Apple vs Google: why history isn't repeating

Android isn't Windows and the iPhone isn't rubbish

Nexus One

In a fantastic piece of flame bait, Henry Blodget of Business Insider says that Android is going to do to the iPhone what the PC did to the Mac: blow it out of the water.

Blodget correctly says that in the 80s, Apple was an industry leader; ten years on it was a basket case. Why? Because of "its insistence on selling fully integrated hardware and software devices, instead of focusing on low-cost, widely distributed software." Really?

Blodget quickly glosses over Apple's other mistakes - "maintaining a premium price point, ditching its famous founder and spiritual leader, and developing clunker products" - because they don't matter. Apple's failure to licence its OS was what nearly killed it.

To put that another way, if Apple had kept Steve Jobs out of the picture and continued to make crappy products that cost too much, it would be doing fine, provided you could buy a Dell running the Mac OS. Really?

Apple didn't falter in the 1990s because of its closed ecosystem; it faltered because, in the excellent words of, it had "unimaginative management" who understood chips better than they understood consumers, leading to "a chaotic product line that confused customers… [and] engineers' pet projects ran amok, leading to lots of half-baked technologies and a confused direction for the Mac".

Engineers' pet projects? Half-baked technologies? That sounds more like Google than today's Apple to us. But we digress.

Most wanted

Is the iPod/iPhone ecosystem closed? Yep. Does anybody care? Apparently not: last time we looked, Apple owned the MP3 market and had the most-wanted smartphone, too.

Those proprietary OS X machines aren't doing too badly, either: despite not letting anyone make OS X machines, Apple gets roughly half of all the cash spent on desktop PCs in the US, and a third of the money spent on laptops.

So how, exactly, is Android going to monster the iPhone? According to Blodget, "in its short life, Google's Android operating system has captivated developers."

All developers? No. Most developers? Nope. Apple's App Store is where the action is. This is not a Mac watching sadly while everyone develops for Windows: this time, the apps are on the Apple kit.

"The Droid and Google Phone are getting rave reviews," he continues. Which is true, although all the reviews I have seen say things such as "no multi-touch", "unimpressive media player" and "not as good as the iPhone".

"Technology tastemakers are thrilled with the platform's open-ness", Blodget asserts, waggling an accusing finger at Big Bad Apple and its treatment of developers. That's irrelevant. Ogg Vorbis is open and thoroughly approved by technology tastemakers. When was the last time anybody without a beard ripped their CDs into that format?

And while risible, Apple's treatment of the odd developer is only of interest to a few developers.

Is Android pretty nifty? Will it gain market share? Will a few iPhone refuseniks buy Nexus Ones? Yes, definitely and undoubtedly. Is the iPhone about to tank? Don't be silly.

iPhone going strong

This year it'll be in more countries, on more networks and in more hands than ever before, and don't forget there's a new model due this summer. iPhone sales have yet to stumble, let alone fall, and there's no reason to assume that they will any time soon.

If anybody should be worried about Android, it's not Apple: it's Microsoft and Nokia.

Let's say Android does become a really big deal. Will Apple care? We doubt it. Apple isn't interested in volume; it's interested in profitability. No matter how well Android does, it won't make money for Google in the way iPhones make money for Apple.

Which brings us to Blodget's final question. He asks: "Will Apple's insistence on maintaining end-to-end control, on trying to shoot the moon by owning every aspect of the mobile computing business, doom it to failure against a competitor hell-bent on achieving software ubiquity?"

No, Henry. No, it won't.

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