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 In a year from now these phones will be horribly outdated and we’ll have moved over to sexier gadgets.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.