Android v. iOS Part 5: Android Is A Two-Legged Stool

on August 31, 2012
Reading Time: 4 minutes

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This week we’ve been looking at the Android and iOS mobile operating systems. In part 1, we looked at how Android was dominating market share. In part 2, we looked at how iOS was dominating profit share. In part 3, we tried to reconcile that seeming paradox. Turns out that, with regard to platform, developer share – not market share – is what gives the platform its value and developer share is what makes a platform strong. In part 4, we showed that iOS was, by far, the stronger of the two platforms. Today we look at why iOS has an inherent advantage in platform, why Android has an inherent disadvantage in platform, and what that means for the futures of these two great mobile operating systems.

A PLATFORM IS MUCH MORE THAN JUST HARDWARE AND AN OPERATING SYSTEM

A computing platform is made up of (at least) three parts: hardware, operating system and an application ecosystem. An application ecosystem is also make up of three parts: well-paid developers, a high volume of quality applications (apps) and lots of happy customers buying those apps.

Android boasts some of the finest hardware in the world. And their operating system is arguably second to none. The Google team is world class. Their operating system is chock full of features and it iterates at an incredible pace.

But when it comes to application ecosystem, iOS rules and it isn’t even close. While Apple’s iOS leads the world in profits, apps, well-paid developers, paying customers, customer satisfaction and retention, Android leads the world in:

— Malware (Source)
— Piracy (Source)
— Cloning (Source)
— Confusing buying options (Source)
— Belated operating system updates (Source)
— Hardware fragmentation (Source)
— Underpaid developers (Source) and dwindling developer interest; (Source) and
— Customers who won’t pay for Apps (Source)

WHEN IT COMES TO PLATFORM, iOS HAS AN INHERENT ADVANTAGE

As Tim Bajarin previously wrote for Tech.pinion in “How Apple is Cornering the Market in Mobile Devices“:

“While all of (Apple’s competitors) think that they can compete with Apple when it comes to hardware, and maybe even software, what they all pretty much know is that the secret to Apple success is that they have built their hardware and software around an integrated ecosystem based on a very powerful platform. And it is here where their confidence level lags and the “iPodding” fears raise its head. And to be honest, this should really concern them.”

“Apple is in a most unique position in which they own the hardware, software and services and have built all of these around their eco-system platform. That means that when Apple engineers start designing a product, the center of its design is the platform . For most of Apple competitors, it is the reverse; the center of their design is the device itself, and then they look for apps and services that work with their device in hopes that this combination will attract new customers. In the end, this is Apple major advantage over their competitors and they can ride this platform in all kinds of directions.”

WHEN IT COMES TO PLATFORM, ANDROID HAS AN INHERENT DISADVANTAGE

Android is based on an “open” philosophy. In software and web-based architectures, an open platform:

“describes a software system which is based on open standards, such as published and fully documented external programming interfaces that allow using the software to function in other ways than the original programmer intended…” – Wikipedia

Open has many advantages – but it has many inherent disadvantages too. The very same open policies that make Android’s sales stronger are the very same open policies that make Android’s platform weaker.

An open policy towards carriers encourages rapid dissemination of devices but it also permits the carriers to take unwanted liberties with Android’s core services and allows them to shirk their responsibilities with regard to operating system updates. An open policy towards manufacturers allows for rapid hardware iteration but it also creates rapid hardware fragmentation. An open policy towards the sales of applications leads to a wide variety of apps but it also leads to a wide variety of piracy, cloning and malware too. An open policy towards the operating system allows for rapid feature iteration but it also allows competitors to split off a confusing variety of competing operating systems and App Stores too.

Open is not bad or good, it’s a tradeoff. But what open giveth Android in sales, it taketh away in application ecosystem. The very same things that makes Android sales strong are the very same things that makes Android’s platform weak. It’s inherent and intractable. The only way to make Android’s platform stronger is to make it less open. And the less open Android becomes, the fewer advantages in sales it has.

THE ANDROID PLATFORM RESTS UPON A TWO-LEGGED STOOL

A stool needs at least three legs to support it. A platform needs at least three legs to support it too. The first leg is hardware. The second leg is operating system. The third leg is application ecosystem. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the Android hardware and the Android operating system are equivalent or superior to iOS.

Android’s third leg – its application ecosystem – is weak. Terribly weak. And just as two legs are insufficient to support a stool, the two legs of hardware and operating system – no matter how strong – are insufficient to support a computing platform.

The Android and iOS wars are not what they’ve been made out to be. The combination of great hardware, great operating system and an open architecture has made Android THE premiere smartphone of our times. The sales numbers prove it.

But the story doesn’t end there. The combination of great hardware, great operating system and a great application ecosystem makes iOS THE premier smartphone platform of our times. The profit numbers prove it.

Android aspires to be a great device. iOS aspires to be a great platform. Both have achieved their objectives – which will lead them down radically different paths with radically different futures.

Coming Next Week: Android v. iOS Part 6: The Future

Android v. iOS Part 1: Market Share
Android v. iOS Part 2: Profits
Android v. iOS Part 3: Network Effect
Android v. iOS Part 4: Developers