Steve Jobs attacks Android 'mess', small tablets

The Apple chief used a rare conference call appearance to lay into Google, its smartphone OS and its growing presence in the tablet market
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs used an earnings call on Monday to attack smartphone rivals Google and Research In Motion, and to give his opinions on Nokia and the ideal tablet size.

Jobs, who does not usually participate in conference calls or question-and-answer sessions, said he "couldn't help dropping by for [Apple's] first $20bn quarter". He began by noting that Apple had now passed Research In Motion (RIM) in smartphone sales — 14.1 million iPhones versus 12.1 million BlackBerrys in the companies' most recent quarters. He predicted that the Canadian manufacturer, which plans to switch at some point from its BlackBerry OS to the QNX platform, would not regain a lead over Apple.

"We've now passed RIM, and I don't see them catching up with us in the foreseeable future," Jobs said. "They must move beyond their area of strength and comfort into the unfamiliar territory of trying to become a software platform company. I think it's going to be a challenge for them to create a competitive platform and to convince developers to create apps for yet a third software platform, after iOS and Android."

The next target for Jobs was Android, which according to Gartner out-shipped the iPhone in June, during the run-up to the release of the iPhone 4. He pointed out that Google activates 200,000 Android devices a day, compared with 275,000 for Apple iOS-devices. He also noted that there are only 90,000 items in the Android app portfolio, compared with Apple's 300,000-strong App Store.

The Apple chief then attacked Google's characterisation of Android as open, compared with the closed iOS platform, as "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," Jobs said. "Unlike Windows, however, where most PCs have the same user interface and run the same app, Android is very fragmented. Many Android [manufacturers], 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."

Jobs went on to refer to a recent blog post by the mobile chief of Tweetdeck, which he mistakenly called 'Twitterdeck'. In the blog post, Toby Padilla presented an infographic showing the multitude of different Android versions and handsets that his company had encountered while beta-testing the Android client of Tweetdeck, which provides an extra layer of features for Twitter. Most of the ROM and handset versions in the infographic were one-off hacks created by enthusiastic Android users.

"They reported that they had to contend with more than 100 different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets," Jobs said. "The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge."

In response, Padilla made a comment on Twitter saying that Jobs was using the blog post "as a negative example of Android development... whereas it really wasn't". Tweetdeck founder Iain Dodsworth also replied, posting on Twitter to say: "Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android? Errr nope, no we didn't. It wasn't."

Android application stores that are specific to certain manufacturers and operators also came under fire, with Jobs predicting this scenario would result in a "mess" for both users and developers.

"We see tremendous value in having Apple rather than our users be the systems integrator," Jobs said. "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 triumph fragmented every time."

The Apple boss was less scathing about the worldwide leader in phone shipments, Nokia. "We admire them for being able to ship the number of handsets that they do," he said. "But we don't aspire to be like them. They are good at being like them. We want to be like us, and we want to make the best ones.

"Nokia makes $50 handsets, and we don't know how to make a great smartphone for $50. We're not smart enough to figure that one out yet, but believe me, I'll let you know when we do," he added.

Gartner recently said that the iPad kick-started the media-tablet market and almost 20 million tablets will be sold during 2010. Jobs suggested that rather than this "avalanche" of rivals, the market will see just a "handful of credible entrants". He criticised the majority of upcoming tablets for using Android and 7-inch screens, rather than a 10-inch screen as seen in the iPad.

Noting that a 7-inch screen provides 45 percent of the space available on a 10-inch screen, Jobs said the smaller size "isn't sufficient to create great tablet apps". "The 7-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad," he added.

"Almost all of these new tablets use Android software, but even Google is telling the tablet manufacturers not to use their current release, Froyo, for tablets, and to wait for a special tablet release next year," Jobs continued. "What does it mean when your software supplier says not to use their software in your tablet? And what does it mean when you ignore them and use it anyway?"

Google had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

Despite the fact that Apple's quarterly iPad sales fell below analyst expectations — 4.19 million units sold, rather than 4.7 million units — Jobs sang the tablet's praises, suggesting that it had seen a surprising level of enterprise take-up.

"We haven't pushed it real hard in business, and it's being grabbed out of our hands," Jobs claimed. "I talk to people every day in all kinds of businesses that are using iPads, all the way from boards of directors that are shipping iPads around instead of board books, down to nurses and doctors in hospitals and other large and small businesses. So the more time that passes, the more I am convinced that we've got a tiger by the tail here... we're already shipping more of them than Macs after just a few quarters."

Jobs also suggested that Apple's refusal to accommodate Flash compatibility in its phones and tablets "hasn't presented any problem at all". "As you know, most of the video on the web is now available in HTML 5," he added.

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