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

on January 31, 2016

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.