An Unbelievable Twist In The Android vs. iOS Debate

By James Mowery

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Apple’s iOS is King of mobile, but Android has launched a volley of successful attacks on its rival, which is causing the industry to question if Apple can maintain iOS’s dominance. In an ironic twist, though, damaging decisions made by Android’s hardware and network providers could change history in the making. Maybe Apple’s way, even with tight reigns on control, is better after all. Oh, the irony!

Apple’s Dominance

Everyone envies Apple’s iOS. So it’s no shock that the competition is constantly plotting its demise. But toppling the beast has proven to be a difficult task.

The iPhone currently holds 15.4-percent market share in mobile phone sales. The iPod Touch and iPad also control a significant amount of market share in their own right. There is, dare I say it, even the possibility that Mac computers could make the switch to iOS. Growth is, at this point in time, inevitable. So things are looking good for Apple’s iOS.

Apple also has an army of third-party developers at the ready. Having people develop new and innovative content for iOS is a non-issue. There are over 200,000 applications available, and there are an estimated 80+ apps submitted every day to the App Store. Having this type of support is critical in maintaining and growing iOS. One might argue that the platform with the most third-party support is the platform that will reign supreme.

Yet Apple has criticized for its “draconian” methods of handling application submissions. I’ll be the first to admit that when Google Voice was rejected, I was pretty upset. When I heard that Apple was rejecting comics because they depicted congressional members in an obsecure light, I was pretty upset. When I heard that Apple was denying all porn… — the point being that we have to live with certain sacrifices to enjoy Apple’s creations. Still, if I was investing time and resources into developing a kick-ass application for iOS and Apple rejected it, I’d be pretty upset too. Thus, it is understandable that this doesn’t bode well with everyone; therefore, it’s not perfect. But have these feelings towards developers and consumers cost Apple the race?

Android’s Uprising

A company had to come in and take advantage. That company was Google. In turn, Google produced Android, the result of Google’s hard work, which also serves as the most significant threat to iOS. (I’m skeptical about RIM’s ability to revive Blackberry and Nokia isn’t even worth mentioning, for now.)

Google’s Android platform has performed admirably. It has received plenty of praise and growth over the past year and since its inception. Gartner Research has stated that Android overtook the iPhone in market share; Android might also overtake more competition by the end of the year. The reasons for this are obvious:

  • Android is available to more carriers,
  • Android can be installed on different hardware,
  • Android is backed by a massive operation with Google,
  • Android offers consumers an “open” alternative to Apple’s closed-doors approach,
  • and Android is one of the few comparable alternatives to iOS.

This growth trend will certainly continue, at least until Apple breaks free from AT&T’s exclusivity. It’s something Apple should take very seriously. Android poses a serious threat to Apple’s bottom line, and it is only a matter of time before iOS developers take notice. (Also, AT&T’s coverage really does suck.)

But there are things Apple can do to change this: appearing on the Verizon’s network would certainly spice things up a bit; breaking exclusivity altogether and putting the iPhone on every major provider would be even more ambitious; and making a strong push in China could prove beneficial. Still, there is no guarantee that the iOS will ever be able to retake its lead over Android.

That is, unless Android drops the ball completely.

When Openness Backfires

What would happen if, say, Android’s third-party phone manufacturers started to transform Android from a symbol of openness and transparency to a system of restriction and control? What if the consumer’s ability to install whatever they want, when they want and how they want, was threatened? What would happen if all control was lost. It would become a nightmare. Unfortunately, this has already begun.

Take the Samsung Galaxy S, for example. On three of the four wireless operators, the Samsung Galaxy S operates just like any other Android phone — with its usual network-specific branding and applications — but on Verizon, the Galaxy S (a.k.a the Samsung Fascinate) is vastly different. One difference that, in particular, stands out above the rest is it’s the inclusion of Microsoft’s Bing services. Actually, “inclusion” might not be the right word: the Fascinate forces users to use Bing. Google Search is replaced by Bing Search, without any way to change it (at least until an Android 2.2 update). Google Maps is also gone and requires VZ Navigator (a $10-per-month add on).

This is important because Android’s partners are taking away control from consumers and developers. But it gets worse.

What happens if the mobile networks decide to rid Android of Google’s open Android Marketplace and replace it with their own, installing a new gatekeeper that has very different motives? Can you say anti-consumerism? Verizon might be on the verge of doing just that with V Cast Apps, and if Verizon goes through with this, the other carriers will be sure to follow suit.

These are all serious issues that Android faces. It’s unfortunate, especially when considering that Google has created Android with hopes of crafting an open platform for third-party developers and is giving it away for free. Google has a massive amount of influence, however, so it could possibly lean its weight against its partners. But, again, nothing is certain — this issue has only recently begun to surface.

Re-evaluation

This has caused me to re-evaluate the whole Android versus iOS debate.

The distinction between Android and iOS is that Android’s fate lies mostly with uncontrollable outside forces and iOS’s fate lies mostly with Apple. Apple does have the final say with regards to their platform. Google does not. And Steve Jobs isn’t the type of guy to compromise on his values — he would never allow a mobile network the chance compromise his vision.

So, in an ironic twist of fate, it is possible that Apple’s platform could, in time, be more open in certain regards than Android. It, of course, depends on how Android’s overseers continue with the platform — it is obvious, however, that HTC wants to transform the platform to create a complete HTC experience.

At the very least, Apple users only have one company to blame if something goes wrong — Apple. If this Android issue pans out further, however, we will have networks, like Verizon, and phone manufacturers, like Samsung and HTC, to blame for the demise of Android. By that time, Google might have lost all control and will be in it for the ride.

Conclusion

So let’s wrap this up.

What do we value most in an operating system? Do we value openness or do we value stability? If the answer is openness, then Android is (still) the winner. If the answer is stability, then iOS wins, hands down. Because iOS will always be familiar. It will always remain under Apple’s control. It will always have Steve Jobs’ reputation behind it.

Are Apple’s methods “draconian”? Sure, they are. But is iOS threatened by third parties or mobile providers? Absolutely not. This provides Apple fanatics with some reassurance that the iOS experience will remain a familiar one for the distant future. Whereas mobile providers and phone manufacturers could, in time, corrupt the Android experience, the iOS will continue to be what it set out to be.

Update: With the iPhone 4 now available on Verizon, the debate between android and iOS heats up. Will the Verizon android vs. iOS debate predict the overall outcome for both mobile operating systems?

About James Mowery
James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist, entrepreneur, and Apple enthusiast who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable, Techi, and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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