The one thing that Google Nexus One has over the iPhone

The Google Nexus One is open

The Google Nexus One is open

The iPhone is a pretty walled garden

Lots of posts up this morning about the launch of the Google Nexus One. While I fully understand that most of them focus on a (technological) comparison between the Nexus One and the iPhone (the king of the smart handhelds), I believe that it is important to step away from the technology.

Technology will evolve and will be copied. Within no time there will be tons of devices out there that technologically can match and outperform both the Nexus one (you begin wondering what a Nexus 2 can do 🙂 ) and the iPhone.

There are tons of reviews and comparisons out there already (here, here, and here for starters)  and they (for now) tend to favor the current iPhone over the Nexus one. But I don’t care about that. In a year from now these phones will be horribly outdated and we’ll have moved over to sexier gadgets.

Instead of matching functionalities and features we should focus on where they differ most. And if you analyze that carefully you will spot the difference between the culture of the companies Google and Apple. The biggest difference between the two is that Google has decided to open up the mobile market, where Apple has created a closed ecology. There are good reasons for both strategies.

By creating a closed, tightly controlled ecology Apple was able to deliver one of the best handheld devices ever. They have shaken up the entire mobile space with a single device. They have created the best app store and there are thousands of developers working on cool applications for the iPhone. Apple controls the entire experience and was able to break through the monopoly of the mobile carriers by delivering something everyone wanted to have.

The downside of that strategy is well-known. As a user you do not have the freedom to choose the carrier with the iPhone. Nor can you buy an unlocked version. Apple dictates what carrier you are to use. As a developer you cannot get your iPhone app in the store, unless Apple approves it. You are at their mercy. And while this might improve quality it also provides a ground for corruption or power misuse.

Google on the other hand has taken an entire different approach. Instead of focusing on controlling the entire experience, it places the user in the center and lets him decide what to do. It has created Android OS which is now distributed across many different devices. It has an app store that everyone has access to. It encourages free distribution and development of their software. And now it has delivered the Nexus One, a phone that isn’t tied to a mobile carrier, and (disregarding some technical barriers) can be used with any carrier. They even have set up a web store where you can buy the phone without a carrier, or add a carrier plan to it. Who would have thought this to be possible 3 years ago? Who could actually break the monopoly the carriers had on handset distribution? We have to thank Google for that although Apple clearly paved the path for this disruption

Arguably, this approach comes with some downsides too. The user experience might not be on par level yet with the iPhone. The app store might contain more garbage (the less apps will be sorted out quickly). But these costs are relatively minor compared to the freedom the user gets. Most people (think volume here) will not care about the extra added value the iPhone might bring. The Nexus One and future handsets will be good enough. People will settle for good enough and choose open, instead of closed.

To me, this freedom is important. Apple shows traits of communism, Google of democracy. Both have advantages, but I choose freedom over walled gardens. And that freedom is way more important than technical specs. And it is Google’s strategy that will win in the long run. Android will be the dominant OS on mobile devices in the coming years. The iPhone will remain to be a unique and high quality phone. But it will be blasted away in volume by (cheap) Android handsets, and it will also get tough competition from more Android super phones (as Google puts it).

What do you think will happen with application development if Android handsets flood the market? The cool apps and new innovations will not be build solely on the iPhone anymore. Development will follow where the money is. And the money will be in volume not in high-end, closed ecology iPhone handsets. The iPhone was the first. Their first mover advantage has given Apple a huge revenue. They will continue to be profitable with the iPhone, but they will be overtaken by Google (in volume and revenues) in no time. It’s a tidal wave coming onto the shore, and there is no way of stopping it with a walled garden. You simply cannot beat the volume.

The NY Times is wrong about this.The Nexus One isn’t just a worthy rival of the iPhone. It’s a landmark that will shake up the entire mobile industry.


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23 Responses to The one thing that Google Nexus One has over the iPhone

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  3. Fred Sherbet says:

    I agree that eventually Android will win out through openness, but I think it will take a long time. Most people don’t care about openness. Most people don’t even know what that means!

    The drift to Android will happen when it is more compelling than the iPhone, and that will happen if Apple refuse to let highly desirable apps on the iPhone, or key developers move to Android.

  4. @Fred Android is already winning. They have more handsets and they will flood the market. It’s the volume that will make it a more interesting platform to develop on.
    Openness doesn’t have to be compelling to everyone. But the fact that Google is opening up this market will affect everyone. People will choose for Android, because there will simply be more handsets to choose from. And some of these super phones will definitely start competing with Apple.

  5. Akram Nimer says:

    Can we use the example of Mozilla’s Firefox dominance over Microsoft’s IE? Not that Apple is as dumb, it’s the open-source, community feedback-inspired programming that accelerated the takeover. Google has the right stuff when it is keen on guaranteeing customer satisfaction.

  6. @Akram It definitely is another good example why open often leads to innovation and market presence.
    Apple isn’t dumb and will profit, no matter what. But they will not lead the mobile market with 1 high end handset, no matter how great it is.
    Google bets on volume and has the power to force the mobile carriers and handset manufacturers to work with them. I really feel this will change the market place big time.

  7. dulk says:

    Alexander, I love you and your work, the communist analogy fails. Which is fine.

    Apple is leading and changing the mobile game and continuously raises the bar in user experience. Google’s strategy leads to the next Microsoft experience, in Mobile spheres. In two to three generations of the software you’ll understand my point.

    If you talk about talking the lead, one should not measure in units produced but in distance reached: Development of total knowledge of this society..

    Let me explain by another anology of nature: A flock of geese has a very powerful way of coordination in bringing the whole flock at his destination. Every goose just knows it’s distance & height to the next, they adjust position accordingly to the position of next, only the leader chooses the path. Apple is just flying ahead for a few miles, until another leader understands. And by it is supporting human advancement as a culture and society.

    By flooding the market with a variety of handsets, with it creating a plethora of screen sizes, input variances, memory sizes and other hardware differences it will confuse developers and incur massive cost in re-iterations of their apps. Android OS will result only in one repeating user experience: Blue Screens Of Death.

    Google will not bring mobile carriers to it’s knees, carriers will profit from the difficulty of getting your phone to just do what you expect. Google will bring consumer expectations to it’s knees by focus on volumes. Google will lead the masses by no doubt: In mediocre mobile experience.

    Until Google understands the responsibility that comes with flying up front: Apple will continue to lead the flock, the ecosystem. It is Apple that leads Googles masses to appreciating the benefits of being connected at the highest mobile experience possible.

    Communism failed to produce viable returns to fund it’s future. Clearly Apple is not.

    • @dulk, no need to agree 🙂

      The communism analogy was aimed at the total control Apple has over the entire process. I do not see Apple as just a company raising the bar in terms of UI. Its also a money making machine (just like any other company) and by taking control over aspects they should not (like chosing a carrier for me) they are taking their role as control freaks way too far.
      Google on the other hand is setting up an ecology in which everyone benefits, including those that can never afford a cool iPhone. Their Android OS will have a huge impact on handsets and services in the coming years.
      Will these services be much worse that Apple’s? I seriously doubt that. In the Android ecology others will raise the bar too, just like Apple did with the iPhone.
      I’m not enough of an Apple fan boy to bet on one company that defines it all 😉

      • Ah, and I realized I forgot to mention that I think it is important that Google puts the pressure on carriers (and handset manufacturers). For too long they have produced hard to use handsets with incomprehensible software. Apple paved the way for a change, and companies like Google will now take over that experience from carriers and manufacturers. Everyone benefits from that.

      • dulk says:

        Leadership comes with a responsibility, and surely with a cost: Single operator model is dead, but created a strong dent in the Carrier Business Model whilst maintaining course. (The exclusivity will break any day now. A 2010 prediction)

        And we do agree: some services will not be much worse. Maybe some will even surprise Apple.

        Google will try to break from the flock but has to follow course since Apple keeps raising the bar (iSlate anyone?). In creating the freedom ecology, Google again follows Apples guidelines poorly.

        For the coming miles I still fly with Apple.

        I admit: Therefore I am an Apple fan boy 😉

  8. “…As a user you do not have the freedom to choose the carrier with the iPhone….” That’s not true in Europe.

    The is one important issue you didn’t mention:the uncertainty for developers around the iphone apps approval process by Apple

  9. Otto says:

    “People will settle for good enough and choose open, instead of closed.”

    LOL. I don’t think you know people very well.

    People will go with shiny and easy to understand, as well as the capabilities to support for their existing other stuff.

    Real users could care less if it’s open or closed. They just want it to work.

    • Otto, I made a shortcut there. People will choose open, because the Android handsets will be sufficient enough (it isn’t relevant to them that Android OS is open).
      The fact that it is open will take care of enough good handsets.

  10. Dark mavis says:

    Otto hit the nail on the head

    also, people who want openess will just jailbreak

  11. Bartel Scheers says:

    I for one also fail to see the communism vs democracy analogy. Whereas communist govs dictate and control all levels of their economies and production outputs, democratic govs tend to only see to dictate and guard a level of quality and standards for theirs. The latter in fact is what Apple does with the iphone especially with the app store. “You’re free to develop whatever you like, but you have to live up against certain standards we’ve set”. I see nothing wrong with that. In contrary to me it seems this model has worked perfectly so far. It has produced apps that have increased the user experience of the original model.
    As for the carrier restrictions I tend to agree, but same time neither Apple, any developer, or me the user would like to see their products used with some poor quality low specs pre-paid subscription from an obscure private label MVNO imo.

    Why not, to get back on topic ;-), compare Apple vs Google with the USA vs the EU? The USA being a federation of fairly independent states with a working structure to act as one, and the EU being a federation of highly independent states with a poor structure to act as one. Google’s Androids represented by the EU; different interests, different cultures (screen sizes, models, hardware specs, carriers, brands, etc) vs Apple’s couple of closely related models with a clear set of specs. The first has a high risk for confusion and the eventual horror to settle for mediocre compromises. Being open imo does not make this less likely. In contrary I would say. Google being such a powerful and gigantic entity probably will accelarate both Android hardware and app development, but it carries, to get back to your analogy, in its model more dangers to be forced to need to become communistic than Apple.

  12. Underlink ONE thing multiple times. The iPhones biggest advantage in my opinion is how many 3rd party apps it has being developed. Google needs to focus more on attracting developers to create cool apps for their phone.

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  14. atics says:

    even Google nexus one beat iPhone in feature, why in first week its sale defeat by iPhone and motorola Droid ? but i believe nexus one will be a big challenge to iPhone

  15. @Alexander I find myself strongly agreeing with @Dulk @Bartel Scheers.

    First of all the communism analogy doesn’t hold and actually detracts from your statement.

    With regards to the Android Platform making a dent in Apple’s and RIM (BlackBerry) domination of the smart phone market; first of all each system shall attract its own audience of course.

    Three points I’d like to raise:

    1 Apple’s Mac OS has a (reputation for having a) superior User Experience and system stability because of Apple’s rigorous Quality Control combined with the fact that they have full control over the production of the hardware as well as the OS itself.
    Compare this to the fragmented windows platform (Though windows 7 admittedly comes a long way in addressing many of its legacy irks).

    2 For over 12 years I‘ve been hearing about the promise of Mobile devices with regards to downloadable applications, games and mobile internet access… Twelve years. Each year the promise fell flat on its face.

    The main reasons: multiple standards for programming apps, multiple platforms, specs, models, no flatfee datarates, lack of mobile broadband like networks (GPRS/UMTS/HSDPA) and walled gardens with a premium price fixture tied to applications and use of closed mobile WAP internet, carriers using different labels for what is in essence the same comparable service (iMode, Vodafone Live, T-zones et cetera) …

    Now the iPhone is the closest in realizing this 12 year old vision and one of the main reasons lies in Apple’s QC, and “closed nature”.
    Developers develop one app for one platform with one specification sheet and they’re all set. Distribution? Centralized and optimized UX by way of iTunes (a familiar concept and a trusted format!).

    Consumers finally get what they see: a plug and play device with a flat-fee data rate so they don’t have to worry about that phone bill at the end of the month and can download apps and browse the web to their hearts content. And of course there’s the Apple / iPod brand attached.

    Because of the above, in combination with Nintendo’s Wii and DS paving the way for casual gaming as a serious branch within the Gaming industry, we can now say that the iPhone (platform) is actually becoming a serious contender in the Gaming space as well.

    After more than 12 years mobile is now finally starting to realize its potential and this is largely due to Apple entering this market while staying true to their strategic approach w.r.t. Product Development and distribution.

    3 The PC as a gaming platform has been suffering from the same problems as opposed to the console market which has been growing from strength to strength for over 20 years now. Why? Unified approach and stringent Quality Control (Mind you, Nintendo singlehandedly revived the Games market at the end of the 80’ies by adapting the same approach towards developers as Apple does today with its iPhone. They dropped it after Sony stole their crown 10 years later, but today’s Game Industry wouldn’t be the largest in the Entertainment sector today if it weren’t for that Quality Control and that same walled garden approach). Starting to see the analogy here?

    Android OS is a fragmented platform and actually has more in common with Nokia’s Symbian platform (though they have gone open as well). Also we’ve seen Google has met considerable trouble with Customer Service upon launching the Nexus One. Last but not least a multichannel approach is not something executed with success so easily, not even when your name is Google….


    • Hi Anibal,

      thanks for the lengthy response 🙂

      Everyone (including me) will agree that Apple builds great products and unique UI’s. To accomplish that they not only have high quality control processes, but they also dictate a large part of the user experience to get there. This may be the only way to get a superior product, but I find that confining at times. And I am not alone in this, judging the difficulty developers and users have with aspects of that ‘control’.
      I think it is too soon to judge Google based upon their Nexus One launch. Apple had very similar problems with the iPhone. I like the approach Google takes. It might not lead (although we do not know) to the exact same quality level, bit it will lead to a new standard for mobile phones, including much cheaper versions.

  16. @Alexander you’re very welcome, I’m trying to fulfil my NY resolutions by lurking less and giving back/providing more value in return for great blogs like yours 😉

    There’s a lot to say for Google’s approach, the only thing I’m weary off is the fragmentation (which is a given, but a concise choice by them) and thus the challenges this poses, as it has in the past.

    Therefore I believe they will be successful in certain ways and in certain markets, but will not change the face of mobile on a global and historic scale like Apple did.

    Off course, only time will tell how this eventually will play out and maybe we’re both wrong 🙂

    All in all, these are exciting times!

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