Google's Schmidt claims Android is beating iPhone

Speaking at the LeWeb conference in Paris, Google's Eric Schmidt says his company's phones are better based on price, vendors, and Ice Cream Sandwich.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt speaking at the LeWeb conference.
(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

PARIS--In the fight between the two smartphone heavyweights, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was blunt today about who he thinks is winning.

"Android is ahead of the iPhone now," Schmidt declared to an audience of techies and aspiring entrepreneurs at the LeWeb conference here.

He made his statement to a room bursting at the seams with iPhones, iPads, and Macs, and the audience met his words with a moment of silence that implied some skepticism. So Schmidt elaborated on how he was measuring: "unit volume, Ice Cream Sandwich, the price is lower, there are more vendors."

Android is indeed a success in the market. But one big weakness compared to iOS was very visible at the conference: becoming the top priority for programmers. Note-taking specialist Evernote today announced a new app called Hello for keeping track of people--for iPhone only so far. And when news reader Flipboard announced its expansion from the iPad to the iPhone, Chief Executive Mike McCue refused to even say whether the company was working on an Android version.

"We've been focused on iPhone," McCue said. And about Android, he said only, "We'll see."

Schmidt thinks the high volume of Android phone shipments will win out, though, aided by the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, aka Android 4.0.

"Ultimately, application vendors are driven by volume, and volume is favored by the open approach Google is taking. There are so many manufacturers working to deliver Android phones globally," Schmidt said. "Whether you like Android or not, you will support that platform, and maybe you'll even deliver it first."

One Android-toting audience member said he was frustrated to see iOS apps beating Android versions to market. But in part because of Ice Cream Sandwich, "My prediction is that six omens from now you'll say the opposite."

Success in Android is central to Google's plans. Although it gives the operating system away for free, it serves as a mechanism for the company to get its services into peoples' hands in the hot mobile technology realm. Those services include not just search, but also Gmail, Google Apps, Google+ Google Music, and Google Maps.

"All the interesting new applications are going to be some combination of social, mobile, and local," Schmidt said. And it's not a fad, he said: "Social, local, mobile has been true for humans for at least 10,000 years, so I don't think it's going to go away any time soon."

Ice Cream Sandwich will help Google, in part because it's got deeply integrated features for sharing using many services.

"We started off thinking phones were computers. We forgot that they were about communication," Schmidt said.

Ice Cream Sandwich has just started shipping on Samsung's Galaxy Nexus phone, still not available in the United States and many other parts of the world.

About Stephen Shankland
Stephen Shankland writes about a wide range of technology and products, but has a particular focus on browsers and digital photography. He joined CNET News in 1998 and since then also has covered Google, Yahoo, servers, supercomputing, Linux and open-source software and science.