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The Robot is Eating the Apple: Google Android will eventually make Apple’s iOS niche

As much as this may sound far-fetched, and I used to be an Apple fanboy who would step up to say “nonsense” to something along these lines, I strongly believe that the current state of things points pretty much to this outcome: Google, with its Android, will eventually make Apple’s iOS niche.

The first thing that we should have in mind is that currently less than 50% of the world’s population has access to the internet (less than 3 billion people.) Google is among the very few companies who are actively looking for ways to bring the internet to people in remote and poor locations – Google’s Project Loon (http://www.google.com/loon/) being the most prominent example. Another example is Facebook’s internet.org, also a project aimed at lowering the barriers for internet access in developing countries. The thing is, those and other similar projects from other companies and governments, are just accelerators of what I call “the uncontrollable momentum of mobile internet” that will eventually connect 99% of the world’s population. Smartphones will eventually be cheap – really cheap – and free connectivity will flourish just like free to air TV did in the past. “Money follows eyeballs” is a fundamental rule in advertising and businesses will pay the connectivity bill in the future.

Apple seems to be too busy trying to come up with their next revolutionary product to consider that the newcomers to the online world will need a cheap smartphone that will likely not be compatible to iOS. iPhone prices are kept high to preserve Apple’s very high profit margins. Just like everyone else, I was expecting the iPhone C to be substantially cheaper than the flagship iPhone 5S. Remember 4S and 4? As soon as 4S came out, the iPhone 4, still very similar to 4S, had its price dropped considerably. This time Apple offered a cheaper-built, heavier, plastic colored version to replace iPhone 5 completely. I bet many people would rather have the iPhone 5 as an option on Apple’s site that was the same price as the iPhone 5C. Well, this is what they would have done in the past, but now Apple seems to want higher margins so they have come to market with an “unapologetically” revolutionary way to sell plastic.

Meanwhile Samsung, Huawei, LG, Motorola, HTC and others are designing and manufacturing very affordable smartphone options alongside their flagship versions, all leveraging and boosting an increasingly pervasive Android platform by Google. People do value design, but most people won’t pay a premium for the best design in the market and those players are pushing down the average smartphone price to something lower than $250 (to hit a price closer to $200 in a few years according to projections.)

iPad, the erstwhile one and only tablet people wanted to own, is facing marginal YOY sales increases while Android powered tablets shipments worldwide are skyrocketing, doubling the amount of iPads shipped. Android’s market share for tablets is over 60% and growing while iOS share diminishes.

Android’s global market share in the mobile platform war (iOS vs Android vs Windows phone vs, err Blackberry, before that) has neared 80% to meet a fairly stable iOS market share of 15% and a shrinking share of all others. In emerging markets like China where the number of connected smartphone users is already twice as big as the US and growing, manufacturers leveraging Android are dominant, leaving Apple with an almost irrelevant 5%. This is a trend that will hardly change.

Android is the winning platform, period. And if you think developers haven’t noticed this, think again. The number of iOS-only applications is decreasing drastically as developers feel pressed to serve Android users. Monetization levels are much closer than in the past and the Android fragmentation still exists, but developers focusing only on the latest versions of Android are already reaching a huge amount of users.

The mobile experience users value becomes less of what the Operating System can deliver and more about what apps can do on top of it. Many people want to buy a smartphone because of Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp and other popular mobile-only apps. For some, Facebook is only mobile. We’ve seen this happen as it became clear that the rejection of Microsoft’s pretty decent smartphone options was caused mainly by the fact that only about 10% of iOS’s most popular apps are present in their ecosystem.

One can never fully predict people’s tastes, and sometimes “ugly” sells. Super-sized phones, what are being called “phablets”, have become very popular. Demand for them, especially in Asia, has soared beyond tablets and notebooks. This is a field where Android is playing alone.

Now let’s consider the fact that smartphones of all sizes (and tablets) are just the most prominent contenders to keep us online. Smart TVs, cars equipped with smart devices and wearables are increasingly becoming the runner ups. In five years, the wearable devices market is expected to grow six fold from 2 billion now to more than 12 billion then.

All those “internet of things” gadgets will create a mess in terms of different platforms and lack of interoperability, not to mention screen sizes when there is a screen. Android is the only mobile platform that has already shown some potential to be chosen for hardware manufacturers seeking standardization. The first generations of smart watches are a good example of this. Here is where “openness” can play a definite role.

In the past I agreed with Steve Jobs’ vision that hardware and software should be done together in a closed and controlled platform to maximize hardware performance and user experience. The thing is, at some point in the past, innovation in smartphone development became too incremental for this vision to make a difference. Android models and Android itself caught up and now, unless Apple has been hiding a tremendous new innovation – which I hardly doubt is the case – open will win. The internet of things will leverage open to augment the ecosystem.  A friend of mine told me the other day “Open always wins in the end”. I absolutely agree with him.

Lastly, there’s the satisfaction effect. Annoyed by how Apple oversold the wonders of their iPhones 5S and 5C, I decided to give Android a spin. This was after being a loyal iPhone customer since version 1. Motorola’s Moto X is, in my opinion, a phone that can compete with the iPhone 5S in all aspects that a user can value. Forget about the 64bit thing on the iPhone 5S because that is Apple playing a Microsoft-type of game that only fools will fall for. Geeks will say that the new hardware architecture will allow apps to run faster with less battery consumption, but I tend to react with a “who cares?” impulse response, because I see my Moto X doing a lot for me through a whole day before I run out of battery. That’s something that I never got from my iPhone.

Moto-X offers a pure Android experience packed with services that really add value to the user experience. I particularly like the Moto Assist features, like the one which automatically texts someone calling me when I am in a meeting, reads my text messages aloud when I am driving and the other one which automatically silences all notifications when I am sleeping. The hand twist gesture to start the camera even when the phone is locked is brilliant and has saved several incredible moments that I wouldn’t have been able to capture if I had to tap on buttons. I recently wrote about how Google Now is setting itself apart from Siri (http://venturebeat.com/2013/11/24/google-siri/) and with Moto X this is taken to the next level. The other night I was in bed almost falling asleep when I recalled that I had forgotten to set a wake up alarm. At a distance, my phone was laying on my desk. I said “OK Google Now” and saw it lighting up waiting for the next instruction. “Wake me up at 8am.” “Setting alarm” I heard, before I closed my eyes and relaxed.

All of these features would never be possible if Android wasn’t open to Motorola (and any other company) to tweak it. Only Apple can create use cases like these for iOS, that highly depend on hardware interaction.

For all the reasons I discuss here (stats referenced are available on the internet,) added to the fact that historically Google has much better coverage in terms of online services, I believe it’s reasonable to say that, eventually, Apple’s iOS will be a dwarfed niche platform. The robot is eating the apple.

It’s kind of funny that history is repeating itself. Once Apple had a breakthrough product, the original Macintosh, and IBM and Microsoft dwarfed it, leaving Apple in a niche market. Apple eventually flourished to be loved by a legion of fans. Apple articulated their brand positioning with the idea that had always been at their core: “Think different.” They succeeded by being anti-mainstream but now they are everywhere. Perhaps, the only way for Apple to realign to that original brand positioning is to become dwarfed again. Well, I say that’s already happening.


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Comments via Google+

  • Rex

    Pity the Moto X is a US exclusive.

    • Mars Cyrillo

      hi rex, i am brazilian and i know they are being sold there. i am pretty sure they’ll be expanding to other parts of the globe soon, the product is really good.