By Alok Saboo on June 9th, 2010
Despite my critical remarks against Apple’s policies, I have remained a loyal iPhone user for the past 2 years. During this period, I have used all the three generations of the Apple phones (iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS) and have been quite happy with the performance of my “jailbroken” phones. So much so that after every WWDC I would “hold up my head in pride” that no other phone came even close to what the iPhone had to offer. For the first time, after yesterday’s WWDC, I started doubting Apple’s ability to maintain the smart phone dominance in the future.
If you missed the keynote, you can catch all the action in the following short video.
After the brilliant display of “technological muscle” by Google at the recent Google I/O, I was hoping that Apple would fire another round of salvo at Google and other smart phone manufacturers. Especially since Jobs responded to an email saying, “You won’t be disappointed”, I had my hopes high. To say that I was disappointed with Apple’s announcements at the WWDC would not be an exaggeration. Let us look at the major announcements that Steve Jobs made – iPhone 4 and iOS 4.
iPhone 4 – Why it doesn’t live up to expectations?
Android handsets are rapidly closing the gap between the Android OS and iPhone OS (iOS 4). WWDC was a good opportunity to ebb this flow and widen (or at least maintain) this gap. However, Apple seems to have given away this opportunity.
iPhone 4, without a doubt, is one of the most “gorgeous device” around and will surely drive hordes of consumers into the Apple stores. It is a significant upgrade from the iPhone 3GS, but unfortunately that is not enough to beat the standards set by the recent crop of smart phones. The retina display is surely a great addition, but is it enough to make up for all the missing features on the iPhone? Gyroscope is a useful addition to the iPhone 4, but its utility needs to be seen. Looks like the Gyroscope may excite the gamers more than anyone else. Facetime, a great feature, is restricted only to iPhone 4 and only on WiFi and hence is almost useless for some time till a few of your contacts get the iPhone 4.
iOS 4 vs. Android 2.2 (Froyo)
With Froyo, the Android OS has come of age. It has matured and stabilized as a mobile OS and is capable of delivering stellar performance. In fact, in terms of features, Android easily beats the iPhone OS (depending on whom you ask). iOS 4 was a good opportunity to maintain Apple’s leadership as a mobile platform. However, Apple again disappointed.
The only major additions, other than the metal in the name, are multitasking, folders, and unified inbox. Didn’t Android have all these since ages? Google Android, on the other hand, offers cloud sync, complete integration with Google services, tethering (EVO 4G), and Flash support. If it were not for the difference in the number of apps between the two platforms, Android would have beaten iOS 4 hands down. Android platform is attracting developers in large numbers and the difference in the number of apps on Android and Apple iPhone is rapidly disappearing, making this a short-lived advantage.
Apple was so starved of content for the WWDC that Jobs spent a significant amount of time talking about applications such as iMovie, iBooks, Zynga Farmville, Guitar Hero, etc. – none of which are worthy of the time spent on WWDC and (IMHO) have any potential to have a meaningful impact on the platform.
In summary, Apple’s lead currently (if that exists) is based on cosmetic factors and something than can be improved upon by Android handset manufacturers within a few months. Given that Apple is the only company developing iOS 4 based handsets and that it has an annual cycle to launch new handsets, I will not be surprised if Android closes the gap or beats Apple in this race to mobile supremacy in very near future. However, for Apple to beat Android, it will have to make ideological adjustments – genuinely offering choices to consumers. Apple cannot take decisions in the garb of offering choices when it works in its favor (read introducing Bing in iOS 4) and not offer choices when it hurts the company (read offering Flash on iPhone).
The iPhone 4 launch has not affected the demand of Android handset. In fact, Sprint HTC EVO 4G, reportedly, is already sold out. A poll, currently live, on Lifehacker, suggests Android beating iPhone by around 36% margin.
The numbers, unfortunately, are not in favor of Apple and it may soon have to concede the leadership position, if it does not change its philosophy. More importantly, the competitive landscape appears to be changing. At one point Apple would define the standards for smartphones and lead the pack. This does not appear to be true any longer, Apple is now catching up with the competition and unfortunately has not been able to close the gap completely.
To me, WWDC was a lost opportunity where Apple could have reclaimed some grounds that it has lost to other smart phones. I will echo some of the points raised by Readwriteweb in terms of what Apple could have announced on WWDC – Cloud sync, 4G, Free MobileMe, Widgets, free Navigation, Voice Inputs, etc.
The smart phone customers are a demanding lot. In the absence of some of these features, it may not take them too long to change loyalties. If Apple wants to dominate this space, it has to be little more considerate to the needs of consumers.
Please, please, please – Stop taking customers for granted!!