Apple iPhone Android
As always, let’s start off with some facts. First off, many people refer to Android (aka the Droid) as if it is a single device. In actuality, Android is the software operating system written by Google and freely licensed to hardware manufacturers for use on their mobile devices. So when you buy a smart phone running Android, you are buying a device created by a company like Samsung, HTC, etc… running software written by Google. Similarly, iOS is the software operating system written by Apple and only running on Apple’s hardware devices like iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
Having said that, there is an old saying that “History Repeats Itself.” 25 years ago when Apple and Microsoft were fighting over the desktop computer market a similar comparison could have been made. Apple had their Mac Operating System that only ran on Apple computers while Microsoft had their Windows Operating System that ran on thousands of computers from different manufacturers. To this day, I tend to defend Microsoft when people complain about Microsoft’s software being buggy etc… Microsoft chose to solve a much harder problem than Apple. Microsoft wrote an operating system that had to work on many different computers, which is a much harder problem to solve than Apple having an operating system that just runs on their own computers. So Apple controlled the software and the hardware. Microsoft was also the first to strike in this business so they had the upper hand from the get go. The resulting outcome was Microsoft being one of the most financially successful companies in history while still having a reputation for buggy software.
The next question I have to ask is how does a consumer measure success? As a consumer, do we care which company is solving the harder problem or which has more money? The answer is a resounding NO! We care about what technology can do for us. This stance is exaggerated in the mobile computing space we are playing in today. In the Microsoft vs Apple days, the computers were tethered to the power outlet on the wall which took the delicate balance between performance and battery life off the table. Today, we are walking around with powerful mobile computing devices in our pockets that we demand last us the entire day while still giving us an amazing end user experience.
Today, Apple is solving the Apple problem of old and Google is solving the Microsoft problem of old. Apple writes their iOS specifically for their own devices which gives them total control over the end user experience. This is evident in some decisions Apple has made. For example, when iOS 4.0 was released, Apple announced that it would not be compatible with the first generation iPhone or iPod Touch. Users of these devices complained without considering that Apple did this because the end user experience on those older devices running a newer operating system was not acceptable by Apple standards. Similarly, the older devices that iOS 4.0 is compatible with have certain features disabled to guarantee an acceptable end-user experience.
Google, on the other hand writes their software independent of the hardware it will be running on. Google Android runs on mobile devices with a wide range of processing speeds, screen sizes, screen resolutions, features like still frame cameras, front or rear facing video cameras, battery size, physical keyboard, touch screen keyboard, both kinds of keyboards, etc… This is a really hard problem to solve and the end user suffers because of it. Google, like Microsoft, has done an amazingly great job of solving this incredibly hard problem. Consumers, however, care about what is in it for them.
Consumers are being manipulated by marketing campaigns into thinking that Android is better, more powerful, etc… Uninformed consumers respond to phrases like “Multi-tasking” with amazement and shunned Apple for being late to the game with this feature. For the record, Multi-tasking refers to the ability of a device to be able to run multiple programs simultaneously. This is something we have become accustomed to on our desktop computers, but again in the mobile space we need to be concerned with battery life. The fact is that Android supports a traditional multi-tasking model where programs that are running in the background are using system resources like the processor, memory, graphics subsystem, and battery. Android users out there are well aware of watching their battery life drain in short periods of time. After talking to a buddy they might be introduced to an Android app that kills off background apps to keep them from using system resources. To state this simply, Android supports multi-tasking that kills your battery life and the solution is a program that undoes the multi-tasking feature so that only the program you are using is utilizing system resources. Ironic isn’t it?
iOS on the other hand implemented a multi-tasking model that broke down the various things people might want to multi-task (listening to music in the background, etc…) into parts so that each application could take advantage of some or none of those things. The result of this is background applications using the minimum amount of system resources necessary to do what they need to do. iOS provides significantly better battery life than Android per device size. There are reports out there that state otherwise, but these reports don’t disclose that the Android device tested is 2 -3 times thicker than the iPhone and thus having a much larger battery. I could make an Android device last a week if I strapped a car battery to my back and tethered it to the device. Consumers just need to ensure they are comparing all aspects of a device for comparison.
Long story short, if you want the best end user experience today in a mobile device you want an iPhone (pocket size phone & computer), iPod Touch (pocket size computer), or iPad (tablet size computer). There are going to be arguments that Android allows the technical user to modify the device in interesting ways allowing you to do some specialized things. This is true, but the average user wants a device that just works and does everything they need it to do without hassle. My stance is that iOS is #1 in the mobile operating system market and Google Android is a weak #2. Having said this, if there is a company that can compete with Apple in the mobile space, it is Google. While I predict that Apple will remain the industry leader in the mobile space moving forward, I also predict that Google will become a much stronger #2 and will greatly improve their end-user experience over the next year to the point that we will need to revisit this discussion and re-evaluate our findings.
Dr. Michael Litman
President & CEO