Monday, October 24, 2011

Whether Steve Jobs Liked It Or Not, Apple Created the Market For Android

As Steve Jobs' authorized biography is released, we are getting some of the first public looks at his perspective.  I'm not surprised to hear about his view of Android as a "stolen" product.  Android is a smartphone OS that features a lot of the same usability aspects as the iPhone OS.   However, the reality is that Android fills a need that the iPhone's closed architecture doesn't: The freedom to run almost anything you want on the device you own.  Apple created the market, now largely owned by Android, when they decided to withhold that freedom from their developers and users.



Interestingly, Google was already thinking about Android well before the iPhone came out.  They acquired the developer in July, 2005, almost 2 years before Apple's announcement of the iPhone.  So whether it's really a theft is up for debate... An expensive debate that is being waged in court, and probably will for years to come.

Regardless of that outcome,
...the people who love Android over iOS are generally people who care more about freedom than having the perfect user experience.  
...Freedoms such as being able to choose from a wide range of devices, with a wide range of prices.  The freedom of installing applications that aren't necessarily published in "The Market".  The freedom to choose your own music management system.  The freedom of customization.

Now don't get me wrong, I'll be the first to admit that the devices in the Apple ecosystem work really well, in part or in whole, because they have such a controlled environment.  As Android has helped demonstrate, more things can go wrong when there are fewer limitations.  Maintaining a controlled environment is necessary to serve the "I don't care, I just want it to work" segment of the market, the one that Apple best associates with.  Apple routinely bans apps from the app store, without much of an (if any) explanation as to why. Incidentally, not all of them are adult or poor taste apps - some of them are actually useful.  Some go fairly unnoticed, others have a much larger impact. They probably have their reasons, and even if they don't, iPhone users are getting what they signed up for.

By limiting the apps and capabilities the user has access to, they limit the variables that can create unforeseen circumstances.  This rule is important when designing successful user interfaces, and it makes sense that it would carry over to product development.  However, this should be viewed as a "tough decision", and Apple certainly needs to be accountable for the fact that some developers and users were and will be alienated.   It's these folks who have likely found themselves at home with the Android OS.


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