I'm sure most of you will read the title to this and ask how it is possible for Apple and Microsoft to be the largest contributors to Androids success. After all they are fierce competitors with loyal legions of fanboys on both sides ready to take up digital arms at a moments notice.
How do frienemies contribute to each others success?
The simple answer is underestimating your competitors and turning a deaf ear to your customers desires. One great example that comes to mind is Steve Ballmer laughing and disregarding the iphone after it was announced. This is the same thing that Apple did at Androids infancy. They disregarded the incumbent OS as a fragmented mess with too many variations of hardware and software.
To play devils advocate, when Android was released it was a mess. It was ugly, laggy, and the Android market was embarrassingly bad. The only thing that it had going for it was that it had potential for customization as opposed to Apples walled garden approach with it's users.
In comparison when iOS was released (when Steve Jobs told the world it was OSX) it was limited and had no multitasking, copy and paste, app store, bluetooth file transfer, etc. It sure was pretty for the time though. It looked far better at the time than the far more powerful but ugly Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile for all intents and purposes was a mobile computer and worked like it. The issue with it was that Microsoft did not seem to know what direction to take with its mobile solutions. We'll touch on that again later.
Back to iOS and Android, at the time you had the iOS people who loved the icon grid, apps in a single place, the fluidity of the OS, and timely updates. Tech geeks like myself wanted more power to play around with the rest of the OS ala OSX but alas Apple had other things in mind.
Thus many tech geeks started to champion Android. Despite the lag, you had a file system, bluetooth file transfers, adobe flash, sharing between apps, widgets, a toggle to install things from outside the android market, SD card support for expanding memory, and removable batteries. By the time that Google got around to releasing Honeycomb and Ice cream sandwich devices, they actually looked and worked more like desktop OSX than iOS did. This is where the problem began.
iOS for the most part had gotten stale while Android has been improving. Sure, they have borrowed some ideas from each other. In the case of iOS 7, the borrowing of ideas has been almost too liberal but it needed to be done. With the latest updates, iOS finally received long overdue usability upgrades like real multitasking, better file sharing support via WiFi direct, and the auto updating of installed apps. The problem is that Apple wants to keep it's heavy handed control over its customers. They refuse to add an easily accessible file system, outside the app store installs, and the ability to change your default apps. Considering that Apple made widgets popular. It would be great to see them on iOS. These are all things that you can do on OSX. All stuff that you have been able to do on Android since day one.
Microsoft had a large following with Windows Mobile. What they did was cut off the legs of its mobile OS prematurely and left users with no upgrade path. When they announced that they were ceasing development of Windows Mobile they made it clear that nothing from it would be compatible with the upcoming Windows phone 7 OS. Your Windows mobile apps would not work on the new OS and the new OS was designed to be more like the walled garden approach that Apple took with iOS. Windows Mobile was a lot like Android while Windows phone 7 was going to emulate the iOS model. One can guess where most Windows Mobile users went once their phone upgrades came up. To add insult to injury Microsoft once again cut off the legs of it's mobile OS when they announced Windows phone 8. Any Windows phone 7 handsets would be incapable to upgrading to Windows phone 8 due to changes in the architecture of the OS itself. Fans who stuck with Microsoft were burned twice by the company in a 3 year time frame.
Due to this, Android has been gaining ground year after year. The once leader has turned into the follower with Apple recently having released a larger iphone and a smaller ipad. These are things that they claimed were not needed or were detrimental to the user experience before they released those devices. They did nothing to sway the influential tech geeks that make many decisions for their family and friends to their camp. Many of their casual fans got bored of the limitations and lack of customization. These aren't people who want to root and ROM, just people who want to do things like change their homescreen and icons occasionally. Those casual fans jumped ship to other mobile operating systems which included Android. As Android matured, it has gotten much smoother, less laggy, pleasing to the eye, and yet managed to keep its powerful sharing and productivity features.
Microsoft, who once had the lions share of the market ceded most of their share by gross negligence and terrible leadership, while Apple is losing mindshare by being stubborn and heavy handed with their approach to giving their customers what they want.
As much as Apple says that it's approach is "perfect" for consumers, let's say that they released an iphone and ipad pro with an expandable SD card slot and an updated iOS that had a hidden developer mode option that let you sideload your own apps, choose default apps, and access the file system without jailbreaking.
I bet that would sell like water in the middle of the desert and would eclipse all past iOS device sales. If it was truly opened up that way, I would wager that would steal customers away from Google. How do I know? Because whenever Apple has relaxed their grip on things, they have grown!! Here are some examples:
- Apple releases iTunes for Windows PC's.
- Apple switches over to Intel processors.
- Apple starts selling DRM free music on iTunes.
All of these have been pivotal moments in the history of Apple. Easing up on their heavy handed approach to things. They need to do the same thing with iOS and its devices and I suspect that they would experience much success from it.
In the case of Microsoft it's much tougher uphill battle. They are searching for new leadership at the time of this post so hopefully they will get their act together. The first thing that they need to do is make Windows Phone more open and appealing which they have been slowly doing. They have to restore consumer confidence by sticking with their prior OS model that was not full of artificial limitations instead of by trying to emulate Apples system of a locked down OS. Maybe then they can get some developers excited to create more apps which would get them more users away from Apple and Android.
In the meanwhile, it's an exciting time to be a tech enthusiast as the current two horse race heats up and forces each side to adapt and innovate. I look forward to seeing what these companies all do in the next few years and hopefully it will benefit the one who matters most; us the consumers.