuff that doesn’t depend on a persistent Internet connection. But usage patterns on these common platforms are starting to vary a lot like they do with PCs- I want very different things from my internet-connected cell phone that fits in my pocket and my (as of yet hypothetical) slate PC. I think it’s quite telling how Apple offers a cell radio for the iPad.
      Apple has done a really good job at getting an early and solid headstart with a superior product in all of these verticals (PMP… Smartphone… Slate…) but I think the fragmentation not only in device formats but in use patterns levels the playing field a lot. It’s happening least of all in gaming, but we’re already seeing a lot of innovative, never-before-done software hit Android first because of its advantages.

      1. I’m really curious, what are some of the never-before-done software on the Android?

        When you leave games out of the equation, it makes much more sense for developers to be making web apps rather than device native apps… this way you get the flexibility to work on any device with little to no changes. Even if the Android comes up with something that is “new” *most* implementations are just going to be gimmicky, it’s even true on iOS. Take the “new” gyroscope for example, not really a use for it in anything… most games with more than one control axis of the accelerometer aren’t very popular(except for maybe Zen Bound and Labyrinth). For the most part users complain about accelerometer controls. I’ve yet to see a non game app that uses the accelerometer in any useful way.

        Maybe I’m wrong and some crazy app will come up with some creative way to use the gyroscope(or any “new” feature) that isn’t a gimmick, but I’d bet against it.

        IMO Apple’s success with iOS is almost entirely on the App Store, they have a HUGE user base with registered credit cards via iTunes, so they came up with some devices to sell them more stuff. They just added books into the picture with the iPad, I’m sure they are going to be finding new things to sell to their users. They might not have the best offerings for whatever they are involved with, but they will probably have the most users willing to make a purchase. Wherever there is money, you’re going to see the most time invested by developers/artists/writers/whatever.

        I wish this wasn’t the case though… I just can’t see Android making that big of a dent into Apple’s maketshare… they might catch up or even surpass Apple in phone sales, but it’s all about users willing to purchase stuff. Just imagine if Amazon or even Facebook made a phone… that would stir things up 😀

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