All the big-name phone makers are now on the Android bandwagon and being led down a garden path that ends in a cliff. Phones like the LG Optimus are already available free on $29/month plans, and will soon be available on the cheapest $19/month plans.
Many journalists are liking the Android invasion to the Windows 95 invasion; but there are a couple of elements that are strikingly different.
Firstly, Windows costs money and has been the driver behind much of Microsoft’s profits since Windows 95. Android, on the other hand, is given to phone makers for free. Phone makers can install it in their stock variety without any customisations or they can create their own skins and themes to customise the device.
Google will never make money from selling Android licences directly, and the plus for phone makers is they no longer have to invest money developing their own proprietary operating system.
However, like Windows, it will be increasingly hard for phone makers to differentiate themselves from other Android phone makers. There’s no long-term incentive for Android users to be loyal to any one manufacturer.
Secondly, the carriers love Android because it means that, instead of negotiating with one business (like Apple), it can negotiate with many different manufacturers and demand better terms. What do you think Apple says when Optus calls and asks for a discount? Now, what do you think HTC says to the same question?
Carriers are used to dominating their partners, and the iPhone has flipped this around. Carriers have to provide iPhones because that’s what customers demand, but they’re more expensive and don’t come with any carrier branding or crappy apps. From a consumer perspective the carrier is reduced to a dumb pipe.
By rallying behind Android as a platform, the carriers regain the upper-hand in the relationship so it’s in their best interests to push and promote Android handsets.
Unfortunately, many consumers see ads for Android handsets and naively end up buying them. Why naively? Because I think that for most users Android is a big mistake.
The Android Market Place is still lacking when compared to the App Store, and the user experience is sub-par compared to an iPhone.
It’s lucky for us, then, that for most phone plans above $49/month the iPhone is essentially free, even though the outright price of an iPhone is greater than an Android phone. That means consumers still have an honest choice.
Still, the Android threat looms on the near horizon and Android-based products are popping up everywhere. It’s not just phones anymore, either. By the end of the year expect to see Android tablets, e-readers and even TV via Google TV.
Yet I still have faith that Apple’s vision with iOS as a single unified platform won’t die as quickly as some naysayers believe.
Apple recently announced that over 100 million iOS devices have shipped, which creates some serious opportunities for developers.
Plus, the existing 225,000 apps still runs circles around Android store, not just in terms of quantity, but in quality too.
This article originally featured in the September issue of Australian Macworld magazine.