Android vs. Apple: The 2011 cage match

Android vs. Apple: The 2011 cage match

Summary: If you thought Google Android and Apple iOS butted heads in 2010, wait until you see what they do in 2011. And, see where both have weaknesses that could be exploited.


Throughout 2010 there were escalating tensions between Google Android and Apple iOS, as the two platforms emerged as the rising superpowers in the mobile world. But, if you thought things were heated between them last year, then as the saying goes, you ain't seen nothing yet. These two ecosystems are on course for a massive collision in 2011 and the stakes are about to get a lot higher.

The arrival of the iPhone on Verizon is a major incursion into what had previously become Android territory. Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" (the tablet OS) is about to unleash an army of Android tablets in a full frontal assault on the iPad. There is going to be blood, but as my colleague Larry Dignan notes, the carnage is likely going to have a greater impact on the other competitors in the mobile market more than on Apple and Google themselves.

To help evaluate the race between Android and iOS in 2011, I'd like to approach it from the perspective of where the two platforms are vulnerable. That will help give us an idea of where they might go after each other and where upstarts may try to challenge them.

Weak spots for iOS

For the iPhone and iPad the number one draw is ease of use. Your toddler and your grandmother (the one who is intimidated by computers) can both pick up one of these devices and figure out how to use it. As Jerry Pournelle says, with Apple products "everything is either very simple or it's utterly impossible." The utterly impossible side is where we find Apple's first weak spot.

1. Software inflexibility: There is very little tweaking and customization allowed by iOS. You have to do it Apple's way or else it's probably not an option. These limits allow iOS products to function very well within the protected space carved out by Apple. However, if you have the need or desire to do something that is not within the boundaries Apple has set for iOS (and can't create an app to handle it), then you're out of luck.

2. Productivity limitations: Both the iPhone and iPad are far better devices for consuming information than creating it. Part of the problem is with the on-screen keyboard, which works magnificently for short bursts of data entry but is not something you want to use for writing an email or document of greater length. The operating system itself is not especially tailored for multi-tasking or work-focused tasks such as building presentations, editing files, and juggling several bits of information at once.

3. Fewer hardware choices: Some people prefer really big screens while other people like ultra-small and portable devices. Some want a high-resolution camera lens and all the multimedia bells and whistles in their mobile device, while others don't need any of that stuff (and don't want to pay for it) but want a really nice hardware keyboard so that they can do longer data entry more comfortably. With Apple products, you have very few choices. In fact, with both iPhone and iPad there are really only two choices to make when buying the product: storage and connectivity. You get to pick how much storage you want and you get to pick the wireless carrier on the iPhone or the Wi-Fi only model vs. the mobile broadband model on the iPad. That's it.

Weak spots for Android

The best thing about Android is that its Open Handset Alliance includes some of the biggest and best vendors in the mobile world, including Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG, Dell, Sony-Ericsson, and many more. The Android partners make devices in all shapes and sizes and in virtually every iteration you can imagine. That's also part of the problem.

1. Ecosystem chaos: The Android operating system is open source and so hardware makers can take it and do almost anything they want with it. The only real carrot-and-stick that Google has is whether to allow the hardware makers the ability to include the Android Market for applications on their devices. And, frankly, Google has not used this as effectively as it could to keep vendors from doing bad things like launching with long-outdated versions of Android like the Dell Streak did and loading up the device with a bunch of uninstallable crapware like AT&T did with the HTC Aria and Verizon did with the Samsung Fascinate.

2. Wildly inconsistent experiences: One of the main consequences of the ecosystem melee is that there is not enough of a consistent experience across different Android devices. For example, nearly all of the hardware vendors put the Android menu buttons in a different order at the bottom of the screen, and many of them even use different types of button icons, further confusing users. Then there's the issue of Android software updates. Google releases major updates to the Android OS at least twice a year. However, in 2010, the only device that got those updates right away was Google's Nexus One, which runs the stock Android OS. All of the other Android devices have a vendor-supplied skin (which typically makes the devices worse instead of better) that runs on top of Android. The hardware vendors have to update their custom Android skins to make them compatible with the newest Android software and then submit it to the wireless carriers, who have to make sure it doesn't conflict with any of their Android apps, and then it finally gets pushed to the consumer. The timing of these updates is very inconsistent across the Android ecosystem.

3. Leadership vacuum: A lot of these Android problems boil down to the fact that Google needs to show stronger leadership of its ecosystem. Even if it can't ultimately force the hands of hardware vendors since Android is open source, it can use the Android Market as a bigger stick against gross violators and it can publicly suggest best practices that it would like to see Android vendors adopt in order to pressure (and occasionally inspire) the hardware makers and wireless carriers into better behavior.

How will it turn out?

In the smartphone market, you have to wonder how well these two will be able to market against each other to exploit their weaknesses. The two are fairly well solidified in people's minds. Unless more people get sick of being locked into the iTunes ecosystem on iPhone (no sign of that yet) or get fed up with the crapware and delayed updates with Android (only a few instances where the masses have noticed), then the 2010 growth trajectory of both platforms will likely hold.

The game is a little more wide open in tablets. Companies like ASUS are targeting Apple's weak spots in productivity and hardware choices. Hewlett-Packard could combine its long experience in tablet hardware with Palm's webOS to create a tablet with much better multi-tasking and business features than Android and iOS. But, again, Apple has a big lead here and Google's tablet OS that it showed off at CES looked very impressive and there are already a lot of big hardware vendors that have lined up to use it.

The bottom line is that both Android and iOS are going to be wildly successful in 2011 and continue to gobble up mobile marketshare. In most cases, it won't come at the expense of each other, although we should expect Apple to initially steal some Android sales on Verizon and Android will eat away at some iPad sales when its first wave of tablets hit the ground in the spring.

Nevertheless, there will be a ton of new customers coming into the market in both smartphones and tablets in 2011. Look for Google and Apple to dominate most of the new sales in both of those markets. That will keep both Android and iOS on major growth trajectories. Android will have a lot more devices and a lot more companies pushing its devices, so it will ultimately grab greater market share in smartphones, although Apple is very competitive on price (unlike in the Mac vs. PC battles of 1980s and 1990s) so it won't just be relegated to the high end of the market. It will take a much larger chunk of market share than it did in the PC wars.

And, in tablets, Apple is out to a huge lead with the surprising success of the iPad. Android and others will start to eat into that cushion in 2011, but Apple will still command a majority of that market by the end of the year.

What about Microsoft, HP, BlackBerry, and Nokia?

Unfortunately, it looks like all four of these behemoths are on the wrong side of history. These guys are all going to be reduced to challenger status in 2011. They'll be on the outside looking in. Both Microsoft (with Windows Phone 7) and HP (with Palm webOS) could have snatched some of the momentum away from Apple and Google a year ago in the smartphone market, but they're a little late now. Even though both have solid products, their timing is off and they have a lot of ground to make up in winning over software developers to their platforms.

As for BlackBerry and Nokia, they both have a large installed base of customers to draw on and build from, but it's not going to be enough to stem their losses in 2011. They are both too far behind when it comes to product innovation. Oh sure, they will continue to hold on to nice chunks of old market share in some places, but both will likely continue their decline at accelerating rates in 2011.

Also read

This article was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Hardware, Android, Apple, Google, Mobile OS, Mobility, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • Wow. Thanks for due consideration. Not...

    While I'm glad you gave deserved attention to webOS' capabilities, it ticks me off when I see a tech pundit write off a company even when they're about to release a whole new roadmap, especially a company with the size and strengths of HP. That was patronizing, and poor journalism. Why don't you let HP make their announcement and let consumers decide how the market is going to go before making half-assed projections?

    Update: perhaps "patronizing" was too strong a word. Dismissive was the word I was looking for. English is only my primary language... :(
    • Don't worry. When the market speaks

      and 12 months from now it's different then what they predicted, they won't bring it up again. These blogs are here to make money [b]today[/b], they'll worry about 12 months down the road in 12 months.
    • RE: Android vs. Apple: The 2011 cage match

      WebOS already went up to 5% share and back down to almost nothing.
      They may show a new roadmap but compared to microsoft they don't have anything to offer so far
      • RE: Android vs. Apple: The 2011 cage match

        @sovok_ Hence the reason to wait 3 weeks to find out what's in store. If HP comes out with a "Pre 3" and a single 7" tablet that lacks proper storage or camera resolution or some such, then punch away. In the meantime, let's not dismiss the company when you have little idea what they have planned.
    • What has HP shown so far?

      @BobAtPit NOTHING. It is hard to give any credit for nothing.

      HP has a record of talking too much BS and delivering crap. On example, the over hipped junk called Slate. It had about as much life as the MS KIN.
      • RE: Android vs. Apple: The 2011 cage match

        @wackoae That was then, this is now. Everyone wrote off Apple for a long time, but they came back. Even if I weren't already invested in Palm/webOS, I'd still want to wait and see what HP had in store. This is why I hate prognostication. We're all notoriously bad at it...
      • You said that was then this is now ....

        @BobAtPit ... guess what .... my example was only a few weeks ago.
    • With out a game-changing technology webOS chances are low

      @BobAtPit It will likely take more than a nice solid product for webOS to survive in the consumer market. It needs to have something that's a game-changer, in the same way that the Wii was for console gaming.

      Playstation and Xbox had all the momentum, just like Android and iOS do now. A nicer version of the Nintendo Gamecube would have had a low likelyhood of making it, but when the Wii came out with the motion controllers, it changed everything.

      If webOS can't do something like that, then I would not be too optimistic about them. It's not the quality of their product at this point, it's more the momentum that iOS and Android have that will be hard to stop.
      K B
  • Dismissing WP7 too easily

    You are dismissing WP7 too easily, especially the part where you pretend that Microsoft won't be able to attract developers to WP7. This is already being proven to be false. Microsoft already has over 20,000 developers signed up for their WP7 developer program and over 6,400 apps. This is a remarkable accomplishment considering the devices only debuted a little over two months ago in the U.S. and I think its safe to say nobody in the tech journalism world would have believed this prediction at launch.

    The key to a successful platform are developers and Microsoft is off to an awesome start in that regard.
    • "Microsoft is off to an awesome start..."

      @Tiggster : To tell you the truth, I feel like that is abysmally slow when compared to either iOS or Android--especially since they have so much to prove by their delay.<br><br>Personally, I think WP7 has an advantage over both of them with its inherent connections with the Windows desktop and networking environments that the others have to adapt for. The enterprise customer especially should find WP7 an almost intuitive tie-in to their in-house services.<br><br>Android has so far met with issues in both the connectivity and security requirements with many enterprises as they test the usability within their environments while iOS has met with some connectivity issues, though not as extensively as Android at this point. <br><br>As it is, the iPad is seeing significant adoption within a number of major enterprise players simply because WP7 didn't field a competing device quickly enough. This isn't to say WP7 can't make up the difference and I honestly believe WP7 will eventually offer a realistic challenge to both the other current mobility options, but with only a few thousand devices sold and not even one tenth as many available applications or developers on line, it's going to be a very slow start in a very long race.
      • The Problem with Window phone 7

        You honestly don't see Microsoft doing anything with it, it's like the golden goose. It could launch Microsoft back on top but only if Microsoft starts using it!! What ever happened to the Surface tablet? That big Shiny amazing computer/tablet running on windows 8 (haven't heard a lot about that ether) all the excitement for it died down right after it came out? (That last point I made wasn't really a point of all but a question for you)

        What I'm saying is that Android and Apple both have developers and consumers for there products and great OS Microsoft has the Os but not the consumers and that's why it will die. The one thing that the windows phones have are Word and Excel apps.
  • interesting

    interesting read jason, as always.

    still, i don't get this whole "ipad is bad for work, only good for consumption" meme. besides that there are already thousands of apps from sap to oracle and probably any other company on that planet and all vertical markets possible (real estate, sales, medical etc.) covered with specialized apps, i agree that it is better for heavy data input to use a real keyboard on a laptop or even better a desktop. but how can this be an iOS weakness? wouldn't that be true for any android tablet if and when they finally arrive sometime in 2011?

    and i don't think "software inflexibility" is a weakness of iOS either. first 99,99% of the population don't care about limitations to how they can tinker with a smartphone OS and the geeks and nerds can jailbrake it anytime and do whatever their liking.

    so, all it boils down is fewer hardware choices. but again, i don't think that's a big issue with most people. after all today's smartphones and tablets are basically a glass screen and not much more (thanks to apple). and contrary to common belief in geek's land usb-ports don't sell hardware.
    banned from zdnet
  • Why do people keep whining about lack of keyboard?

    Complaining about lack of keyboard on a tablet is stupid. IT IS A FREAKING TABLET. If you wanted to produce text based documents, BUY A FREAKING LAPTOP, not a tablet.

    Besides, if you really need it, what about getting one of the widely available 3rd party add-on keyboards?

    Complaining about the lack of keyboard on a tablet is like complaining about the lack of web access on a stove.
    • RE: Android vs. Apple: The 2011 cage match

      @wackoae Your comment reminds me of a comment I saw a few years ago about why the cell phone carriers would ever offer a phone with WIFI when it competes with their own data plans. The reason all high end smartphones now have WIFI is because customers wanted it.

      If there is a market for a smaller tablet like device that offers longer battery life and more portability then a full laptop, but also includes a full keyboard, then it will get made. I personally would love to see it, and I when it happens, then I will be in the market for a tablet. Until then, my phone is my tablet.

      I don't companies to dictate to me what my device must look like. I personally like choices. Some people don't want a keyboard, and that is fine, but some of us do.
      • RE: Android vs. Apple: The 2011 cage match


        The product you want exists. It is called the MacBook Air.
      • RE: Android vs. Apple: The 2011 cage match

        @littlemas2@... Who is dictating what your device must look like? If you don't like the look, feel or whatever of one device there are countless others out there to take a look at. None of the manufacturers produce every flavor for every taste but none of them are dictating which device you have to buy either.
  • 2. Productivity limitations ?

    2. Productivity limitations, WTF?

    So in what way does Pages, OmniGraffle, and a dozen other applications limit your productivity?

    Please do name the nearest competitor to Keynote for iPad that is available for an Android device?
    • RE: Android vs. Apple: The 2011 cage match


      If u find Pages limiting, y not run the full version MS Office thru ThinServer then !
  • Apple's marketing arm hard at work on ZDNet!!

    [i]Listen folks, don't even look at anything other than iPad and Android because everything else sucks.

    Listen folks, don't even look at anything other than iPad and Android because everything else sucks.

    Listen folks, don't even look at anything other than iPad and Android because everything else sucks.

    Listen folks, don't even look at anything other than iPad and Android because everything else sucks.

    Listen folks, don't even look at anything other than iPad and Android because everything else sucks.

    (and Android sucks too so buy iPad)[/i]

    Apple sure is getting their money's worth on ZDNet!
    • agreed!

      i never thought i would once agree with you.
      banned from zdnet