According to recently-released data, Google’s Android is passing the iPhone in market share. This same happening has been reported at least three times so far. Some (well, lots) predict this will lead to iOS’s demise. Many are chanting that history will repeat itself, with Windows’s victory over Mac OS about to occur again. The problems with this thinking, though, are myriad. I will try to explain a few.
First of all, Android has only recently surpassed the iPhone. This might seem surprising, considering that many different hardware companies make Android-compatible devices, including Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG, Acer, Sony Ericsson, and so on. In over two years, this consortium has only just recently (even if the data presents the whole picture) passed a single phone (in two models) from a single company, running on a single carrier. Good for them!
UPDATE: John Gruber today wrote, “More and more, I’m convinced that Android isn’t a single platform. It’s a meta-platform upon which handset makers build their own platforms.” In this context, it seems even more absurd to claim that Apple is “falling behind.” No one ever said (well, OK, Paul Thurrott might have) that the iPhone was failing because it had less market share than RIM, Palm, and Nokia combined.
Next, the argument that this means Android will kill iOS in the long term starts to fall apart when one considers the carriers. Swarms of customers have been waiting for a Verizon iPhone since launch (or before). This is one of Android’s greatest advantages, and it may soon disappear. As John Gruber pointed out, the picture is quite different in Europe, where the iPhone is available on multiple carriers. If the iPhone is coming to Verizon, as many speculate, this is all going to change.
A few years ago, many people claimed the same thing would happen to the iPod and iTunes. The “history repeats itself” whiners were present back then. But, it didn’t happen. The iPod remains the most popular music player in the world by a huge margin, and iTunes is the world’s most popular music store and growing fast. And it doesn’t look like this demise is going to happen soon. So clearly, history doesn’t always repeat itself. In fact, it can turn right around.
One of the arguments on the “iOS will die” side is that developers go where the users are, which will be Android. This argument, though, is the most flawed of them all. Of course, developers are important. But what really matters is great developers. Windows has more developers than Mac, but many people buy Macs because independent software makers, who really care about creating great applications, are tremendously more abundant on that platform. (Yes, I know, PC users don’t care that much. A lot of people buy Windows because of the amount of software for it. But after the iPhone, I believe smartphone users will care about quality.) Corporations creating boring, horrible utility software, and tiny companies trying to make money off pointless apps, have been around for years on platforms such as Symbian and Windows Mobile. Those platforms are being buried. What made the App Store such a phenomenal success were apps like Instapaper, Tweetie, Rolando, Brushes, and Flight Control. Some of that kind of app are available for Android. Many aren’t.
This argument breaks down completely when you realize that only iPhone units were measured, not total iOS devices. Sure, some say that this is just about the smartphone market. But if what matters is developers, and developers are attracted by users (as these people say), iPod touch users are identical to those of the iPhone. Even the iPad, though apps have to be rewritten for it, is part of the same market. Developers don’t care how many smartphone users are available, but how many users who will buy their apps. And in that respect, Apple has the advantage.
To put it another way, Android apps don’t seem to me to be catching on. I’m not very interested in Android, and read mainly about Apple. However, I am definitely a technology geek. And I very rarely hear about any Android apps. Many, many people who don’t know what open-source software is, how to write an if statement, or why force-quitting is useful heard about iPhone apps. “There’s an app for that” has gone viral. Apple’s developer success on the iPhone doesn’t seem to have been replicated on Android so far.
The arguments about the demise of Apple’s devices break down on close inspection. They forgot the carriers, they forgot iTunes, they forgot about quality apps, they forgot the iPod touch. So, as I see it, iOS’s future is secure.