Apple's Jobs pans Android: Integrated will trump modular models?

Apple CEO Steve Jobs' tirade on Android its fragmentation and alleged faux openness highlights a big mobile war with Google. What remains to be seen is whether open systems, or modular if you will, win the war over the long haul.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs' tirade on Android its fragmentation and alleged faux openness highlights a big mobile war with Google. What remains to be seen is whether open systems, or modular if you will, win the war over the long haul.

You can forgive Jobs for being a tad touchy about Android. He has battle scars from the PC wars. Apple was an integrated system then too. Apple made everything in the Mac. The PC went modular with the chips, operating system and components on different layers that were later integrated. We know how that turned out. Microsoft sent Apple to the brink before the big comeback.

I sat through a class on innovation at Temple University the other day and that history was revisited. It's a modular (can be more open) system against the soup-to-nuts integration.

Also: Can Apple's iOS really beat Google's Android?

This face-off is playing out everywhere. Tablets. E-readers. You name it. Typically, the modular approach wins the share. Integrated systems go premium. The Android-iPhone war is playing out like that. Maybe. Jobs' rant on Android questioned whether Google's Android set-up was really that open. Open doesn't always win, said Jobs. Apple also has developers, something it didn't in Apple vs. Microsoft round 1.

Here's what Jobs said:

Google loves to characterize Android as open and iOS and iPhone as closed. We find this a bit disingenuous and clouding the real difference between our two approaches. The first thing most of us think about when we hear the word open is Windows, which is available on a variety of devices. Unlike Windows, however, where most PCs have the same user interface and run the same Apps, Android is very fragmented. Many Android OEMs, including the two largest, HTC and Motorola, install proprietary user interfaces to differentiate themselves from the commodity Android experience. The users will have to figure it all out. Compare this with iPhone, where every handset works the same.

Even if Google were right and the real issue is closed versus open, it is worthwhile to remember that open systems don't always win. Take Microsoft's Plays for Sure music strategy, which use the PC model, which Android uses as well, of separating the software components from the hardware components. Even Microsoft finally abandoned this open strategy in favor of copying Apple's integrated approach, with their Zune Player, unfortunately, leaving their OEMs empty handed in the process. Google flirted with this integrated approach with their Nexus One phone.

In reality, we think the open versus closed argument is just a smoke screen to try and hide the real issue which is what's best for the customer, fragmented versus integrated. We think Android is very fragmented and becoming more fragmented by the day, and as you know, Apple strives for the integrated model so that the user isn't forced to be the systems integrator. We see tremendous value in having Apple rather than our users be the systems integrator. We think this is a huge strength of our approach compared to Google's, when selling to users who want their devices to just work, we believe integrated will trump fragmented every time.

Jobs has always believed integrated trumps fragmented. But it didn't in the PC market. It may not in the smartphone market. And the tablet market is a wild-card too even though Jobs ripped that avalanche of Android devices arriving on scene.

But the big issue is the modular vs. integrated system debate. Are the conditions---notably technology improvements--changed to support Apple's penchant for integrated systems where it controls everything?Perhaps. But is it really different this time? And why?

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