Part 1: Android is a Stick Shift and iOS is an Automatic Transmission

On January 10, 2016, I wrote an article entitled: “Platforms — Past, Present and Future“. The comments to the article made it clear to me that there was a great deal of confusion surrounding the role that branding plays in tech. This really got me thinking, and what was supposed to be a short, one-off article, morphed into the brutally long 4-part series you see before you.

A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience. ~ John Updike

Today’s article uses an analogy to examine why Android does not seem to neatly fit into any one branding category. The series goes rapidly downhill from there and then sort of peters out altogether.



I think the disconnect between Android Advocates and iPhone fans can best be explained by using an historical analogy.

When automobiles first appeared on the market, they all had stick shifts (manually operated transmissions). Stick shifts used a driver operated clutch engaged and disengaged by a foot pedal for regulating torque transfer from the engine to the transmission along with a gear selector operated by hand.


Although the automatic transmission was invented in 1921 it didn’t really become popular until the 1950’s and 1960’s and it didn’t become the standard until the 1970’s.

In the 1960’s, vehicles with automatic transmissions had advantages over stick shifts, but they had disadvantages too. Vehicles with automatic transmission were:

1) Easier to use; but they
2) Cost more to buy; and they
3) Cost more to fuel.

As a result of these tradeoffs, the automobile marketplace broke into three distinct types of buyers.

1) Premium customers who valued the convenience of an automatic transmission more than the money it took to buy, fuel and maintain their more expensive vehicles.

2) Value customers who might have aspired to own an automatic transmission vehicle but who either couldn’t afford one or who didn’t think the increased convenience was worth the increased cost.

3) Aficionados ((a person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about an activity, subject, or pastime)) who far preferred the control and power provided by the stick shift over the ease of use provided by the automatic transmission.


Car buyers prior to the 1950’s were analogous to PC buyers prior to the introduction of the iPhone in 2007.

— Prior to the 1950’s, automobiles were mostly equipped with manual transmissions and one had little choice but to use a stick shift.
— Prior to 2007, personal computers were mostly notebooks and desktops and one had little choice but to use the Microsoft Windows operating system.

In 1995 there were 250 million PCs on the planet. Almost every one of them was owned by an early adopter, a tech enthusiast, and were either purchased by a business or for a business purpose. ~ Benedict Evans

— Automobiles with stick shifts suited the avid automobile owner just fine, but it suited the casual, non-expert automobile owner not at all.
— Personal computers with Microsoft Windows suited the avid computer user just fine, but it suited the casual, non-exert personal computer owner not at all.


The casual car driver and the casual personal computer user didn’t choose to use the stick shift or the Windows operating system. They had to use them, so they tolerated them.

There was no golden age when everyone was programming their own computers. Everyone who *had* a computer programmed it. Not the same thing. ~ Fraser Speirs on Twitter

Just as trucks evolved into cars and cars gave us a choice between manually operated stick shifts and automatic transmissions, desktop computers running Microsoft Windows evolved into touch operating systems which gave us a choice between Android phones and iPhones.

The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don’t really even notice it, so it’s part of everyday life. ~ Bill Gates

People really don’t have to understand how computers work. Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. ~ Steve Jobs

As an aside, it should be noted that neither trucks nor desktops are going away. They still exist and they still do the heavy lifting in their respective fields. They’re just no longer the dominant players.

Old tech has a very long half-life. ~ Benedict Evans on Twitter


iPhones have advantages over Android phones, but they have disadvantages too. iPhones are:

1) Easier to use; but they
2) Cost more to buy; and their
3) Apps cost more to buy.

As a result of these tradeoffs, the smartphone market has broken into three distinct types of buyers.

1) Premium customers who value the convenience of the iPhone more than the money it takes to buy and maintain it.

2) Value customers who might, or might not, aspire to own an iPhone but who either couldn’t afford one or who didn’t think the increased convenience was worth the increased cost.


3) Aficionados who far prefer the control and power provided by Android over the ease of use provided by the iPhone.



The phones using the Android operating system appeal to both the high and the low end of the smartphone buying spectrum. Both types of Android buyers view iPhone iFans as iFools, but believe iFans are iFoolish for very different iReasons. The high-end Android owners have disdain for the Apple hardware, software and ecosystem. The low-end Android owners have disdain for Apple’s prices.

There is no love lost between us. ~ Miguel De Cervantes



This is hardly a one-way street. iPhone iFans, in turn, have disdain for both the high-end Android geeks, who don’t know what they’re missing out on, and the low-end Android value shoppers, who settle for less.

Let’s face it. If the high-end geeks were really intelligent, they’d be using iPhones.

If the French were really intelligent, they’d speak English. ~ Wilfrid Sheed

And if the low-end discount devotees had any taste, they’d be using iPhones too.

Question: What’s the difference between an Android owner and a catfish?

Answer: One is a bottom-dwelling, scum-sucking scavenger. The other is a fish.

The upside to being an iPhone owner is enormous. You get to look down on so very many different types of people. But the downside of having better taste than everyone else, is that people seem to think you are pretentious.

Never criticize iPhone owners. They have the best taste that money can buy. ((Never criticize Americans. They have the best taste that money can buy. ~ Miles Kington))

Personal Choice and Mr. Market

It requires less character to discover the faults of others than is does to tolerate them. ~ J. Petit Senn

So which is better: stick shifts or automatic transmissions; Android or iPhones?

There’s two kinds of people in this world: those who think their opinion is objective truth, and… there’s one kinds of people in this world. ~ Joss Whedon on Twitter

It doesn’t have to be either-or. It can be, and is, merely a matter of personal preference.

A man is getting along on the road to wisdom when he begins to realize that his opinion is just an opinion.

What a bunch of selfish jerks we are, assuming that what we personally like should be liked by all.

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. – Oscar Wilde

Besides, it’s the marketplace — not Android advocates or iPhone iFans — that is the ultimate arbiter. Every time you spend money, you’re casting your vote for the kind of world you want. But every time someone else spends money, they are casting their vote for the kind of world they want too. And unlike political elections, multiple candidates can win.

The great thing about capitalism is that we all get to decide for ourselves what products are necessary, important, trivial or pointless. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

In smartphones, we have at least two clear winners: Android and the iPhone.

We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t. ~ Frank Howard Clark

So if you don’t like the Android ‘stick shift’, you can always use an iPhone ‘automatic transmission’ instead.

And if you don’t like the iPhone ‘automatic transmission’, you can always use the Android ‘stick shift’ instead.

And if you don’t like either of the choices that the free market has provided, there’s always a third alternative:

You can stick it.

Next Time

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who need closure and

The next article in the series will be on Tech Branding. The third article will be on whether the iPhone qualifies as a premium brand, a luxury brand or a Veblen good. The fourth article will ponder whether the iPhone’s brand could survive a double-blind ‘taste’ test, and whether the iPhone’s brand is Coke, New Coke, Pepsi, of just a lot of caramel colored carbonated water.

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

42 thoughts on “Part 1: Android is a Stick Shift and iOS is an Automatic Transmission”

  1. There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don’t.

  2. You know, I’ve had that very thought (I’m sure others have too) about automatic vs. manual vis a vis iOS versus Android. To paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli, “not everything you said is entirely wrong”. (When Pauli was still a student, after a talk by Einstein, he got up and told the audience “What professor Einstein said is not entirely stupid!) 😉

    Though superficially, much of what you said seems true, in the end, I concluded that automatic versus manual is a false dichotomy when it comes to computers. Computers are not cars.

    I humbly want to propose that if the computer is the car, the file system is the transmission, and on an automatic much effort is expended to replace the clutch. But it’s still there… (that’s abstraction). There’s no ‘hardware reason’ to prevent access to the ‘clutch’. In computers, there is no reason why a car can’t be both automatic and manual, since that is handled in software. The clutch can be present, and the user can choose to hide it or use it. Don’t want to confuse grandma? Hide it by default. That’s why it’s a false dichotomy.

    -You and others have pointed out, correctly, that it’s about jobs to be done. That’s true. I live in a congested area, negating much of the fun of the manual. So yes, I drive an automatic. My summer car, rurally in another country, is a manual. It’s a far lesser vehicle, a piece of junk really, but I love to drive it.

    -To my knowledge all car manufacturers offer most models as either an automatic or manual. This is hardware diversity. Android has it, iOS doesn’t.

    -Whether it’s automatic or manual, other than technical limitations (hardware), no manufacturer restricts where we are allowed to drive. iOS, well…., hold the donuts, comes with it’s built in traffic cop.

    -There are instances, like very steep gravely or muddy, or snow covered roads, where manual has a tangible superiority, in the proper hands. So much for “Let’s face it. If the high-end geeks were really intelligent, they’d be using iPhones.”

    -Regarding “voting with your money”. As with any election, you vote for the choices presented, not necessarily for the ‘good’ one.

    Other than that, it was perfect. 🙂
    Thanks for an interesting article.

  3. I’m puzzled:

    0- automatic shifts were/are not just easier/more expensive/more thirsty, they’re also less reliable, less fun, a bit peculiar (they introduce a significant lag between revving up and accelerating, and each behaves differently)… an early example of a “smart” object that’s mostly less smart.

    1- How is stick shift vs automatic the main Android vs iOS difference ? I’d argue the main issue is brand and image, not tech specs in general, not UI in particular. I’d also argue iOS’s UI is not easier/better, just more limited and more uniform (only one !). It’s not stick shift vs automatic, it’s Bentley vs all others.

    2- How is easier/more expensive device/more expensive apps what characterizes iOS vs Android ? Easier is utterly unproven, more expensive apps is barely true.. ; and what about more limited (both the hardware, the OS and the apps), more inbred (Apple stuff requires more Apple stuff), more branded

    1. “How is stick shift vs automatic the main Android vs iOS difference ?”

      I was trying to demonstrate, with an analogy, how Android attracts both very high end and very low end customers. It’s pretty clear that an automatic transmission is the way to go. But there are people who simply ADORE their stick shift vehicles. I think Android is split that way two. Most people buy it because they don’t have the money or don’t care. But there are some who are just as passionate about owning an Android phone as there are those who are passionate about owning a stick shift.

      It’s a weird split that confuses discussions. The high end Android owners are much smaller than they think (see Nexus and high end Galaxy sales) yet they dominate the Android conversation because, frankly, the vast majority of the Android base could not care less.

      1. Interesting, and probably true. Informed people are informed because they care, regardless of what it is. Android is not a brand, however, it’s a platform. There is no enforced loyalty to an OEM as with iOS, which is both brand and platform.

        What you say about high end Android users is also probably true, but the follow up question is, what percentage iOS users are at that level as well?
        The Android user, at that level, when you ask them, will tell you some technical reasons why they chose their device. Same for high end iOS users. Low end Android users buy on price. Good for them. That’s how much value they place on it. How many iOS users tell you they chose “the gold one”, as a technical feature?

        1. “what percentage iOS users are at that level as well?”

          I think its clear that there are some high end iPhone users and users who qualify as ijustwanttousethedamnthingnottalkaboutit users. I don’t know what the split is, but I’d guess 20/80.

          I hope to discuss this further in part 3 of the series.

      2. I understand your attempted analogy, but I find it involves a lot of sleight-of-thought:
        1- you assign ease of use to the iOS side axiomatically. To me that’s utterly debatable (and the same level of FUD as “iOS user satisfaction is higher”, which it isn’t ): the complicated stuff is impossible to do on iOS. but the easy stuff is equally easy on both platforms.
        2- You assume ease of use and pricing to be relevant, and to be the only 2 relevant factors. What about branding ? Lock-in ? Looks ? You make into “stick-shift vs automatic” an issue that is probably more “BMW vs Toyota + Lexus + Honda + Peugeot + Rolls-Royce + GM + Ford +…” Most people around me who get iPhones do so for no other reason than “it’s what the cool people do”.

  4. While I do love Car analogies (all my cars have been Manual Transmission), I think it is more like this:

    Android gives people choices (that people think they need).
    Apple gives people what (Apple thinks) they need.

    And the price difference of course.

    All my close friends have Android phones and it is mostly down to price, they jumped in when there was some low, low price with a decent smartphone. Though one of my close friends is rabidly anti-Apple.

    My only play in any of this is an Android Tablet. Similar in size to the iPad Mini I was also considering. Price was similar. I went Android for:

    SD slot, which added 32GB of storage for $16.
    Built in GPS (Not on Apple Wifi models). Which I used once.
    The ability to tinker: Which I have used to install software that doesn’t clear the App-Store (MAME). I also planned to mess around with simple App-Dev, which I couldn’t do on a iPad since I don’t own a Mac. But Googles current development tools fail during install on my PC. I opened a bug report that was eventually closed as non-reproducable. I guess it only fails for me.

    Sometimes I regret going Android because it seems kind of clunky. That and Samsung stranded my Tablet on Kit-Kat, the original OS that it came with, and it was their flagship at the time (Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4). So Samsung, never again.

  5. It’s an entertaining analogy but really doesn’t hold up, at least in my case: I drive a stick shift car and would never consider owning an Android. Android customers generally prefer the cheap price: only a minority actually tinker with it (along with discovering new malware…).

    1. I’m not suggesting that those who own a stick shift would be the same people who would own a high end Android device. I’m suggesting that there is a split between high end Android owners and low end Android owners with the iPhone holding the upper middle.

  6. The Apple ecosystem success is NOTHING to do with pricing, or taste. It is about originality and user experience. But both of those are knocked into a cocked hat by the third and fourth reasons: privacy and security.

    Until Android or anything else comes along to match those others will inevitably, ultimately, lose to Apple.

  7. How can we describe an Android user at all? Android isn’t a useful designation used as a profile. It’s a “galaxy” of fragments: It’s about 24,000 distinct device models that use various versions of the OS; only about a third of these devices use OS versions newer than KitKat, which was replaced at the end of 2013, only 1 percent uses Marshmallow, the newest version, introduced last October.

    Android is nobody and everybody.

    1. Again, OS versions are not relevant for Android the way they are for iOS: iOS is a monolithic OS in which access to the latest features (Music, iWatch…) and even apps (Maps, …) is linked to the OS version. Not so in Android, where the OS only provides basic features, apps are mostly upgraded independently from the PlayStore, and “features” are dependent on Google Services (hence also the PlayStore), not Android version. End result: I have to check in the OS properties to know which version of Android my devices run, because all apps work and all features are there across any reasonably old (4.4 and later) version.

      Visual explainer from Ars Technica:

        1. I’m not sure what you mean by “fragmented”. It is segmented for sure, with low/mid/high end phones and varying forte for each model/OEM, but “fragmentation” is a dirty term mostly coined to try and FUD about apps not working on all phones, which isn’t true.

          Android isn’t more “fragmented” than Windows, and nobody ever talked about Windows being fragmented…

          1. Right. But MSFT was badly served in its heyday by ignorant and sycophantic tech writers. Sure, no one talked about Windows as fragmented or anything else but lovely … until the day it died, strangled by all the crappy devices that used it … and strangled by the resistance of old crappy version users to upgrade … all of which lead MSFT to create its own hardware and price to compel users to upgrade … to defragment.

  8. Let’s see. I own the only hybrid car model that has an available 6-speed manual transmission. So I get to be smug about the hybrid but still get to drive a stick (and it has a “sport” button.)

    Oh and I own an iPhone and an iPad.

    Not sure where I land with this analogy.

  9. And if you don’t like either Android or iOS, there’s always a third alternative:

    Windows Phone! All 283 buyers love it, including Satya Nadella.

  10. Your article remind me of the famous American historiography (“Dunning? Never heard of the guy.”) a lot of Apple analysis throughout the web keep on repeating that those billion people who use Android are compose of cheap beggar who can’t Afford IOS or Geek who want to play with their phone as toys without offering a single evidence for this sweeping Generalization, nor a single data to backup the claim nor had any interest of trying to understand the android market.

    Ignorance is no great sin—there are always things we haven’t read or don’t know. But arguing out of admitted ignorance, opining despite one’s ignorance, isn’t ignorance at all—it’s incuriosity

    Incuriosity is the reason why you John Kirk, and many other so call Apple analysis never seems to have any interest to do some real research to understand the android market as a mean to better inform your reader but rather prefer to argue out of admitted ignorance about a product they never use nor have any interest of using themselves.

    I wish that many of you were as curious as you like to pretend, and argue based on what you really know, rather than what you think you know while being ignorant on the subject because of your lack of curiosity.

    1. “Never seems to have any interest to do some real research”?? If there’s anyone who does MASSIVE research, it’s John Kirk!

      1. But only if by research you mean finding interesting quotes. Actual facts or evidence to support his thesis…not so much.

          1. He along with many other keep on repeating made up assumption and sweeping Generalization with no evidence and trying to define a product he never used, nor experience or seems to have any interest in doing so, that’s the profile of somebody who lack curiosity.

          2. I buy one device every 6 month just to try stuff out (never in iPhone price range though, usually less than $300). Chinese 2nd-tier OEMs (Cube, Chuwi, Teclast, Oppo,…) have made huge strides in quality over a couple of years. It’s getting very hard to recommend 1st-tier when 2nd tier is almost as good, for about half the price, and dual-booting Windows.
            Amazon’s making headlines with their $50 7″ 1024×300 1GB not-quite Android, ads-ladden tablet. Cube have a $80 8″ 1280×800 2GB real-Android + real-Windows tablet with all the ports one can desire (µUSB, mini-HDMI, µSD)… and a real SoC (Atom Z) too.

          3. ”…the profile of somebody who lack curiosity.’

            That would be me. I’ve been using Apple products since before the introduction of the Macintosh. I have all the requisite “expertise” in the Apple experience that I need to justify my preferences. I trust Apple when they say they respect my privacy, I have NO reason to doubt them, and decades of experience to back up my “faith.”

            As for my personal lack of “Android curiosity”: I don’t live in China. I am aware the Google data vacuuming machine operates unimpeded in the United States. Google makes virtually ALL its money off of data mining and advertising. I do NOT trust them, and I see NO reason to change my mind. Google even spies on students, for fsks sake, even after promising they wouldn’t.

            The Google ecosystem is the single largest private spy agency in existence. There is simply no argument you, or any Android “expert,” could put forward (specs, value, features, choice, etc.) that would make me “curious” enough to trade Apple for Android.

            And incidentally, I drive a stick.

          4. What you describe is fear, which is completely justifiable but different from lacking in curiosity especially when you are in the business of trying to define thing to your follower.

            I wasn’t trying to insulted John, for never invested in android nor have any interest in doing so, I just wish he was more curious and tried to follow the truth because it would have helped him discover things that are cooler and more enlighten than he could ever have made up or assumed.

          5. It’s not fear so much as disgust. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. all disgust me. I will not willingly hand over my personal life to them.

            And I sure as hell won’t willing give them any money.

            There are very few things left in this world that we have any control over. I’m exercising my control by staying clear of companies that suck.

      2. Did he ever used an android phone or even trying to spend some time investing in it’s ecosystem to better understand the experience and it’s value.

        if the answer is no then one has to wonder why, why invest so much energy into made up fact or assumption when he can experience the product itself as a mean to provide a better understanding of it’s value to his own reader ?

        isn’t that a lack of curiosity?

        He’s not alone in that, the entire web are full of so called expert with huge follower who love to argue out of admitted ignorance when they can simply make some effort to better understand the subject in question to better inform their reader.

    2. I asked a while back if anyone on Techpinion was using Android as a primary daily driver. The very loud silence I got as an answer kind of explains a lot about all the misconceptions flying about. Toying with a handset for a couple of days is not the same as committing to it for months: having just enough time to spot and grumble about differences vs discovering what makes it great.

      1. For some reason none of them seem to have any interest of trying to better understand and experience the product, but enjoy telling anyone who would listen how much they know about it simply by repackaging made up fact or assumption with beautiful word and quote while providing no evidence or any concrete explanation.

  11. There are so many problems with this article it’s hard to decide where to begin.

    I don’t think any automobile manufacturer has used manual vs automatic transmission as brand defining or part of a branding strategy. Perhaps one has, in which case John should have referenced it. Instead, I think transmission choice has been marketed more as a option/feature like power windows or air conditioning.

    John implies it is transmission choice that defines, or is a major part of, the distinctions between Premium, Values and Aficionados. And as is often the case, he does so without backing it up with any data or facts. I am willing to bet there were Premium cars with manual transmissions, especially during the time period John references.

    The assertion iPhones are “1) Easier to use…Cost more to buy; and their .Apps cost more to buy” is debatable. There are certainly use cases where Android is easier to use than iOS and there is a strong argument iPhones have a lower TCO than comparable Android phones.

    The only good part of this article is the Disdain section which could have been a nice lead-in to something substantial. I have to keep reminding myself that outside the quotes, John’s posts routinely lack substance.

  12. Android is stick shift for those who like to tweak things. It gives them room for that. Otherwise it is as good or better than iPhone. The apple walled garden does not allow much tweaking. Its hood is sealed. One cannot open the hood and fill windshield wiper fluid if he desires. In Android there is room for opening the hood and replacing some parts.

  13. I recently received a web-based “smartphone survey” that included the following item about switching to iPhone . I originally thought I was being punked, but… maybe not. In case this is an actual survey, here are my issues with that specific question (see picture):

    1- Don’t mix 2 questions. One question is “How likely are you to switch to iPhone”, the other is “Why” ?

    2- Could the offered “‘Whys” be any more biased ? Seriously ? Let’s paraphrase

    – I’m cheap
    – Yes I may switch
    – Yes I’ll switch
    – I’m dogmatic
    – I’m stupid and lazy
    – I care about looks way too much (which is weird, that’s an Apple buyer thing)
    – I hate Apple.

    Not a peep about… valid, positive reasons for not switching… such as:

    – I’m happy with my current OS/brand/device
    – I need/want (a) feature(s) that iOS/iPhone doesn’t offer
    – I don’t want to get locked into a single supplier
    – I’m invested in my current ecosystem (apps, several devices, Windows integration, chargers/cables, smartwatch/trackers…)
    – I think Apple is overpriced (not the same as expensive)

    Still not sure if it was a joke.

      1. Indeed… about the questionnaire’s writer, or at least his/her biases ;-p
        A blank page is the best Rorschach.

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