Android on the iPhone: History Repeats Itself (almost)

April 22, 2010

For those of you who haven't heard, a member of the iPhone Dev-Team has ported Android to the iPhone. This might be the best iPhone hack since the device was jail broken, but it doesn't ultimately matter at all. If it becomes as simple to dual boot an iPhone to Android as it currently is to jail break, this could be a major win for open software, but it probably won't noticeably affect the bottom line for Google or Apple.

The whole situation looks a little bit like what has happened previously with PC hardware and operating systems. The platforms have gotten a lot smaller, but the rules haven't changed much. Apple is creating a closed system that others can build on top of but not modify. This is basically akin to what Microsoft has done with PCs. Google and the Android team are creating a much more open platform which is open source and can be modified and used in any way.

My analogy is somewhat broken. The iPhoneOS is a much more closed platform than Windows, and it provides a much better user experience. Any code that runs on an iPhone has to be approved directly by Apple and distributed by the App Store. This makes sure that apps are easy to install and that they work well on the device. Windows has never approached this level of vendor lock-in. This fact is a key differentiator between the two products. iPhone is simple and closed. Android is simple on the surface, but a user can really wreak havoc if they want to.

Microsoft hasn't been beaten by open software. Open software has forced Microsoft to stay competitive, and in some areas it hasn't always kept up well. This has been especially true in the server space. Android won't ultimately beat iPhone either. There will continue to be a market for the type of quality that Apple has been able to provide by having tight control over hardware and software.

However, in terms of market share, Android is going to perform much better than Linux on PCs ever has. I have friends with Droid phones not because they are free software advocates but because Android does what they want it to and it works on Verizon. In short, Android provides advantages that aren't simply price and openness. Linux in the PC space provides very few, if any, advantages for the average user other than price.

The average user will never put Android on an iPhone regardless of how easy it becomes. The average user doesn't care which OS their device runs. If a user does prefer one interface over the other, they will simply buy a device that runs that OS out of the box. People will run Android on their phones because it has been well marketed and comes bundled with many phones they want. They won't run Android because they sit down an make a well reasoned choice about which OS to run on their device.

Check out my other pages tagged "blog".