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December 26, 2010

The iPhone Fanboys Can't Handle the Truth On Android

The big news in this weekend's blogosphere circles around predictions that 2011 will be even more dramatic a success for Android than 2010, and unsurprisingly, the iPhone-aholics are coming out of the woodwork to tell us that this is a terrible thing, cornering the discussion into one where we are supposed to believe Google's march into smartphones is only winning due to price, and that the iPhone 4 (and its successors) are dramatically "better", however that is measured, than Android alternatives. This position is no better exemplified than by Robert Scoble's post saying Fred Wilson and Fortune are Right About Android (but I hate it). This follows onto Fred's position that entrepreneurs and VCs need to get ahead by investing in Android and not iOS. This mirrors my comments from July when I said mobile app developers should look to Android before iPhone and iPad.

The differences between Apple and Android this time around are not like Apple and Microsoft of 1995, even if this is the lazy man's way out to compare the two battles. Scoble says, pleadingly, "I sure hope Steve Jobs has one of those moments where he shocks the world again and keeps this game interesting." I'll tell you what, this game already is interesting, and not because the rest of the world is waiting to see what Cupertino develops in an effort to copy its innovation extremely quickly.

I once felt the same way about my iPhone and still feel the same way in many regards to my MacBook Air (even though I am currently typing this on the CR-48). But the reality is not that Apple has held the exclusive to innovation in this space over the last 12-24 months or even longer. Android led the way in true multitasking on the phone, offers a superior GPS experience with top-notch places and maps, and is years ahead of Apple on voice search, it seems.

On Christmas, a friend of mine asked if I had ever shown my kids "Ivor the Engine" on YouTube, similar to Thomas the Train who is well known here. Even though I was uncertain to the pronunciation, I simply clicked the voice search button on my Samsung Epic, said "Ivor the Engine YouTube" into the phone, and I had a video playing in full color in seconds. Android made that happen, and while I am eager to see Apple integrate Siri, who it purchased at the beginning of 2010, I believe the tremendous investment Google has made in search and voice search specifically will keep them ahead here.

The truth is that Android can go feature by feature against iPhone now. iPhone is not yards ahead of the competition, and while there may be some clear places where Apple is ahead, it comes down to an individual's preference now, including their choice to have a keyboard (which Apple seems not interested in doing), their choice of carriers (still limited here, even if Verizon comes to the party), or many other factors. This is not like the Microsoft of the 1990s, where Apple's lead was obvious and Windows 95 was arguably the first usable OS on that platform to be considered Mac-like.

The way you can tell when tech connoisseurs have crossed the line from data to emotion is when they use blanket phrases like "In my usage of the Android-based Samsung Nexus S, I’ve found it’s still behind Apple’s iPhone in almost every way," which Scoble drops in his post. If you strongly believe a high pixel density Retina Display is demanded, great. If you think FaceTime is something you use all the time and it trumps Qik, great. But blanket statements don't work for the true nature of the mobile landscape today. Android really is that good.

When I first took the plunge into Android after Google I/O, I was almost as wary as when I had to sit down with a Windows NT box for my first Valley job. I was sure it would be terrible or I would be lost. But I kept being surprised by how the device just made sense, and how the device in many ways was better than my experience on the iPhone. In the six months since, we've only seen Android phones improve, with the expansion of Samsung's Galaxy S series, the Droid Incredible, and the introduction of Android tablets like the Galaxy Tab and Barnes and Noble's NOOKColor. I voted again on Android this Christmas when I bought my wife the NOOKColor, which she'll be using to read voraciously at the expense of her iPad use, with a slimmer form factor and reduced weight.

What was wrong about Microsoft's monopoly position in the 1990s was that they used their market strength to thwart innovation and win with business muscle and side deals rather than through value. That is not what is playing out here again. That Apple has opted out of some business relationships and reduced its potential routes to market while Android hasn't is their choice, and it's making them a ton of money. Apple is still winning as a company and will be a strong #2 in this market, and #1 in profit, as that's their focus.

If the assumption is true that Android is expanding primarily due to low-end handsets, we should be asking Apple for an iOS compatible option at a lower price point. Where is the MacBook or Mac Mini of iPhones? If the company ends up being niched at the top in price while others are providing more options, that can't be a strike against Android, but instead a business decision on the part of Cupertino.

The world of mobile is better with a strong and smart Apple in it. But don't get blinded by the Apple fans trying to define Android as a cheaper, inferior solution. It's not. Get your hands on any high quality Android device at a Sprint store or a Verizon outlet or an AT&T store or a Best Buy to try them out. Even an open minded Apple fan can respect what's happened and should be able to see innovation taking place as well as serious market momentum.