In April, Apple introduced iPhone OS 4.0. Once the subject of endless speculation and a mountain of rumors, we now know this summer’s newest OS release will feature multitasking, new revenue opportunities for developers and better enterprise support, to name just a few of the new offerings. What struck me about the Apple presentation, however, was not the ingenuity or the originality of the new features. No, what struck me is that I had seen almost all of them before in Android 2.1.
Last year I wrote an article, which explored the nature of the rivalries between the big three: Google, Apple and Microsoft. In that article, I posited that Google’s entry into smartphones, the development of Chrome, and the firm’s titanic efforts in the cloud and with advertising not only obsoleted Microsoft’s presence in these spaces, but elevated Google to Microsoft’s old role as Apple’s arch nemesis.
Nine and change months later in 2010, it has never been more apparent that Apple is out to kill Google, which continues merrily along in the enviable position of legitimately threatening the expansion of Apple’s most lucrative business: The iPhone. You see, it’s a cold day in Hell when Apple deigns to play the “me too” game with another company. With the iPod and more recently with the iPad, Apple conjures a massive, willing market from thin air, and leaves companies like Microsoft and HP scrambling to catch up with the Zune and the Slate, respectively.
While the iPhone has taken a similar course since its 2007 introduction (everyone now has an app store, after all), iPhone OS 4.0 added virtually every feature Android currently wields as an advantage, and little else. That’s rather rare form for a company that regularly impugns other firms for struggling to provide the innovation that Apple has exhibited seemingly at every turn. To support this hypothesis, the following table outlines the new features described by Apple in yesterday’s OS 4 presentation, as well as the status of those features in the Android ecosystem.
Based on the body of evidence, I suggest that it is rather difficult to ignore the suspicion that OS 4 is little more than a “me too” update and a check against Android. Diving further into the post-presentation Q&A session, we see several answers from Jobs and other Apple employees that tacitly target Google. For example, on the target of task management, Jobs said that any company that makes users multitask with a task manager has already failed. Guess what Android uses?
Next, on the topic of advertising, Jobs was clearly bristling that Google swooped in and purchased AdMob as Apple was trying to court the company for mobile advertising. Apple was forced to buy the much smaller Quattro Wireless instead. Jobs also defended against a request for unsigned applications by obtusely citing a porn app for Android, rather than the many amazing apps that have been made possible by the open development environment.
Though the iPhone has lorded over the land for nearly three years as the reigning king of smartphone sales, Android has grown from a plucky upstart to a serious concern for Apple. In fact, as of February, 2010, Android more than doubled its market share to 9% in a span of just three months, and it continues to climb. This incredible growth comes primarily at the expense of Windows Mobile and webOS, but it’s also one of the few times the iPhone has failed to gain ground; the iPhone actually fell 0.1% in the same time period.
Another study conducted by ChangeWave in December showed that future smartphone buyers considering Android for their next purchase more than tripled to 21% over the course of four months. Customer satisfaction, too, was at an all-time high of 72%, just five percent less than that of the iPhone. This is a serious breach of mindshare for Apple, which once stood alone in these respects.
Finally, Android represents a cultural threat to Apple, as it too attracts affluent, Internet savvy consumers that are more likely to pay for frequent upgrades. This makes Android a concern in a way Palm and Microsoft are not, even if the latter is also flush with cash.
With Google closing in on Apple’s customers, prestige and revenue, it’s no surprise that Apple cracked and played follow the leader with iPhone OS 4.0. It had to. Android is a threat that Cupertino no longer has the luxury to ignore.