Strong opinions, weakly held

How Android is like Windows

I’ve been saying for some time that in the smart phone market, Google is Microsoft and Apple is, well, Apple. Apple was never going to be the dominant player in this market in terms of market share, simply because they only have one or two phone models at any given time, are only on one carrier in the US, and won’t license the operating system to any other handset makers. They want to sell enough high margin products that people love to be extremely profitable, and are very successful with that strategy.

Google, on the other hand, gives Android away to anyone who wants to put it on their handset, and have been rewarded with rapid growth. But I don’t think that Android’s user experience will ever match the iPhone’s. For one thing, because Android is used on so many different kinds of hardware, it will be difficult to achieve the level of integration that Apple has with the iPhone. And for another, the carriers and handset makers are guaranteed to make the Android worse, just as the PC makers have consistently made Windows worse over the years.

This is from Eric Burke’s review of the HTC EVO:

Android makes vendor customizations possible and this phone demonstrates just how poorly that can be done.

He has a list of examples. That’s just not something you have to settle for when the iPhone is out there.


  1. Your comparison of Google to Microsoft (well, Android to Windows) is spot-on. The company I work for is building a touch-screen device based on android. When I got involved with that, I made the same realization.

    Apple, in essence, develops both the OS and the phone application, ensuring consistency.

    Android, on the other hand, is just the OS. The companies who use it build the apps on top of it. Therefore, you get as much consistency as you get between Windows apps developed by different companies.

    The only difference between Google and Microsoft is the profit model. Instead of the (old school) closed-source OS licensing model that Microsoft uses, Google is pursuing long-term market dominance, not short-term licensing revenue.

    I’m a geek, not a businessperson, but it seems that Google’s model is a longer-term, more visionary model that doesn’t guarantee long-term direct revenues as much as long term ‘market dominance’ whatever that may mean.* Only a company with Google’s cash can afford that approach.

    • This model seems to be: if we are dominant, we’ll figure out a way to make money, vs. we will make money via licensing and hopefully become the big player. That model seems to be working for Google in other areas.
  2. Your blogging system turned my asterisk into a bullet there.

  3. From a distribution model standpoint, Microsoft is definitely a fine comparison to Google.

    From a user experience perspective, I don’t think you really understand the Android ecosystem. It is precisely having the choice of various kinds of customizations which mean you don’t have to settle for anything.

    The HTC EVO, which I’ve held and used, runs the major alternate vendor customization of the Android experience, the “HTC Sense UI”. I know several people who vastly prefer this interface. They absolutely love their phone for having it. People coo over it.

    I’m not one of those people – I love the “Android experience” that Google designed, especially in its best form on the Nexus One. I can’t stand HTC’s Sense UI. I know lots of others who feel the same way.

    So me and those like me, and my Sense-loving friends and those like them, are all thrilled with our phones. No one is settling.

    It really bothers me that so many people just believe Apple when they say that the only way to achieve incredible UX is to exert tight control. It is one way. Too many people conclude a priori that Android is not and never will be as easy to use or beautiful, and don’t see that Android is demonstrating another way.

  4. Eric Mill It really bothers me that so many people just believe Apple when they say that the only way to achieve incredible UX is to exert tight control. It is one way.

    Good point. Which is precisely why, in my comment above, I credited Apple’s products with consistency, not beauty.

  5. I’d love to be wrong about there being many paths to UI nirvana, but I haven’t seen much evidence to support it, yet. Of course, UI nirvana is in the eye of the beholder. I’m sure the EVO interface is great for some people. And most importantly, I’m glad that there are plenty of options out there. Some people love the Blackberry, some people love the various Android variations, some people love the iPhone. Fortunately, we get to choose.

    It’s not that people believe Apple. I’ve been using computers for most of my life, and have observed that Apple has generally offered a better experience to its users than its competitors in that time. I don’t like Apple’s platform politics, but I do like their products.

  6. Hey. Interesting. Thanks.

    Is it possible for keen users to buy a branded Android phone and revert it to an unbranded version of vanilla Android?

    If Google made this ability part of the compatibility certification process for Android devices, then all users would be guaranteed of having that option.

    I’m probably vastly underestimating the difficulty of this.

  7. [Google’s is a] more visionary model that doesn’t guarantee long-term direct revenues

    Direct being the operative word – Google can afford not to care whether it makes money from phones because they are using Android to stimulate the mobile device market in order to increase people’s access to, and uses for, the web. This in turn drives revenue to Google’s advertising business.

    Instead of competing with encumbents in the phone industry, which is hard, they are increasing the size of a market that they already dominate, which is much more profitable.

  8. Jonathan. That’s precisely what I was trying to point out.

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