The smartphone market has expanded many times over in recent history, and from all indications it is in no danger of slowing any time soon. And while there are many players in the market, it might be interesting to note that the “politics” of smartphone control and development are not unlike that of real world politics.
That is, we have two distinct lines of thought when it comes to your friendly smartphone. The most popular smartphone, the Apple iPhone, is locked down (at least in the States) on both the carrier it will run on and the apps that will run on it.
Apple – a ruler of the masses and the apps
In this way Apple is like a benevolent dictator, and they gently but firmly mandate the what, where, and how of all things iPhone. Sure, they rule with a velvet glove, but anyone who has gone through the work of jailbreaking an iPhone from scratch (and not just running a kit) can attest to the iron intentions of this ruler. As in real life, communities of rebels have appeared to fight this uncompromising ruler.
Apple seems to have a vision of a Utopian society where everyone has a perfect device that pontificates as much as it innovates. In this vision, the smartphone ruler’s purpose is to decide for the masses what is good and kind to be on their devices, and they aim to keep the evil riffraff away from the innocent users.
Apple manages to rule all things iPhone through the AppStore and its approval process. Apple makes the decision of what apps are fit to be found in this perfect vision. If Apple does not give the thumbs up to a particular app, then it is discarded back into the wastelands. Those apps that are blessed by the powers that be go on to celebrate the largest single mobile sales arena ever created.
Google – Let Free Democracy Ring
In contrast to Apple’s benevolent dictatorship we have Google, who is providing the Android operating system to a free market. The market dictates the configuration, and the huddled masses are free to choose what implementation of Android they want to support with their buying dollars.
In stark contrast to Apple’s App Rule, the end user is free to choose what applications they want to install and run on the device. The trust is put in our hands to choose the device’s purpose and manner of use.
The People’s Choice: Benevolent Dictatorship
So, by looking at these different philosophies, you would think that the Google approach would be the best for both users and developers. However, that may not be the case. In fact, the capitalistic market itself appears to be choosing the iPhone and its dictator. The numbers for the first week of sales are interesting. From the Apple Insider website:
The 20,000 week one sales (of the Nexus One) are well behind the 1.6
million iPhone 3GS handsets sold in June.
1.6 million vs 20 thousand. That is a large gap, and it is quite doubtful that Google will be able to make up the difference in the remaining month. Granted, the iPhone 3GS debuted in eight countries, but even factoring that in the numbers are still far apart.
In fact, the Google Nexus One sold much less than competing Android phones. The Motorola Droid sold 250 thousand in its first week, and even the myTouch 3G sold 60 thousand in its initial week. Put all of the Android sales together and still the market has a clear choice: it’s Apple.
Okay, so the free market apparently favors the benevolent dictatorship. But is that the best for the people? Well, from a developer’s standpoint, that just might be the case.
Benevolent Dictatorship Is better for the people
Consider this – a developer writing an app for the iPhone currently has one screen to write their program for. While this might not seem like a big deal to some, anyone that has tried to support the many devices of Windows Mobile over the years will be loving this.
Another consideration for the app developer is the ease with which to distribute their program. There is one AppStore, and with a single submission you literally hit millions of potential customers.
This single submission system works great for the developer, and the numbers prove it. With over three billion downloads and more than 120,000 apps, the AppStore is by far the most successful mobile application service in history.
Democratic approach Is bad for the developer
With Google, the developer is left practically chasing a given device and not a platform. This is due to not only potential hardware differences in the devices themselves but also in the different versions of the Android OS. Even in its infancy the Nexus One runs a version of Android that is different from the Droid.
The market suddenly dwindles from the collective Android phones to the specific unit. Interestingly enough, the free market approach has just hampered the entrepreneur spirit of the independent developer.
Okay, so it is not exactly the best for the developers, but what about the users? Surely this open approach makes it great for all of the different apps available.
Well, there is the rub. Without a clear path to profit, a lot of developers will not produce apps for a given platform. Sure there will be specific applications for certain functions that many will find useful. And you will even have some big names that will produce for the Android just to have the limited competitors. But the massive numbers of apps for the iPhone (120,000+) will probably dwarf anything on the Android (16,000) for some time to come.
Google’s free market is destroying the Android branding
Ah, but you say that the Google brand will carry Android to a strong position. I have heard this argument before, but let me remind you of a fact earlier in this article – the Google Nexus One has sold less than competing Android phones in its initial week of sales.
This could indicate that the branding is being watered down thanks to the different places you can find an Android phone. The Nexus One is being marketed as “an” Android phone, not “the” Android phone. The typical buyer is confused, and they are left comparing technical notes without a kindly dictator assuring them that this particular unit is the latest and greatest you can find.
Google’s Free democracy is a wolf in sheep’s clothing
Now, so far I have been quite specific about Apple being the benevolent dictator and Google being the free market champion. But a quick look to the side of your browser page may paint a different picture. If you browse anywhere near the sites I tend to frequent, you may find a lot of Nexus One ads popping up in the Google Ads than before. And given the weak sales I certainly can’t blame the push in advertising.
However, what is happening to all of the existing ads that are being shuffled off to make room for the Nexus One ads? They are losing exposure time at not only Google’s expense. From a Webmaster’s World Forum:
Yeah, these terrible ads took over the top spots in many of my ad units. My earnings tanked the minute they appeared.
Google’s advertising arm is long, and they are dictating that ads for their own product will be shown for now. Even CNet draws attention to the fact that Google advertises its product right on the sacredly plain Google home page.
Wow, so even the champion of the people is a dictator when it suits the business model. That is, in order to produce and deliver a given product for a profit to the market, you must be a dictator for at least some part of the process. It just so happens that some carry it much farther than others in their pursuit of their capitalistic goal – profit.
The Verdict – benevolent dictatorship beats free democracy in all things mobile
Whether it is a point of political choice or personal beliefs, it would stand to argue that a free market, with the consumers having the choice, would be the best choice. But as we can plainly see, this is not the case. From Apple severely trouncing the existing free market approach, Windows Mobile, to shoving back the new kid on the block, Android, the people have spoken.
The people want someone to make the mobile waters safe. The people want someone to take them by the hand and lead them to the best choices. And this someone IS Apple.