There’s a lot of talk about iOS market share and how the mobile market will shape up over time, particularly with Windows Phone 7 entering the market soon. That said, Brandt Dainow’s impressively long “Lessons for Apple” is painfully weak in its assumptions and rather ridiculous conclusions. Let’s take a look at Brandt’s take on Apple, iOS, and the mobile market and see if we can’t make some sense of it all.
No company can succeed in the long term by restricting customers. Such a strategy may succeed for a few years, maybe even a decade, but in the long term, the market demands open systems.
Really? Name one other “open” system in the mobile space. And don’t bother mentioning Android because Google’s killed the Nexus One, the only phone that’s currently being updated with the latest version of Android, leaving a number of fractured Android builds out there, all controlled by the carriers, with the added exception of Google’s bullying of Motorola. As Elia Freedman pointed out last week:
We have been distracted by ridiculous arguments and fabricated “wars” for too long. We have been distracted by thinking that Google is Microsoft and Apple is Apple in a doomed fight already fought 20 years ago.
But that is not the fight we should be caring about at all. The fight we should be talking about, but aren’t, is the fight between mobile device makers and the carriers. This is the only real fight that matters.
Of course, Brandt’s not making any such salient point. The point he’s making isn’t about the openness of the mobile operating system or even the openness of the carriers who, with the exception of Apple’s phones, are the ones with control over the openness of the operating system.
So what did he mean? Well, it’s possible Brandt’s conflating customer openness with developer openness. Brandt cites the example of Microsoft allowing their OS to reach any Intel hardware in the 80s instead of the restrictions of Apple, whereby it’s their hardware or bust, thus giving Microsoft developers access to a huge volume of customers compared to Apple. But the flaw of this argument is the mobile ecosystem and PC ecosystem are not the same, with mobile introducing a whole other level of player, the carrier (do you see a trend here?). And another equally important point when comparing old Apple to new Apple: Apple of the early 1990s stopped innovating. I can assure you, new Apple knows this well and will not make the same mistake.
Or perhaps Brandt’s implying that, because the App store is curated, users lose access to content. How does this make sense to him? To back up this point he refers back to 90s era carriers, intentionally restricted access to the Internet or, more specifically, gave preference to content providers who paid for access to mobile subscribers. (So, once again, like Google.)
The point missed here (besides ignoring the carrier’s role in this decade) is that Apple’s apps are in addition to the Web. The only thing you’re missing in iOS right now is Flash, which isn’t directly preventing you from accessing content (after all, Flash developers are free to provide access to their content using another technology), and which otherwise isn’t much of an omission considering the drawbacks of awful battery life, broken websites, slideshow equivalent video, and more crashes than ever. Or the bottom line that Flash is not available to the vast majority of mobile customers, Apple or otherwise. But sure, Flash is missing as a direct result of Apple’s policies. And, okay, Google Voice, which I agree is a mistake and that I’m sure will be rectified in short order.
But, again, who’s noticing this? Less than half of a half of a percent of mobile users? After that, what’s left? What does “open” mean in this environment?
Apple provides the best in class Web browser on their mobile platform and does very little cow-towing to the carriers, who want to limit access or pre-install crap (based on evidence with Android). Apple’s behaviour here generally shows an interest in providing unfettered access to content, not limiting it. We’ll see how Microsoft fairs in this space, but if Android is any example, it’s Apple that’s going to be seen as the most open. And, in the end, should Brandt’s point about openness hold true, Apple will be the most successful player in this market.
But this certainly can’t be in Brandt’s make believe world, where Apple and RIM are doomed because they provide software and hardware that work together without manufacturer or carrier fiddling.
The world will not tolerate three or four competing smartphone systems with roughly equal market share. Eventually, one system will dominate. Apple’s iPhone OS and BlackBerry’s RIM are not candidates for that role because they’re not available for other phones, which only leaves Google’s Android and Microsoft’s WinOS as candidates for global domination.
Of course, making several sub-sets of software for dozens of phone models (see Nokia) is a much stronger long term strategy than making a single unified mobile OS that runs across several devices (see Apple’s iOS). Not happy with the Nokia example when Brandt doesn’t even mention them? Keep in mind this is exactly where Android is at right now, never mind the sorry state it’s in if it’s adopted by more manufacturers and carriers. Of course it remains to be seen what happens with Microsoft, but they’re no stranger to espousing a confusing multiOS path.
Microsoft has a tremendous advantage here – it has 30 years of experience in developer support.
So let’s say they have an advantage over Google. But what does this has to do with Apple? Apple’s been working with developers as long as Microsoft. Never mind that we’re back to the previous point, which is: developer ease of working with one OS and very few screen sizes (Apple) versus the nightmare of building for a multitude of OS’s on a multitude of devices (Microsoft and all their hardware partners).
Brandt further attempts to back up his point on Microsoft’s developer advantage by stating the volume of Google search results:
According to Google there are 10 times as many web pages providing developer information for WinOS than there are for Android.
But what kind of information are we taking about? Security notes? Troubleshooting? Complaints? Equating value to volume is just plain silly. (For that matter, what the hell is WinOS? Is this the term Brandt is using to sum up the vast array of Windows operating systems that are in the wild? Oh there’s little doubt managing that is of no advantage to the developer community.)
Apple’s strategy will eventually lead to the iPhone occupying a similar niche to the Mac – a minuscule market share sustained only by the fanatical loyalty of dedicated followers.
Here we are back to that old argument of Microsoft vs Apple in the 80s. An argument that seems to be a fallback for simpler minds who aren’t interested in actually analyzing the current environment. That said, while there’s no real evidence to suggest this may happen, and while Apple’s foray into the mobile space is far different than their price point and strategy in the Mac (desktop and notebook) space, the fact that Apple currently has the majority of marketshare in the +$1,000.00 computer market in the US and the majority of profit in the hardware industry, I have to wonder: if the above statement had any factual basis, would that be anything to complain about? We know that companies like Nokia and Dell that go for market share over profit share do not do well for themselves or their investors in the face of real competition, so why would Apple play this game?
Those examples are from just one page of Brandt’s endless tome. I don’t recommend you read it all because it’s mind-numbing drivel, but if you feel like knocking yourself out, Way Back Machine has faithfully archived it here.
Oh, and the article is called Why iAds Will Fail. If you’re interested in that topic, you can just skip through to Page 5, since the rest of the article has nothing to do with iAds.
In any case, we can all recognize that there is a multitude of platforms to consider when you’re developing an app, mobile or otherwise. From the Web (and any network therein), to iOS, to Android, Blackberry, or Windows. Choosing where to put your marketing and development resources is dependent on the market you’re looking to reach. Where your potential customers are at now is of utmost importance but, to be sure, expecting that your customers will stick to a platform for the long term is always a gamble, whether you’re talking iOS, Facebook, or otherwise.
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