Apple is bloody good at branding; its hardware sells fast amidst faintly religious super-hype, it has positioned itself extremely effectively at the forefront of the mainstream premium device market, and its stores are frequently packed out with people served by Jobs’ very own Apple disciples. But Apple is set to start losing its shiny slice of the pie if it doesn’t invest in some serious game-changing, as Android eats into the iPhone’s previous reign at the head of the smartphone market, like a voracious termite. If we’re looking purely at operating systems, Android leads the market by a mile these days, with around 79% of the Australian smartphone market in the second quarter of this year (2013). It remains to be seen whether the iPhone can gobble back a truly substantial amount of the smartphone market, although with its recent characteristic cyclical release it almost certainly has managed to do just that. However, despite the fact that Apple products are known for their quality, design and performance, Apple itself may have given them a quality which could prove their ultimate downfall; their closed system.
The best systems are those that are adaptable, efficient, accepting and aware of change. This is why the print newspaper industry is ailing so severely compared with other industries like online media, social media, television and radio; because it just isn’t able to adapt. Newspapers are now situated in an industry where the feedback loop is more important than ever before, and the efficiency, immediacy and interactivity of Twitter and online news sites are steadily starting to trump the credibility and trust associated with legacy media e.g. newspapers, television, radio.
When we bring this same case for new media back to how we think of the smartphone market and its future, the same can be seen in Android’s meteoric success. iPhone truly was the first successful intuitive and technologically progressive smartphone, the product that poisoned Blackberry and Motorola futures. As we watch these companies die slow, painful deaths (at least in the mobile market), we have see Android’s market share shoot up to surpass the iPhone. The fundamental difference between Apple and Android could not be more stark. Apple is obsessed with a closed, controlled Operating System and developers for mobile software are solely employed by Apple. Conversely, the Android software is on its most basic level developed by Google employees, and once released into the market the system is open, uncontrolled, adaptable and always part of a consistent feedback loop between Google and the Android mod community, who are a very highly valued part of the Android machine.
There are benefits to a controlled and closed system where hardware and software are tightly integrated and developed concurrently, such as the fact that app developers can optimize the development of their applications based on the abilities of the current Apple hardware (e.g. accelerator, camera quality), whereas hardware changes on Android according to the technology company e.g. HTC, Sony Ericsson. However the creative limits placed upon Apple app developers are not present when developing for Android, enabling developers to use their imaginations and push the possibilities of mobile.
Will customization trump design? Some may argue that the future of mobile, and indeed even computing, will operate on a closed, tightly controlled system, however the history of the Internet and the losses that legacy media are sustaining from online news sites, content sites like Netflix and Hulu (at least in the U.S…), social media and such, indicate that open systems which are part of the feedback loop, and therefore constantly adaptable, flexible and current in response to consumer needs, new technology and market trends, will be the most successful in the long-term.