Pain Is A Gift

May 27th, 2010

Fans of Apple’s iPhone and iPad platforms should be thrilled by the exciting news coming out of Google last week.

At the company’s I/O conference they announced Android 2.2, or “Froyo,” a significant update to their mobile phone OS. The open platform powers many of the iPhone’s most viable competitors, including the Verizon Droid, and Google’s own Nexus One.

Why is this good for the iPhone? Because it’s doomed without a proper competitor, and thus far, it’s been lacking one. What happens to fighters who nobody spars with? Regardless of size, skill, or strength of weapon, they end up flopping about the arena alone. Never defeated, but never victorious.

Apple came out swinging with the launch of iPhone in 2007, and has done an admirable job of shadowboxing: enhancing the device and expanding the platform with iPod touch and iPad. In the absence of serious competition Apple’s legendary paranoia has served some of the same function, but grit and independence of vision will only get you so far.

The details of Android 2.2 are not that interesting to me. What’s important and inspiring is that they are iterating on the product, and not throwing their arms up in defeat. Google lets us know they will not be sitting this round out, and their fighting posture sends a message to Apple, and to the world: the iPhone is assailable.

In order for Apple to benefit from this fight, they need to zero in on the qualities of Android that actually pose a threat. Sam Pullara attempted to give them a hand, by identifying Android 2.2’s lightning-fast Java VM as a potentially deadly blow. I think Sam is overstating the performance overhead in Objective-C. The language’s message-dispatch features have been so finely-tuned by Apple that any criticisms should come pre-loaded with proof of specific performance problems.

Even if we assume that Android’s fast VM does trump Objective-C for speed, is it meaningful to the competition? Duncan Davidson, an excellent photographer who happens to also be a legendary Java expert, says no:

“A faster VM will certainly help things out. But Android’s eventual fate will have little to do with how fast the VM is or how long method dispatches take on the iPhone. Instead, it’ll have to do with harder things like user experience, service plans, interoperability, and excellent applications.”

By most accounts, Android phones still fail to match iPhone when it comes to all those things that Apple does best: simplicity, attractiveness, and refinement of the user experience. But Google knows there is much about Android that pleases: more features, and fewer limitations. They’re using this allure to push the Nexus One on folks who would otherwise be naturally aligned with the iPhone.

The flow of free phones out of Google is measurable by the amount of surprising, casual-switcher chatter I’m seeing on Twitter and in blogs. I got one email from a colleague who announced, “I’m switching to a Nexus One for the week, so please use my Google Voice number to contact me.” If somebody is switching phone platforms, and they know in advance that it’s only a 1-week trial, there’s a good bet they didn’t pay for the phone.

The free-phone strategy is working, prompting fair feedback from folks who nonetheless find plenty of negatives to criticize. Justin Williams demonstrates this with his guarded praise:

“Android is certainly a capable smartphone operating system. In fact, if the iPhone never existed, it’d be pretty great.”

The fact that its greatness hinges on the iPhone not existing is a problem, but it also underscores that iPhone is the primary challenge to Android’s success. Even though Justin stops short of declaring Android a winner over iPhone, he concedes that he’ll probably keep using it until the 4G iPhone is released.

Mike Ash offers similarly candid feedback:

“First full day with the Nexus One. Verdict: substantially uglier, harder to use, but VASTLY more powerful than an iPhone.”

This impression from Mike fits perfectly into the marketing message from Google and its mobile allies. I barely watch any television, and even I know that evidently “Droid Does.” The world is more thuggish than frilly, more impressed by strength than finesse, and this message will work. Android is the gigantic, Dunkin Donuts Coffee Coolatta to Apple’s dainty espresso cup. Still, if you’re only going to offer a couple advantages over the iPhone, power and freedom are not poor choices.

As John Gruber points out, even if Android or another platform takes a dominant position, it doesn’t necessarily spell disaster for the iPhone. Apple’s advantage, as demonstrated by the Mac, is they don’t need to serve the masses to succeed:

“Apple could positively thrive with a long-term mobile market share of, say, 20-25 percent” … “In the phone industry today — all mobile phones, not just smartphones — Nokia sells more than 10 times as many units as Apple, but Apple generates more profit.”

Playing the underdog suits Apple well. I have enjoyed, as a fan and stockholder, their success over the past several years, but it’s changed them. From a company that balanced its own ideals against the demands of developers and competitors, to one that holds a firehose to repel all naysayers.

The risk to Apple is not in losing the masses, but in losing the faithful core. In their unchallenged position, Apple made a lot of right decisions, but they also made mistakes, particularly in the form of political moves that limit what developers can distribute on the platform. These restrictions are done in the name of quality control, but anybody who has browsed the App Store knows that all this autonomy has done little to stem the flow of trashy, embarrassing apps.

What they have done is alienated developers, and ultimately deprived users of software they want to see on the platform. My fear is these botched decisions are hurting Apple, but they aren’t feeling it. Pain is a gift: the signal that prevents a burned finger tip from becoming a body engulfed in flames. Apple is numb from success, and I hope the emerging competition from Google and others will re-sensitize them to the threat of failure.

Google’s Android is the best challenge yet to the political and technical decisions made by Apple for its iPhone and related products. I welcome the challenge, and look forward to Apple’s scrappier, revitalized retaliation.

38 Responses to “Pain Is A Gift”

  1. DGentry Says:

    Do you plan to try an Android phone yourself, to see how the other half lives?

    I won’t ask if you’d ever expect to develop products for Android: the technology stack is so different that would be an enormous commitment.

  2. britmic Says:

    I’ve been using Swype on my Nexus One – for my working patterns this is a killer app for me. Never gonna see Swype on iPhone? Therefore, you’ll never see me on iPhone either.

    http://www.swypeinc.com/

  3. John Nack Says:

    Really well said, Daniel. I don’t have any non-banal insights to offer, but competition really does help keep everyone honest.

  4. Anne K. Says:

    Wow, you totally nailed it. Excellent and well-said article.

  5. Aristotelis Says:

    Very nice article, thank you.
    It’s nice to read an objective opinion that goes beyond the heated war of Apple VS Google. I’m an Apple fanboy and I enjoyed it.

    I only disagree with one point. I often read that the iPhone app store is full of trash but I don’t really see it. Sure in the hundreds of thousands of application for iPhone you will find probably tons of badly made and designed apps, but what everybody uses, what is seen and what stays on the top of the app store categories. What is usually proposed by the “genius” and what is discussed on the net, are usually amazingly designed apps.

    I find top iPhone apps to usually be even better than OSX desktop apps and let’s just don’t compare them with Windows applications. This is what pushes the iPhone in the hands of consumers and this is probably what still maintains Apple “arrogant”. Apps of other mobile OS, android included, are usually much uglier and of lower quality. No, scratch “usually” and replace with always.

  6. Justin Williams Says:

    Having used an Android phone for a week, I really do think its a good exercise for any iPhone/iPad developer to become acquainted with. I have a completely different perspective on Android now than I did a week ago.

    I just wish I’d gotten a free phone from Google like everyone else in the world instead of shelling out a big wad of cash for my experiment!

  7. Eoin Says:

    Good article, however you are underestimating the challenge that Android has. Firstly the Droid may be fast, but not all Android machines are fast, and in fact about 35% are running 1.x, 2.2 runs only on the top end hardware. On that subject the 4G phone is going to rock, as it will effectively be a small iPad. And the iPad screams. That said: the hardware on the Android devices is pretty impressive, particularly RAM; Apple should address that selling the 4G with different RAM offerings.

    So lets fast forward to 2012 when Gartner says that Android will surpass the iPhone – which remains in 3rd, and BlackBerry falls to 5th. Is the iPhone OS still a mass developer market. Answer yes, because the iPhone OS also runs in the iPod touch which now has the same installed base as the iPhone. And there’s the iPad – effectively a mobile device – and the inevitable middle sized paper back sized device which will be an in-betweener.

    Add all of that iPhone OS will be about 50% of the total (phone and non-phone) mobile market. Then there is the fragmentation to worry about in Android – the Nexus does not have proper multi-touch, some android phones have keyboards, not all run the latest OS, not all automatically update, there are different client versions of the UI. Yes the iPad is a different form factor so the UI has to be re-worked but nothing else. In general iPhone owners upgrade when possible.

    Then there is the fact that the lower end Android free machines will not be capable of the latest, and their owners less interested in purchasing apps, if at all. Because it was free. More a phone than a smart phone to them.

    So in terms of app downloads and purchases – the iPhone will be ahead, as it is now ahead of Nokia though Nokia is ahead of it in unit hardware sales.

    So dont give up the day job :-)

  8. John C. Welch Says:

    As soon as you’re arguing Java VM vs ObjC overhead, you’re not even close to talking to the real world. That is, the world of people who want a phone that does what they need, and don’t care what the geek down the street says. In fact, they’d be happier if he’d stop talking to them at all.

    By most accounts, Android phones still fail to match iPhone when it comes to all those things that Apple does best: simplicity, attractiveness, and refinement of the user experience. But Google knows there is much about Android that pleases: more features, and fewer limitations. They’re using this allure to push the Nexus One on folks who would otherwise be naturally aligned with the iPhone.

    and service. and support. by the end of 2010 or so, Google won’t be selling phones, only the carriers will.

    Given the history of how carriers rat-fuck their customers, (*especially* Verizon), does anyone not see the problem with this? Do you really think that a Verizon, an AT&T or a Sprint will not force you to pay through the nose for everything? Yeah. Trusting carriers is about as smart as trusting a serial killer.

    On the support front, Google is a mess. They don’t have a support structure for anyone other than *massive* Google Apps customers, (if you aren’t paying, no, you don’t count) or adwords buyers. Everyone else gets told to go use a web group. So, 100% of your Android support?

    Mailing lists, Google groups, and carriers.

    Apple? Oh, they slip up rather a lot, but being able to just go get your phone fixed or replaced? Being able to call someone for help? Genius bar?

    Geeks may poo-poo this, but for regular people? That internet group shit will.not.fly. So, basically, support-wise you’re at the mercy of the carriers.

    The risk to Apple is not in losing the masses, but in losing the faithful core. In their unchallenged position, Apple made a lot of right decisions, but they also made mistakes, particularly in the form of political moves that limit what developers can distribute on the platform. These restrictions are done in the name of quality control, but anybody who has browsed the App Store knows that all this autonomy has done little to stem the flow of trashy, embarrassing apps.

    If this is true, if restricting what you can do on a platform is death for it, can anyone explain why people develop for the PS3? The Xbox? The Wii? You think the App Store terms are “draconian”? Go see what you have to go through to get Nintendo to talk to you about becoming a Wii dev.

    Hell, Sony killed alternative OS’s on the PS3. Other than a handful of geeks, no one cared. They sell as well, or as not, as ever. So if you consider the iPhone not as some kind of bizarro Mac, but as Apple’s version of a console, that open issue takes on new, and far less significant meaning. Face it, outside of of a very small group of people, (and not even all developers mind you), no one really cares. As long as their stuff works, they don’t care. If they did, game consoles would have stayed dead after the first great crash in the 80s.

    And, consoles bring money to the people who create for it, with far fewer piracy issues. You want to be open, sure, Android’s your game. you want to make real money, it’s the App Store. Apple customers are willing to pay for their stuff, far more than the FSF contingent.

    So who is apple going to lose? What core? The core of people who just want stuff that works, and some decent support? hardly. The core of people who want to be feted and have their bums kissed regularly? Probably, but who cares.

    What they have done is alienated developers, and ultimately deprived users of software they want to see on the platform.

    Based on what? Not actual data. The WWDC, which is primarily an iPhone conference this year sold out in eight days. It’s never come close to that before. Ever. iPhone/iPod Touch sales are through the roof, and so are iPad sales.

    So who is getting alienated and deprived? Not the pragmatists, and not the majority of developers and customers.

    Maybe folks need to go spend more time with people who don’t care about technology any more than they care about their toasters. It’s a vastly different world outside of the tech bubble.

  9. Perpetuity Says:

    “From a company that balanced its own ideals against the demands of developers and competitors, to one that holds a firehose to repel all naysayers.”

    I just don’t see this firehose pointed at all critique.

    They certainly are still secret, but, there aren’t any public firehouses.

    Examples?

  10. noname Says:

    Apple improved Mac OS X from 2001-onwards without any
    visible competition.
    Same would happen regardless of Google.
    All Google is doing is trying big boy potty.
    Once Apple and Microsoft sue all the manufactures
    for patent, Google will see how hard it is to go against
    somebody else turf.
    Only people who think ads are free and privacy doesn’t matter
    are going to love google.

  11. rd Says:

    What you are really crying about is that
    developer power is diminished because of iPhone.
    Obviously as a Mac developer you didn’t care about
    other platform. but all of sudden, you are scared
    that Apple will be dictatorial when it comes to iPhone.
    You actually believe in B.S about open and freedom.
    How quaint.

    [EDITOR: Note, in case it's not obvious by the formatting and tone, this comment and the previous one are both by the same, anonymous (even in the privately submitted email address) person.]

  12. addicted Says:

    Most measures seem to point to the simple fact that Android is available on all carriers as the major benefit the Android ecosystem has.

    Where they compete directly, Android is getting trounced.

    Unfortunately, the set of places where they compete directly is too small to tell if this is the only reason for iPhones success over Android in this case.

  13. bunnyhero Says:

    @britmic: shapewriter is similar to swype and it’s available on iPhone. http://www.shapewriter.com/

  14. Tim Meyer Says:

    I would add one more to @John Welch’s finely crafted points:

    “Droid Does” appeals mostly to male geeks which is in fact who buy the Android phones. Google runs the risk of never going mainstream with this message. The art of balancing functions with emotions and targeting a broad audience is one of Apple’s secret sauces.

  15. Qzp Says:

    I have a Nexus One that I got for free. Permanently, not on loan. I still use my paid-for iPhone by choice. Frankly, I could find nothing I liked better about android. Maybe by some technical measure it’s more powerful, but not in any way that was apparent to me as a user. The interface is awful, the apps are mediocre to awful and the hardware is only “ok.” the openness argument doesn’t do much for me either. I understand why it may be better on paper, but here in the real world, the iPhone still has way more and way better apps. That might change in the future, but the gap is huge. I honestly don’t see any reason for a regular person (not an ubergeek or open source wingnut) to buy an android phone over the iPhone today unless they have a severe carrier restriction.

  16. Ryszard Says:

    Cudos to you, John C. Welch. Your response to the article is even better, more thoughtfully reasoned, than the article itself.

    One comment re the article. I find it curious how tech bloggers keep using the Nexus One as an example of a successful competitor to the iPhone. As a sales, market penetration example all indications are that it was a total failure.

  17. Splashman Says:

    @John C. Welch, thank you for a dose of reality. Myopia is rampant in the dev community.

  18. leef Says:

    It’s hard to give up something you’ve become accustomed to, especially when the settings UI on iPhone are much prettier than Android settings UI. But it’s been maybe a month since I’ve used my iPhone, having switched to Android in favor of it’s freedom’s give to developers. The other day I used my iPhone ( running the OS4 beta ) to test some HTML5 sites, and it felt like a child’s toy. I couldn’t wait to turn it back off & get back to Android.

    I think once you’ve been weened from 3 years of usage because there wasn’t viable competition, I think you’ll find Android is a much more enjoyable device to use. My 2 cents, I know we’re all different, and I also wish Android’s settings UI was prettier like the iPhone.

  19. Tom Says:

    What they have done is alienated *some* developers.
    Have they ultimately deprived users of software they want to see on the platform? If it’s a seven niche that will make money you may well see alternatives.
    Maybe it’s less that the bother decisions are hurting Apple but thy’re not feeling t, but that they’re not showing the pain too much. We’ve seen both Phil Schiller intervene earlier about App Store issues & Steve the CEO interact directly on multiple issues.

    We’re seeing Apple basically in the hushed wind-up to their yearly WWDC conference. Its likely good to wait till post-WWDC to put the I/O conference in context.

    I’d agree that Google’s Android is the best challenge yet to iPhone and related products.
    Google’s approach is complementary to Apple’s – you cant go half hearted into a decision like banning cross-compilers. Curated and closed vs open – fully committing to their decision is a good thing for Apple.
    Underpromise, over deliver – Google did that with Froyo. A few parts of I/O were much more future facing, a few parts were fully defensive –
    Apple has an opportunity to do what happened to Tony Stark in Iron Man 2 – show Google could be mortal in advertising. Would we have seen Google reiterate their ad Market at I/O or pub their mobile ad upcoming changes if Apple hadn’t pushed with their ad work?
    I welcome the challenge, and look forward to Apple’s scrappier, revitalized retaliation.

  20. Marc Says:

    I don’t think Apple reacts to competition the way most companies do. They specifically seek out markets where they don’t have to comptete — that’s their strategy. Apple’s best competition is itself (see the best-Serling iPod mini replaced by iPad nano). So Apple isn’t feeling “pain” from Google. Apple has their own strategy and is going to stick with it, come hell or high water.

    John C. Welch is right on.

  21. phlidd Says:

    Android is a fresh alternative that needed to happen and is very welcome judging from thier current US market share?. Not everyone craves over polished simplicity. I recently switched to android after years of using an iphone and being able to simply access the phone’s file structure was a great thing. Agreeably android is slightly rougher around the edges but in terms of current and potential extended functionality, it’s really stirring things up.

    I wish people would also stop comparing mobile OS’s to Game Consoles. Game Consoles have one primary function; Games. A smartphone has a vast array of possible functions which require good software. Apple’s made some bad decisions recently, upsetting their very own developer community, and for what? Well, Profit and market dominance. You wonder why the WWDC this year sold out? It’s because everyone would love to be making $1000 a day from the app store, but once a lot of developers realize what their up against, many will give up.

    And don’t be hatin’.. At the end of the day, geeks are the people that make all this technology a reality. Apple should stop trying to throw it’s arms around the world and remember where they’re coming from in the first place.

    I reckon there’s enough room for Apples and Googles and I’n sure we’ll be seeing a bunch of great products from both parties.

    PS: After using macs for over 10 years I can safely say Apple customer care can be a truly awful experience.

  22. John C. Welch Says:

    I wish people would also stop comparing mobile OS’s to Game Consoles. Game Consoles have one primary function; Games. A smartphone has a vast array of possible functions which require good software. Apple’s made some bad decisions recently, upsetting their very own developer community, and for what? Well, Profit and market dominance. You wonder why the WWDC this year sold out? It’s because everyone would love to be making $1000 a day from the app store, but once a lot of developers realize what their up against, many will give up.

    Really? so i’m not also watching blu-ray movies on my PS3? Nor am i streaming audio and video to it from my Mac? and all those people using their Xboxes and PS3s for media consoles, they’re not really doing that?

    Wow, all those people who are doing non-game things with their game consoles will be pretty shocked to find out that all they’ve been doing is playing a game that simulates non-gaming functions.

    You might want to take a closer look at the current state of game consoles. they’ve progressed a tad since the VCS.

  23. John C. Welch Says:

    And don’t be hatin’.. At the end of the day, geeks are the people that make all this technology a reality. Apple should stop trying to throw it’s arms around the world and remember where they’re coming from in the first place.

    yeah. Sony and Microsoft both said that about the Wii and the DS for
    not embracing gamers enough and not having the features that gamers want.

    Hoo, boy, they sure were right. The Wii was SUCH a flop.

    PS: After using macs for over 10 years I can safely say Apple customer care can be a truly awful experience.

    customer service can indeed suck. it can also be good. but to be either, it has to exist. Google has none, so they lose in that department.

  24. Qzp Says:

    Leef, are you a developer or a user? If you’re a developer, fine, I get it. But as a user, I truly don’t. Buying a phone for the freedom it gives developers is like buying a car for the contracts the manufacturer has with it’s parts suppliers. If they result in a better car, fine. But in this case, I don’t think they do.

    I actually used my nexus one for almost six weeks before going back to the iPhone. Plenty of time to get used to it. I still felt that it was dramatically inferior. If the supposed advantages were actually apparent in use, they may have offset some of the disadvantages. But IMHO they weren’t

    Finally, “the other platform is a child’s toy” thing wore out around 1986 in the mac vs pc debate. It’s bs and it doesn’t add any value to the discussion.

  25. Bob Thomas Says:

    I have to agree with John Welch. Do you have inside knowledge to say that Apple isn’t feeling the pain? I’m sure they have a team of people working to compete with these other companies.

    I also don’t see it hurting any developers. If an Action Script guru really wants to release an iPhone app, they can learn Objective-C. It looks like a few of the long time (or longer than most) Mac developers are getting their feelings hurt by certain things. While I respect all of them dearly, there is a trove of over 100,000 new iPhone developers. Sure that number will drop over time and I imagine some of them will even go over to Mac development. The iPhone has enabled countless companies to exist today and they haven’t been hurt by anything. Most of them could probably care less about these new restrictions Apple imposes.

    This post is sensationalism at it’s best. Sensationalism is also a good way to sell software.

  26. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Folks, I really appreciate all of your comments, but try to keep your opinions civil, whether they are directed at me or another commenter.

    I have been ridiculed for years because I still allow comments on my blog. I do so because I truly appreciate the feedback, agreement and otherwise. I have been extremely lucky over the years to have such a thoughtful and respectful audience participate in these comments.

    I’d really like to keep comments going, and there are some good ones in here, but they’re being muffled by the snarky attacks.

  27. Jeff Barbose Says:

    I’m not sure it’s possible to evaluate Apple’s present without looking at its past, meaning how it got to where it is, and more importantly, *why*.

    Apple’s always had a competitor: itself. And it’s always been driven not to get where it is today, but to make better things for users.

    Being on top is a side effect, not an end-result. Weird, I know, right? :)

    If you see a firehose, it’s because Apple’s position has made it attractive for others to attempt to lord over it, ironically, to the same players that saw no reason not to lord over it because of Apple’s opposite position in the early to mid 90s.

    Adobe controlled new Apple tech back then becuase it could. Now it’s trying to do the same thing because its existence depends on it.

    That firehose is just Apple getting up in the morning and clearing off the debris and bugs off the front sidewalk.

    All that said, Apple can’t continue to expect developers to invest so much time first in app development only to find out at the end of many months that their app will never be able to see the light of day.

    Apple’s not mistreating their customers so much as their developers.

    But we developers know what’s possible to create on a Mac or an iPhone, and we know, just as we knew with Windows, that we could put our hearts and souls into doing an app for Android and it would still look like a damned Android app. Or worse, look like nothing else on the platform.

  28. John C. Welch Says:

    What Jeff said. Look, I really do agree that Apple is really bad at communication, because they just don’t do well with two-way. They really do need to come out with more information on App approval than “read the license agreement”. That *is* dumb. (however, if you think the application store approval process is obtuse, try getting operational IT info out of apple. ye. gods.)

    However, the idea that only devs and first-tier geeks matter to a platform’s survival and prosperity is, to be blunt, baloney. As long as people, the unwashed, unknowing, uncaring masses want iphones, they’re going to buy them, and they’ll do it for reasons that make no sense to geeks.

    This…highlanderism, wherein one company must own it all, or if you don’t do things exactly like [other company] you will fail has to stop. it’s wrong, it’s stupid, and most importantly, it’s wrong.

  29. Grover Says:

    Great article, and I agree that, as an iPhone owner, it’s great news that Android is finally turning into a true competitor and viable alternative. I am curious about something though…

    “deprived users of software they want to see on the platform.”

    This seems to be the common knowledge on the downsides of Apple’s development policies, but are there any examples of this in practice? Are there apps on the Android Marketplace that iPhone users wish they had?

    To be clear, I’m not asking this rhetorically or to make a point. I’m honestly asking because I’m not aware of any and I’m curious.

  30. Chris Graf Says:

    Great article. Just this morning I told a good friend that the next iPhone will probably be the last I buy if Apple and Google keep their slope of innovation at the same pace.

    Google has been extremely successful in rolling out “half-baked” products and incrementally improving them over time by learning from failure (the famous “Beta”). Right now, Apple seems a little bit too arrogant to me and their changes to the iPhone have been more a long-awaited necessity than great innovations.

    While I love both companies, I think Android phones could definitely become a iPhone replacement rather than just the second choice.

  31. Lukas Says:

    Just one note about what Welch has written: I think comparing iPhone OS devices to videogames is doing the iPhone a disservice. The implication seems to be that people complain about Apple’s control while not complaining much about consoles because they are more critical of Apple than of other companies. There is some truth to that, but I think a more important reason is that people don’t particularly care about consoles, and for good reason:

    Firstly, consoles are just entertainment, while iPhone OS devices are much more than that; we use them to manage our lives. Naturally, we care more about who controls the cell phone that contains all kinds of important data, than we care about who controls the toy we play to relax after work.

    Secondly, we can easily hook all three major consoles to our TVs, so if one company doesn’t allow a game, we can play it on another console. But nobody is going to carry several phones just to get all the apps. Well, nobody except Woz, I guess.

    Lastly, from the point of view of a developer, videogame companies at least allow us to get games approved *before* we spend a year writing them.

  32. Joe Fatzen Says:

    “Right now, Apple seems a little bit too arrogant to me and their changes to the iPhone have been more a long-awaited necessity than great innovations.”

    I don’t really see that. What I DO see is that Apple’s yearly hardware/firmware refresh cycle may be a bit too slow now, since Google can push back effectively.

    Think about WebOS and how good that was looking when it was first shown off. However, it took months to land, and was immediately outclassed by the 3GS. (Not in every way, of course, but in most.)

    Think about the G1, the tepid adoption of Android and the slow launch from the starting gate, and the not-anywhere-near-as-impressive firmware Android had in the beginning. However the firmware went through three major editions in 2009 and has a fourth one ready and raring, and once Verizon relented and made a major push with the Droid, it’s blown doors wide open on all carriers.

    I don’t see Apple as “arrogant” or sitting on their success and letting only dribbles filter through; I think they’re moving at their accustomed pace on a gameplan they’ve had laid out well ahead of time. I just think that thats’ going to be too slow now.

    I don’t think they’ll be offering a hardware refresh more than once a year (unless it’s a minor bump like memory), but they should really look into more meaty “point-5″ firmware releases at the six-month mark, so they won’t seem like they’re dragging as much, and keep a greater edge where they have an edge.

  33. John C. Welch Says:

    Google has been extremely successful in rolling out “half-baked” products and incrementally improving them over time by learning from failure (the famous “Beta”). Right now, Apple seems a little bit too arrogant to me and their changes to the iPhone have been more a long-awaited necessity than great innovations.

    Being a software-only company is handy that way. you don’t have to care about what your hardware is doing, you don’t have any. you have a spec that others build to. However, Google’s speed is causing problems for the hardware devs. They’re releasing updates that can’t run on early androids, or they’re releasing them faster than the hardware companies can keep up with. the fragmentation of the android devices is a sign of that, and it’s going to get worse once the carriers are the sole source of end-user hardware.

    Apple’s upgrade cycle is longer, but there are some benefits with that too, and they have done a FAR better job of communicating system requirements than Google is. but then again, Google *can’t* do that, because google doesn’t know. In this case, Google is indeed hewing to the Microsoft model, and they’re running into the same problems Microsoft has.

    Just one note about what Welch has written: I think comparing iPhone OS devices to videogames is doing the iPhone a disservice. The implication seems to be that people complain about Apple’s control while not complaining much about consoles because they are more critical of Apple than of other companies. There is some truth to that, but I think a more important reason is that people don’t particularly care about consoles, and for good reason:

    Firstly, consoles are just entertainment, while iPhone OS devices are much more than that; we use them to manage our lives. Naturally, we care more about who controls the cell phone that contains all kinds of important data, than we care about who controls the toy we play to relax after work.

    That’s dismissing the rather large non-game functionality that Consoles have. I own a PS3 and a Wii. While the Wii is more of what you’re describing, the PS3 is not just a game system. it’s the center of my media. If we watch movies? On the PS3. Want to have some music going for a party? Streamed through the PS3 into the entertainment system. People put their photo collections on their consoles. People put their home movies on their consoles. The console market is just a little broader than you’re implying here.

    Secondly, people rather DO care about consoles, you just don’t know about it. I happen to read that sector as well, and the arguments about specs and all the rest are just as hot and heavy as you’ll see in the computer markets.

    However, if you care about who controls your cell phone, then Android going to a carrier-only sales market should scare you dry.

    Secondly, we can easily hook all three major consoles to our TVs, so if one company doesn’t allow a game, we can play it on another console. But nobody is going to carry several phones just to get all the apps. Well, nobody except Woz, I guess.

    Really? Okay, go play Halo on your PS3. Play any mario game or Metroid Prime game on your Xbox. You want to play God of War III? You’re buying a PS3, period. Want to play Fable II? Hope you have an Xbox 360.

    Console exclusivity is far more common than you seem to be aware of, which is why so many people, myself included, own multiple consoles.

    Lastly, from the point of view of a developer, videogame companies at least allow us to get games approved *before* we spend a year writing them.

    Assuming you’re allowed to even start. Getting into the dev programs for consoles is a far more involved, and expensive process than anything the iPhone requires. And you think you get approval based on a drawing on a napkin? Getting approved requires rather a lot of work and information without knowing if you’ll be allowed to develop said game at all.

    for the Wii: http://www.warioworld.com/licenseeapplications/software/ and http://www.ehow.com/how_5033350_program-games-nintendo-wii.html

    I don’t see Apple as “arrogant” or sitting on their success and letting only dribbles filter through; I think they’re moving at their accustomed pace on a gameplan they’ve had laid out well ahead of time. I just think that thats’ going to be too slow now.

    given the rampant problems with figuring out if your phone will support the next version of Android that maaaany people are having, google may have to slow down.

  34. Brent Gulanowski Says:

    As long as a platform is viable, it will have good developers writing quality product for it. By viable, I just mean that it has a large user base and sufficiently functional tools and on-board functionality.

    If Android (or another platform) makes some kind of leap in hardware with which Apple, due to patents or some other obstacle, cannot keep up, then Apple will lose market share. If a competing platform offers a significantly superior selection of functionality or significantly reduced price, Apple will lose market share. But the talk about “core” is simply meaningless.

    Every society and culture and every subculture has turnover. Todays elite will be gone tomorrow, replaced by others, and the world will keep turning.

    The possibility of Apple losing their marketshare is a lot greater than any console, however, because the emotional and cultural and other investments in game consoles are much greater than that of phones. People only hold on to phones for as long as they do because their contracts and the phone prices encourage them to. Also, apps on phones are just that much more disposable, on the whole, than games (despite the fact that games have a play-by date).

    Most apps are easily replaceable by others with comparable features and look-and-feel. People overstate the importance of look-and-feel by miles, anyway. Most users are simply not that design-savvy or snobbish. If it does what they want in roughly the same way with roughly the same amount of effort, they’re happy.

    Apple could lose their marketshare overnight for any of a dozen reasons. But it won’t be because a bunch of spoiled self-appointed Mac developer elite through a hissy fit, either singly or en masse.

  35. Chris Graf Says:

    Joe Fatzen: I agree. I should’ve described it different than with the word arrogant. Delivered the wrong message… As you pointed out, I also believe Apple should adapt their pace to the circumstances.

    I don’t believe Android will overtake iPhone OS in it’s core features, but as we have seen with Chrome, Google is excellent in catching up. Arguments like “Firefox has more extensions” held true in the beginning, but not anymore. The better Android catches up or overtakes in some areas, the less reason people have to put up with what bothers them (e.g., AT&T & the closed system).

  36. Joe Fatzen Says:

    “The possibility of Apple losing their marketshare is a lot greater than any console, however, because the emotional and cultural and other investments in game consoles are much greater than that of phones.”

    That’s why Apple hasn’t been concerned with “making a phone” since the introduction of the iPhone. They’ve been concerned with _building a platform_. And it’s hard to dispute that their efforts haven’t paid off in the public sphere. The iPhone, iPod Touch and now iPad are all steadily reinforcing Apple’s mobile/touch _platform_, not just a phone, and a PMP, and a wacky tablet thing.

    I see them suffering a lot LESS in that respect because of it. It’s all added value that you don’t get by switching to another phone, and if you’ve already been a part of… isn’t the easiest investment to toss aside.

    It’s not “lock-in” any more than buying a lot of PS2 games was to deciding whether to get a PS3 or a Wii or a 360… or ALL of the above. But it’s an investment that the platform holder can tap, and that increases the amount a competing platform has to provide improvements before a user bothers to switch.

    And another advantage over consoles…? People are MUCH more likely to own multiple consoles than they are multiple cell phones. There are strict advantages, and lots of proprietary games you can’t play anywhere else. For smartphones, however…? “Making phone calls” is basically universal. All the browsers are aligning behind WebKit and being different flavors of “acceptable to very good.” The mobile app climate is leading much in the way of “bring everything everywhere, eventually” with the lead platform nod to the iPhone since it’s still the most lucrative. So… how serious do the advantages have to be?

  37. Joe Fatzen Says:

    “I don’t believe Android will overtake iPhone OS in it’s core features, but as we have seen with Chrome, Google is excellent in catching up. Arguments like “Firefox has more extensions” held true in the beginning, but not anymore. The better Android catches up or overtakes in some areas, the less reason people have to put up with what bothers them (e.g., AT&T & the closed system).”

    True enough. But we’re also heading into the final days where the iPhone will remain exclusive, which is absolutely the largest factor for most consumers. (Other than the hardcore geek contingent, who really even knows what they MEANS, let alone can examine the particulars between platforms? Certainly it’s meaningless in the console world and among all “consumer electronics,” because by and large they’re all closed platforms. People will just buy the things they want to buy.)

    It’s actually still pretty mind-boggling to think about how much the iPhone is still growing while remaining on only AT&T, and how many people are still being pulled from other carriers even though the competing smartphone alternatives have been getting better and better. Just what is going to happen once the exclusivity DROPS? o_O

  38. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Thanks everybody, for the comments.

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