This article is an expanded version of Jason's arguments in "iPhone Yes vs. iPhone No?" as part of ZDNet's Great Debate series.
"Oh Great iPhone 5, where are you?"
If Linus Van Pelt were an Apple fanboy, that's likely what he'd be saying right now.
Indeed, this week's "Let's Talk iPhone" launch event at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino was the tech industry equivalent of the eternal wait for the Great Pumpkin. And the tech press and blogosphere was willingly dragged into it like a salivating army of Sally Browns.
As we've all learned since that seemingly ageless Halloween cartoon special first aired in 1966 on CBS, the Great Pumpkin is a sham. He's purely a figment of Linus' imagination. He never, ever comes. No matter how many times we watch it, no matter how much we want to believe.
And while I am an Android phone user, I too wanted the Great Pumpkin -- the iPhone 5 -- to be real. Because as a technologist and observer of the mobile industry, I wanted Apple to really push the envelope on smartphone hardware, rather than release a purely iterative and modest upgrade to an existing design like they did with the iPhone 4S.
However, I wish to be completely honest. While I am an owner of several Apple products -- an iPad 2, an Apple TV 2, an Airport Express, an iPod Classic and a Mac Mini, I knew well in advance that the next-generation iPhone product would never be the "smartphone of my dreams" or even the ultimate product in its category.
I suspected that like many millions of other people, it wouldn't be theirs either. Late-2011 Market share of Android platform-based smartphones prove this in raw numbers in research conducted by comScore, AC Nielsen and NPD.
Why would I have thought this, device sight unseen? Because I fully understand Apple's design ethos and as such, I knew the product would never fit my use case requirements, which is typical of many frequent business travelers.
I knew no matter what whiz-bang software improvements or faster chip, or higher-res display or other refinements Apple would introduce into this new product, it will almost certainly lack key functionality that I need -- the ability to run on and tether to a 4G high-speed LTE network, and to use a replaceable, extended charge battery.
And I knew no amount of marketing showmanship Apple managed to pull off this week at its Infinite Loop launch is was going to change that, Steve Jobs as circus ringleader or not.
Given that I am an avid user of GMail, Google Voice and Google Calendar, the tighter Google integration is essential, which is something only an Android phone can give me, as well as many millions of other people.
So instead of waiting for the Verizon iPhone 5, I went for the Droid Bionic.
I'm glad I did, despite the legion of Linuses that told me I had made a serious mistake.
Instead of the iPhone 5, Apple launched the iPhone 4S, and made pricing changes on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS which it will continue to sell aggressively in 2012. All three of these are now targeted at the high, medium and the low end of the Android market.
The iPhone 4S is a modest improvement over its predecessor in that it brings the iPad 2's dual-core A5 processor with enhanced GPU to a proven smartphone design, as well as a re-designed 8 megapixel camera.
The iPhone 4 should now be an extremely popular phone with the Gen-Y crowd at a $99 subsidized price point, and the 3GS will now be free with a 2-year contract, which should lure in plenty of folks that were otherwise looking at "feature phones" but have always coveted an iPhone of their own.
However, it should be noted that the real value add to these phones is the iCloud-enabled iOS 5 -- which is going to be available via an iTunes update on the original iPhone 4 and 3GS. Which means that most of the features these "new" phones are introducing can be had for free by existing customers.
I for one am really looking forward to installing it on my iPad 2.
This free update to the new OS makes customers who are mid-contract or are otherwise happy with their devices less likely to pursue a smartphone upgrade.
But let's not kid ourselves here. Many of the advancements in iOS 5 have already been introduced in competing mobile operating systems.
Notifications had to be fixed. Cloud integration has been in Android since... Day 1. Voice recognition has been in Android since at least late Froyo updates and Gingerbread, although I will admit that what Apple has done with Siri is nice.
However, you can be assured that Android's voice recognition isn't going to stand still.
Without this update, iOS would have been perceived as being resting on its laurels. Cutting the USB cord was important. Introducing iCloud was very important.
But now Apple has to keep pace with Google's Ice Cream Sandwich -- and that's landing within the next month.
It's natural to assume that with this iPhone family re-arrangement and price shifting, many people are likely thinking about how much damage this can potentially do to Android's market share. It won't.
I think the real question is not how much Apple can steal from Android, but how much of the lion's spoils from RIM's deteriorating market share will end up in Apple's pockets versus the Android OEMs.
So far, market research has shown that Android market share continues to rise at the expense of RIM's, whereas iPhone growth up until now has remained relatively flat, only altering a single percentage point in a single sales quarter.
I will concede however that RIM will continue to deteriorate sharply in the next year -- a veritable death spiral -- and both Apple and the Android OEMs will battle for what remains of the carcass.
Apple's hyena pack is likely to gain a few points on the way, with Android's lion pride taking the juiciest pieces, particularly in the enterprise market, where the platform has more form factor flexibility, particularly in devices that have hardware keyboards.
I believe that business-oriented users as well as feature phone and superphone-oriented consumers will continue to gravitate towards Android (and to some extent Windows Phone, which may too pick up a couple of points at the expense of RIM) whereas the high-end, phone as fashion/style accessory crowd will gravitate towards iPhone.
Apple's iOS and Google's Android are destined to be tied in perpetual mortal combat, which is good for the industry.
However, at least for the time being, I just don't see Apple as being able to successfully challenge the mature cloud and value added services that Google and Android represents. Apple doesn't "Do Cheap" and I don't see that basic tenet of the company's core philosophy changing post-Jobs.
I think a certain number of business people will gravitate towards Apple and iCloud if they already have a personal investment in the App store and use existing iOS devices.
However, a lot of professionals already use Google's cloud for messaging, calendaring and documents. I see iCloud as bringing iOS up to par with Google in cloud technology, not so much as out-pacing it. Without Cloud, iOS would have been behind the curve.
With Apple's iCloud gauntlet being thrown in Larry Page's face, I expect some real surprises from Google in 2012. The company will not stand still, particularly as it relates to enterprise users.
The real bottom line is that there's just too much inflexibility in the Apple ecosystem to displace Android's versatility.
While there is some demographic convergence between the two systems, both Android and iPhone are fairly mature platforms that seem to have done well carving out their respective territory. And a lot of this has to do with how Apple and Google both perceive the identity and the role of their own platforms, which are very different.
I think that the vertical integration in iOS and the iPhone is always going to be what makes an iPhone an iPhone, or an Apple product, period. Whereas the flexibility and relatively open framework of Google's mobile operating system makes Android what it is.
When you control 100 percent of the hardware and software ecosystem it allows you to fine tune your components and software, but at the expense of being able to give your customers more choice. And as we know from the raw sales numbers, a large demographic of consumers want that choice.
There is no question that vertical integration is what makes Apple as a company successful, but it also places them into a doctrine that is prone to inflexibility and can alienate large groups of consumers and business users.
While Android remains largely unaffected by this new product launch, as Google's software and OEM handsets are more than a match for iOS 5 -- the real losers here in my opinion are RIM and Microsoft. With iOS 5, Apple has continued to raise the bar on smartphone software technology and now RIM's OS 7 devices look ever so clunky by comparison.
I don't think the 4S is likely to sway anyone who was looking at the iPhone 4 or 3GS previously and went to Android.
The iPhone 4 and the 3GS, while proven sales performers which will continue to do very well now that they've been reduced in price, are certainly now too low end to grab the Android "superphone" users, but could conceivably dent Android's enty-level market where feature phones previously existed.
Still, if we follow current purchasing trends, It's much more likely that the collateral damage from the iOS 5-refreshed iPhones and the Android Ice Cream Sandwich/Android 2.3 4G phones being released at the end of 2011 are going to decimate whatever market share RIM is going to have left in 2012.
And what of 4G and the iPhone 4S's lack of LTE or WiMax technology, anyway?
I believe a large portion of Business users that have been in exit mode from BlackBerry will not find any of the re-launched iPhones as attractive as they could have been had they been equipped with 4G.
There's something to be said for 8+ megabits per second wireless tethering from your hotel on the road from your business laptop or tablet that you can get on a Droid Bionic that you cannot get on any of the current iPhone models.
And what of Siri, the new voice recognition in iOS 5? Sure, it's cool. I'm not going to deny that. But let's remember that the back end that powers Siri is iCloud, the core of which is a single massive datacenter in North Carolina.
Today, we saw a demo that looked great in Apple's HQ. But what happens when you throw tens of millions of Siri queries at iCloud? That's yet to be seen.
On the other hand I know who's been doing gargantuan volumes of internet-based queries for years and has been doing it successfully -- Google.
My search and voice query response times on my Bionic are instantaneous, no matter what network I am running on, 3G or 4G. And that's because Google knows public cloud infrastructure better than anyone. ANYONE. Except for maybe Amazon.
If only Amazon could launch their very own tablet to compete with the iOS 5 refreshed iPad 2. Oh wait.
Still, I really wanted to believe in the iPhone 5. Maybe next year Linus. Maybe next year.
Did you get caught up in "The Great iPhone 5 Launch" like Linus and Sally? Talk Back and Let Me Know.