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June 07, 2010

iPhone 4 Is Nice, But It's Not Enough to Slow Android

I am running in danger of sounding as much an Android fanboy as I ever was an iPhone fanboy, so let it be known even if the subject is changed, the internal debate continues to rage, and the enthusiasm to make the right choice, fairly, is still the same. Like most of you, I wondered how Apple and Steve Jobs could wow us with the latest iteration of iPhone, and whether it would be enough to attract those of us considering Android as an alternative - most specifically the new HTC EVO or similar devices - to come back to the Apple fold.

With Jobs' keynote complete, it looks like Apple is making some good moves with high quality imagery, cameras, and smart integrated apps like iMovie and FaceTime, but I didn't see anything that made me feel I have made the wrong choice. I stand by the belief that Android has achieved parity with Apple in many respects, is superior to the platform in a few ways, and has the momentum behind it with an ecosystem set up for continued growth - not held down by the still-stunning ineptitude of a major partner like AT&T.

The iPhone 4 update focused on improved screen quality with more pixels, the long-awaited introduction of multi-tasking, HD video recording at 720 pixels, a fast Apple A4 processor, the introduction of a front camera, and two pieces of software - iMovie for editing of film clips on the iPhone, and FaceTime for video calling, assuming both parties have iPhone 4 models.

The introduction of multi-tasking and a front-facing camera both are catch up features to the latest Android models, including the aforementioned EVO. The iPhone is no doubt thinner than the EVO, and speed and battery life measures are subjective. But Apple's complete silence on wireless hotspotting, tethering, and finding an alternative to the boat anchor of AT&T were a big miss. While the company can trot out market share statistics showing installed market share for iPhone devices ahead of Android, it certainly seems like the onslaught of capable devices running Android are eating into Apple's share - and that's something which fancy iAds aren't going to fix.

If I were an Apple developer today, I would be very happy with the company's revenue sharing policies and attempts to further improve monetization with iAds. I might even take them at face value when Jobs said they were approving the overwhelming majority of applications submitted to the iTunes store. But I would absolutely make sure I was also coding my applications for Android. I believe that if I were starting a business built on mobile applications today, I would start by coding for the Android platform, as there is a greater chance to gain first mover advantage in that marketplace, and to become a revenue leader as the tide rises. Code for Android first, and iPhone/iPad second.

What I was looking for today was not a device that offered feature parity or similarity to what I have now somewhere else - on a platform that isn't limiting me to the manufacturer or to the carrier. I wanted more flexibility and more functionality. An iPhone 4-only parlor trick of video calling much like that on AIM or Skype or Yahoo! Messenger from the last decade isn't what is going to make my phone buying decisions made up, but instead, a promise to create a high quality experience for all aspects of my using the device.

AT&T has failed that litmus test of quality and has done so consistently for years. Today, Apple had the opportunity to look customers in the eye, and either apologize for the poor service we have come to accept from AT&T and Apple, and the missed promises, or better yet, offer an alternative. They didn't. That tells me either they do not fully understand the magnitude of the problem, or they think they can get away with continuing to ignore it.

Apple, I didn't want a thinner iPhone that's slightly faster and better looking. I wanted a promise that the new one would make phone calls, act as a fantastic Web device, and provide 3G access to other devices. Today, you didn't do that, and it's disappointing. A smartphone can't be smart if it's married to a company as dumb as AT&T.