iPhone vs Android is not PC vs Mac
Google officially announced the Nexus One today, and it seems pretty cool. I haven’t had a chance to play with one yet, but by most accounts, it’s worth checking out. I believe it will be a successful device, along with the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris. However, there seems to be a lot of sentiment that this is playing out like the PC vs Mac wars a decade or so ago, and that slowly app developers (and in-turn users) will all gravitate towards the more open Android platform. The argument is that Microsoft excelled because it was hardware agnostic and did not control the ecosystem (thus allowing it to innovate), whereas Macs struggled because they controlled the entire experience (here’s a good take on this). In the mobile marketplace, the argument continues, Android will eventually win out because it’s completely open. Never mind the over simplicity (i.e. Jobs left, the hardware started to suck, etc.), there are some good parallels to make the analogy fit.
I, however, completely disagree. This market is much, much more nuanced. The reason is that there are two major differences between different phones that affect user behavior – input mechanism and screen size. For example, here’s a list of the different screen resolutions for Android devices:
800 x 480
600 x 800
320 x 480
240 x 320
854 x 480
240 x 400
1024 x 600
And Android is only now becoming popular. Some Android devices have keyboards, some are touch only, some have pointers, some have extra buttons, and some have sensors others don’t. With the computer, everyone had a similar keyboard and mouse. Users had different size monitors, but the big difference was that you could get away with cropping and not using the entire monitor for computer apps. On a phone, where the screen is already so small, not using the entire space is much more significant.
This is the same issue that plagues Blackberry right now (well, that and terrible API implementation/documentation). Whether it’s the Curve, Bold, Pearl, and so on, every device has a different resolution, and so apps need to be tailored appropriately. I’m not the first to realize this is an issue (official Android documentation and another post). The iPhone, on the other hand, has one screen resolution 320 x 480, and one input mechanism, touchscreen.
That all said, I believe that Android will thrive, but it won’t be the same way as Mac vs PC. Bill Gurley’s piece (a must-read, in my opinion) begins to get at the nuanced differences, but Android is still a smartphone platform, which puts it head-to-head with the iPhone. It is very lucrative for manufacturers and carriers to use Android instead of paying a licensing fee (they actually receive ad revenue share for using Android). But for consumers and users of apps on both devices? I still think the iPhone will be a better experience.
Two additional interesting factors to consider – if feature phones (i.e. non-smartphones) begin to adopt Android in full-scale, and the continued success of the iPod Touch and iTunes store (remember, you can’t use your iTunes music on a non-Apple device).