It’s funny these days to watch Apple brag about the number of applications for the iPhone, and to see Android fans defensively argue that the number of applications for a platform doesn’t really matter, as long as it has the applications you want. Fifteen years ago, it was Windows advocates who derided the Mac because it had so few apps, and Mac users who were forced to respond with the argument that quality, not quantity mattered. That argument has died on the desktop, probably because what’s really important is the ability to access the Web, unless you have a very specific unmet requirement.
For what it’s worth, I think Android fans are right — the number of applications really doesn’t matter. Besides, eventually there will probably be more applications for Android than there are for the iPhone — Apple’s review process for iPhone applications almost assures that. In fact, I’m mainly writing this to put a stake in the ground so that I can go back and laugh at this argument later. Android phones are already sold by more carriers in the US than the iPhone, and Android is the open platform. If the application count for Android doesn’t continue to grow explosively, it will indicate that something has gone horribly wrong for the platform.
In the end, Android is going to be Windows and the iPhone is going to be the Mac, even if it may not seem that way because Apple got out of the gates so much earlier this time around. The problem Android faces is that they very well may never be able to offer as polished an experience as Apple does on the iPhone. There will be lots many different handsets, more expansive user interface standards, and a lot more carrier influence in terms of how the Android interface looks. Even if you buy an unlocked phone with “generic” Android, the lack of consistency that results from the fractured user base will affect the overall experience of using an Android handset. Plus, when it comes to creating truly functional designs, Google is not Apple.
There’s plenty of room in the market for both platforms, and in an ideal world, they’ll both be pushing each other on a number of fronts for years to come. As an iPhone user, that’s what makes me happiest about the high praise for the Nexus One. iPhone users need for it to be a worthy competitor to the iPhone as much as anyone.