Steve Wozniak told reporters yesterday that Android would become the dominant smart phone platform, not the iPhone. Of course, this got the tech blogs in a buzz, with Woz’s Apple ties and the classic open vs. closed platform debate making this quip juicy link bait. But I couldn’t help but think that Steve Jobs sees this quote and just yawns. Literally.
Does anyone think that 1) Jobs is worried about Android becoming the dominant OS or that he wants the iOS on every phone and 2) that Android’s destiny is preordained? I don’t think so.
If we define “dominant” by the number of devices carrying the OS, then there’s no way that Jobs is worried about it. Look at the market caps of Apple and Microsoft. Look at the install bases of both. Jobs knows that winning doesn’t mean putting your device in every hand. It means creating a profitable ecosystem and customer base that wants to pay a premium for a premium product. The idea that Apple would suddenly want to be the commodity leader in the ultimate commodity technology market completely ignores Apple’s strategy since Jobs’ return to power. Apple is about premium products, premium experience. It’s not about OEMs, licensing across a million platforms and trying to get every single member of the mass consumer market using their products.
If Android becomes the largest share of mobile phone OS installs it has little impact on Apple as a company, and less still on their mobile product strategy. Of course, they want to get people into the walled garden and let them know how nice and cozy it is so that they’ll grow their customer base – but they aren’t trying to be the Windows of the phone world, that hasn’t been their corporate strategy to date, and there’s no reason to think it will be in mobile now.
Jobs knows that being the commodity leader is not being the market leader. But giving Android the commodity crown now is also flawed. Android has a long way to go before regular users will adopt it, recommend it and use it.
Woz makes the mistake of equating “more features” with greater product desirability by the market. We know, from countless historical examples, that this just isn’t true. In fact, I’d argue that a more limited OS is more desirable to most consumers. Take my mom for example. She just wants a phone that works. She doesn’t want a phone that works like her PC. She HATES her PC. It takes forever to load, is still filled with garbage from OEM installs of anti-virus trial offers and doesn’t offer a seamless experience in any shape of the word. The last thing my mom wants in her pocket, when she needs to make a call, is another implementation of her disaster of a PC experience.
This is where it will be difficult (not impossible, just difficult) for Android. How do you keep the user experience high on a device that should just “work like it’s supposed to?” People have learned that computers crash, have performance issues and are generally a pain. But people have learned that the phone just works. Just like cars. Just like electricity. Consumers will get frustrated if the Android marketplace and software emulates the PC experience. They won’t adopt it in large numbers.
And if the Android market isn’t secure there will be a public perception problem about the safety of installing apps. We’ve already had the stories of malware in the Android App store. These will take hold and create challenges for the OS in public adoption. Users aren’t sophisticated enough to navigate this themselves, and when people start losing business contacts due to viruses on their phones the backlash will follow.
So while the tech industry can crown Android now, and call it the soon-to-be dominant OS I can see the folks at Apple, Jobs particularly, sitting back and yawning. Knowing that 1) it doesn’t matter if it does come true and 2) it’s not guaranteed to, anyway.
Update: Apparently Woz was misquoted and basically sums up what I said above in his response here:
According to Steve, that’s about it — he says he’d “never” say that Android was better than iOS, and that “Almost every app I have is better on the iPhone.” Woz did say he lightly prognosticated that Android would become more popular “based on what I’ve read,” but that he expects Android “to be a lot like Windows… I’m not trying to put Android down, but I’m not suggesting it’s better than iOS by any stretch of the imagination. But it can get greater marketshare and still be crappy.” He’s not shy, that Woz — listen to him say it all for yourself after the break.