Here We Go Again . . .

A battle for mobile marketshare and mindset is heating up between Apple and Google, and it promises to be one for the ages. But something about all this seems very familiar…

Let’s take a look back in time to the ’80s. The Mac vs. Windows argument has been around, well, as long as the Macintosh and Windows Operating Systems. Mac came along in 1984, and Windows joined the game the following year. Mac had the early lead but Windows slowly overtook the Apple OS, and soon it was the default choice of computer users the world over, with Mac relegated to settle for a relatively minuscule share of the market.

The facts behind why Windows was able to overcome Mac’s early lead in the personal computer market are and have been hotly debated for decades now. Maybe it’s because Microsoft chose to sell and license their Windows OS to any manufacturer who wanted it for their IBM-compatible PC while Apple chose to sell their Mac OS only on their Macintosh computers. Maybe it was because businesses adopted the Windows platform early on, and so when the big PC craze of the mid-1990s hit, home users simply bought what they were using at work. Either way, the die was cast, and it became a Windows world.

Almost 30 years later, another such battle is shaping up with Apple’s iOS on one side and Google’s Android OS on the other. You might even say it’s the same battle, only with Google now taking the role of Microsoft as the company that was late to the game Apple was already winning. Apple has iOS, but you have to buy their iPhone to get it, while Google is selling and licensing their Android OS to any manufacturer who wants to put it on their smartphone.

Would history repeat itself or have users become more sophisticated and wise this go ’round?

Ease of Use

Mac users, such as myself, have long argued that the Mac is the better platform because it’s easier to use than Windows, therefore, you can do more with it. Mac users don’t spend hours fussing with antivirus software or drivers like our Windows-using counterparts do; we just turn on our computer and start using it. Apple has already done the hard work for us by tasking their software engineers with making the OS as intuitive as possible. In other words, things were where you naturally expect them to be and you never have to look too far or too hard to find what you’re seeking. The Windows platform has only somewhat reached that level with the release of Windows 7, but it’s still not as fluid as the Mac OS.

Similarly, Google’s Droid OS (which I’ve used on a Droid Incredible, Droid X and Google’s own Nexus One smartphones) is nowhere near as polished and easy to use as Apple’s iOS. What takes three touches on an iPhone can often take six or more on a Droid, and I’m not talking about major geek-type tasks either; I’m talking about simply turning off Wi-Fi or setting up your e-mail account. Google seems to be taking a page from Microsoft’s book and loading their OS with everything any consumer could possibly want at the expense of simplicity. Apple, on the other hand, thought about the person who would be using the phone and the features that person will most want to use. By focusing on those features and leaving out all the other debris, Apple has a streamlined interface that anyone can pick up and immediately start using.

On that front, the similarities hold up to the Mac vs. Windows war of days gone by; Apple’s stuff is STILL easier to use than the OS from Windows/Google. So let’s look at one of the other major differences in platforms–software.

More Apps = Better Platform

A favorite battle cry of the Windows camp over the last 30 years has been the number of software titles available on Windows as opposed to the number available for the Mac. Although the number of Mac apps has increased substantially in the last decade, there are still easily 10 times as much Windows software out there as there is for Mac.

Jump to present day, though, and the exact opposite is true in the mobile war. iPhone apps number over 200,000 while the Droid OS boasts around 140,000 last time I checked. Here’s the thing, though: what was true 30 years ago is still true today; it’s not the number of apps but rather the quality of apps that matters. Back then, there were far fewer Mac apps but what did exist were very, very good, while there was a lot of junk software on the Windows side.

So the present-day iOS vs. Droid apps war will most likely be a wash. There is a TON of software for both, and there is a TON of low-quality stuff, but there’s enough good stuff to satisfy everyone’s needs, no matter which side they’re on.

Choice

The final thing that marks the division between the two camps is choice of hardware. In the computer war, there are a multitude of choices of Windows hardware from the likes of Dell, HP, Toshiba and Sony to name just a few. In the mobile war, there are Droid phones made by HTC, Samsung and Motorola, with more probably coming soon.

On the Apple side, both computer and mobile, there is the Macintosh in its different laptop and desktop iterations, and there’s iPhone. A glaring difference in the two campaigns, though, is that the iPhone costs the same as the various Droids while the Mac still commands a premium price compared to its Windows counterparts. The argument that “Apple stuff is too expensive” doesn’t apply to the mobile wars.

Choice can also be an issue when talking about carriers. As of this writing, iPhone is available only on AT&T while you can get your Droid on AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile. That is an important distinction as of right now. However, there are strong indications that AT&T’s stranglehold on the iPhone is just about over. Many tech pundits and journalists say that iPhone on Verizon, and possibly the other carriers, is a done deal come January.

It’ll be interesting to watch what happens and see if Apple once again becomes a fraction of the market or if they maintain their early lead this time.

What do I think? Well, I have to add in a few things that are coming down the pike from each side to answer that question. Apple has the iPad and the iPod touch (which is set for an update next week), and surely there will be Droid pads and tablets coming soon to rival the iPad. But there are also two new devices on the way that will bring the whole app experience to your TV. Apple is coming out with a new version of their AppleTV set-top box, which will run iOS4 the same as on iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. They recently came out with a wireless trackpad that, when used with the AppleTV on your TV set, will mimic almost exactly the interface we now have with our iPhones and iPads.

Update: And the AppleTV may or may not become more app-centric in the future. I thought it might be this go ’round, with the release of the all-new AppleTV last week but alas, that didn’t happen. Yet.

Google announced several months ago that they’re coming out with GoogleTV, but it seems they’re not going to build a set-top box. Instead, they plan to license the Droid software, which is at the heart of GoogleTV, to third-party manufacturers for including in their devices.

With these developments, I think that whichever company makes that TV integration work the best (I’m looking at you Apple) could set themselves up as the leader in the mobile-computing arena. We humans sure do love our TVs!

By the way, lest you Microsofties feel left out, Microsoft is releasing their long-awaited Windows Mobile 7 OS on several smartphones soon. It’s reported to be very similar to the very nice Zune interface, which could prove to be interesting. Apple and Google have a huge lead on Windows on the smartphone platform but never count Microsoft out; only six years ago, Windows Mobile owned the market. Expect a full-out marketing assault as soon as it’s reported that they plan to spend $500 million on the launch. After all, what’s a war without some propaganda?

Wars and rumors of wars, indeed.

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About the Author

Patrick Clark, owner of The Boro Mac Shop here in Murfreesboro, has repaired Macintosh computers and Apple devices since 1996 and The Boro Mac Shop is Murfreesboro’s best Macintosh, iPad, and iPhone repair shop. Contact him at (615) 796-6154 or boromac.com/.

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