Third party accessories: Big advantage iOS over Android

Third party accessories: Big advantage iOS over Android

Summary: The third party accessory market is an area in which iOS totally smokes Android, and it won't change.

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Geeks love accessories for their gadgets. It's not just an obsession, good accessories can extend the utility of smartphones and tablets a great deal. Whether it is an extended battery case for a smartphone, or a case for the tablet that adds functionality, the right accessory can be a game-changer when it comes to daily use.

When conversation turns to platform ecosystems, most folks usually think of apps. That's an important topic, but the third party accessory ecosystem is a source of big revenue that also helps drive mobile platforms. When you compare the accessory ecosystems of the two big guys, iOS and Android, the former wins hands-down.

Want a case for your iPhone? Take a stroll online and you will find hundreds, literally hundreds of options to choose from. There are cases that range from just a few bucks for simple models, to over a hundred bucks for models with extended batteries integrated into the case.

The same thing holds true for the iPad. There are cases that add functionality to using the iPad in a variety of useful ways, using materials of all types. The number of cases with physical keyboards is amazing even though many iPad owners don't use them.

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The Android world is very different when it comes to accessories. There are so many phones that if you have a choice of a couple of cases for yours you consider yourself lucky. Usually only the phone OEM will produce a case or two because they know it's not likely anyone else will.

The situation with Android tablets is even worse, as sales don't justify third party accessory makers to take a chance. They have no assurance they will recover their development money.

Why the big difference between iOS and Android for accessories? It's a number game. Not only do accessory makers know that Apple will sell millions of iPhones and iPads, they know that the latest model of each will stick around for a year. The window of opportunity with iOS is much longer than it is with Android.

That's due to the big Android platform being spread thin around so many phones and tablets. The market is shared by too many phones and tablets, and third parties have to gamble which ones will sell the most. It doesn't help that Android OEMs update their hardware all the time.

If a tablet case maker spends time and money developing a nice accessory for one of the Android models, they're confronted with the tablet maker introducing the next model just months after the first. Often accessories for the previous model won't work with the newly refreshed one. The window of opportunity is very small, and it's the tablet OEM's fault.

There is little incentive for companies that make good accessories for smartphones and tablets to take the risk on Android. The stable platform for them is iOS, so that's what they work with for new products. The third party accessory ecosystem for iOS is vastly greater than that for Android. Android will never catch up to iOS in this area, as the very nature of the business for Android guarantees it never will.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Mobile OS

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35 comments
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  • One Reason for Trading Galaxy Tab for iPad

    I struggled with this just a few weeks ago when I finally bought a tablet. I initially purchased the Galaxy Tab 8.9. Loved the size and form factor - didn't like the apps and accessories (or lack thereof, in both departments). Took it back to to the store and picked up an iPad 3rd gen.

    I wanted to fall in love with Android, but that was my second try and I came away feeling disappointed again. I don't think they're getting a third try from me.
    ptrader
    • Ditto

      ptrader, I want folks to know I did not write your comment. But, I sure could have. I purchased an iPad after my third try with an Android tablet (though I'm still an Android phone user).

      The 'Droid fanatics just don't get it. They think that people have bought-into a bunch of Steve Jobs hype which doesn't have merit. Unfortunately, those droid fans seem to have blinders on to so many factors and issues surrounding their platform of choice, that they are incapable of seeing the larger picture. I hadn't really given accessories much consideration until reading this article, but as soon as I read this, I thought "Bingo! Accessories are just one more of the many issues which I had with my Android tablet days."
      camcost@...
      • Yeah, except...

        That's just not true. Certain Android tablets do have accessories. Will you find an arcade style dock? No. But that's just a silly toy. Nobody seems to want to define accessories, but the more popular, larger models like the Prime or Galaxy tab 10.1 had plenty of cases, and of course things like styluses and Bluetooth keyboards are pretty much universal (provided the BT version is right).

        "So many factors and issues". Could you please elaborate?
        xamountofwords
  • This is about hardware, not software

    Both iOS and Android are operating systems. This article is about hardware accessories, not software. The topic shouldn't be whether iOS "smokes" Android, but rather about how the homogeneous hardware of the iPhone leads to a deeper accessories market, whereas Android-based Devices are run on heterogenous hardware, thus diluting demand for specific accessories.
    AccountUnwanted
    • Isn't this stating the obvious?

      Great point. I usually find James articles insightful, but this one is off the mark. Of course Apple products will have more accessories because (1) Apple products are the biggest sellers and (2) they have one or two hardware designs a year. The best thing about Android is that there are thousands of different hardware choices. It necessarily follows that there won't be as many dedicated accessories to a particular hardware design by a particular manufacturer. The hardware choice is an enormous benefit that makes it possible for consumers to buy a device that suits their particular needs and often obviates the needs for accessories. Also, the adoption of micro USB on Android makes James' argument far less compelling as it would be otherwise. iPhones/iPads provide an overall excellent experience, but the lack of hardware choices undoubtedly results in a sacrifice for some users. The Apple and Android ecosystems are based on two entirely different paradigms. Consumers can figure out which works best for them and both have pros/cons. Of topic, but I am somewhat disappointed by James posts since he fell in love with all things Apple. There are far fewer articles about the latest and greatest devices offered by other manufacturers and, when there is, it is almost always negatively compared to Apple. I agree that Apple makes great products, but many other manufacturers are coming out with excellent products that - at least on paper - exceed the technology in Apple's current offerings. James, mix it up like you did before you became a super fan of Team Apple!
      OJMc
    • hardware, not software

      Your point is dead on, but this is zdnet and since they seem to have a big grudge agaisnt anything google beause of their rankings. They will never let an opportunity to bash anything "google" get away. you could probably count how many pro android articles they have here in one hand, possitive articles about Apple? Well you get point. Hey James, Where's your article about how windows blows OSX in the business world and in market share? oh thats right you don't want make apple look inferior.
      wolfn11
      • Agree

        The number of positive articles for Android couldn't possibly have anything to do with the quality of the product.
        boone51
      • You're right...

        not that this has anything to do with the obvious stated in this article; OS X should be getting "blown" by Windows. Just kiddin'; it is true that Windows does dominate the business market, but IT (as in I.T.) could never convince the bean counters to spend the kind of money to switch platforms (+ all the software). IT would never want to do it because that seem like a practically logistic impossibility. Besides Windows is suiting us just fine. (Actually if it weren't for Windows and it's problems, they might no need me). While OS X is only in our graphics and marketing departments, iOS is totally taking over the mobile arena. I have set up more than a dozen iPads and iPhones in the past couple of weeks, but not one Android device. Nothing against Android, this is just what's been happening.
        race_1
    • Spot On

      Well said!
      Owning both I can find what I need for both pretty much all the time.
      Matter of fact, one accessory will frequently direct me to a similar accessory for the other.
      I go in knowing I will likely have to wade though hundreds for my iPad2 and dozens for my Transformer.
      Then again, I didn't buy either based on the number of accessories.
      rhonin
    • This is a consumer device.

      People aren't buying an "OS" they are buying a device. The author's point is valid.
      baggins_z
      • agreed.

        The title did say "accessories" not "apps"
        race_1
  • big deal

    soldering gun and some parts I can build anything and sell it at high price to shove at some one .it still doesn't make apple better than any other product out on the market it just makes more folks think they need all this crap to be happy!
    sarai1313@...
    • Not really. It does make better in the fact that

      it's more versatile to people. The iPhone (and the ZuneHD, even) have an advantage over my HTC Trophy in that I can hook either of those to a TV to watch or listen to whats on the phone with a simple accesory.

      I found the more versatile something is the "better" it is IMHO.
      William Farrel
  • The cart before the horse

    As a matter of fact, there are TOO MANY choices of accessories for most of Android phones and tablets. Last week I spent almost hour online trying to pick the best case and skin for HTC Rezound. Similar situation was with Motorola XOOM. Yes, not every kind of accessory is available for every model because they are designed for different range of needs, different kind of users and finally for different budgets. iOS gadgets have the very narrow choice of platform while there are special cases for iPhones and iPads of each generation. So not only the basic statement of article is doubtful but the entire point of article is wrong IMHO - vendors of accessories just follow the marketing success of iOS products and this success will end soon: 1) Android product became more and more "dummy proof" and 2) "dummies" became better used to Android interface.
    mikhrezn@...
  • Kendricks you are so full of it.

    I know you've been an Apple fan boy for a long time now, but this one was laughable. Just the other day I had my Android tablet at a bar. There was someone sitting close to me with his Ipad2 and case. Since he could only interface via bluetooth he was impressed by the fact that my keyboard simply plugged into my tablet and didn't need it's own power source.

    Taking a more sophisticated example would be the Transormer Prime and it's mobile docking station. What does Apple have to compare with that, third party or otherwise?

    I own an IPad 2 and an Andoid tablet for business reasons. Too claim the Apple has more accessories is too darn funny.

    I think this time you jumped the shark.
    fldbryan@...
    • And like you

      And like you, I also carried mobile computers when they weighed 30 pounds and the upgraded ones actually had a hard drive in them.
      fldbryan@...
    • Spot One

      Not only does the Transformer Prime have a keyboard dock that the iPad doesn't have, you can also use other accessories with it that you can't use on an iPad. Wireless mice and presentation clickers for PowerPoint presentations immediately come to mind.
      wmadan@...
    • You are absolutely right...

      In the land of the clueless he is still a jester.

      I said this above and it got voted to oblivion so here is the excerpt below..

      Cloud print has better printer support than Airprint and many bluetooth devices just work with Android and don't with an iPad that hasn't been jailbroken. Game controllers, clickers, mice, speaker bars.

      There may be a larger variety of certain accessories but overall they're not drastically different.
      slickjim
  • Why don't android mfgs. fix this?

    Seems to me that mfgs. could create an attachment that provides compatibility with iphone/ipad accessories. Doesn't seem like it would be that hard. Charge $19.99 for a for a plastic attachment that interfaces between the two.

    I agree that it is very frustrating having an android device and very few choices for accessories such as speaker docks, etc.
    Youthink?
    • reason

      Because Apple will sue anyone who makes a device like that. Since one end of the adapter would have to match Apple's patented shape and adapter design, any manufacturer would be violating Apple???s patents. Since Android devices mostly use standard usb/mini usb plugs, it wouldn???t be hard to do though.
      soylentgreen77