The world finally had a reason to ditch their Motorola Razr on June 29, 2007. At the very least I did, saving $599 that summer selling running shoes at New Balance in order to purchase the then-outrageous iPhone. My naive 17-year-old reaction? “Who waits in line for a phone?” Little did I know, I was participating in the next generation of computing: mobile. 4 years later, Google is gobbling up market share with their iOS competitor Android, and hate them or love them, we all owe them a big thank you.
The Silicon Valley neighbors were the best of partners, even sharing the stage at the 2007 Macworld unveiling of the iPhone. Overtime Google began encroaching on Apple’s business and eventually lead to the resigning of CEO Eric Schmidt from Apple’s Board of Directors. Steve Jobs addressed the issue (and Google’s internal “Don’t be evil” slogan) publicly, stating:
“We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them…this ‘don’t be evil’ mantra – it’s bullshit.”
Yowza. In the 1990s, before Apple and Google were plotting against each other, desktop computing was the next big thing. The monopoly of Microsoft’s Windows dominated the tech world and provided them with little incentive to innovate. Mac OS users vilified the Redmond giant for their practice of copy-killing – incorporating Apple’s (and other companies’) ideas into their products while they laughed their way to the bank. In 2001 Apple entered the MP3 player market with the iPod and the rest is history. The iPod + iTunes ecosystem was unmatched and Apple’s marketing muscles were too strong to be challenged. 6 years later they launched the iPhone.
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s controversial CEO, failed to realize Apple caught the giant sleeping (again), only this time there was a lot more on the line. Apple ushered in the next generation of computing right under their feet and Google was taking notes. Today, Android has surged to command 36% of the market compared to Apple’s 26% piece of the pie and RIM’s shrinking 25%. Apple is growing, but Google is growing faster. So why, despite Google’s sneaky tactics and their penchant for borrowing a lot of the iPhone’s original user interface, should we applaud them? Isn’t Google’s open Android platform simply the new Windows?
The reason is simple: what would this pie look like if Google decided not to compete? Apple’s piece would be dangerously large. What if there was no Android when the iPhone launched on Verizon? The Motorola Droid wouldn’t even exist and other hardware providers such as HTC and Samsung would sink into irrelevance. The competitive landscape of smartphones would all be under Apple’s control. Worse yet, we would all be confined to the closed nature of Apple’s ecosystem. While I personally prefer this ecosystem to all other ones, at least I have a choice. And many of them, too. Without this freedom the smartphone war ends up turning into another monopoly, this time by Apple’s hand and not Microsoft’s. Funny how that works.
But it’s not just about choice. Like I said earlier, Microsoft’s dominance gave them little reason to innovate. They can (and did) earn billions while sleeping. Today, Apple and Google are fiercely competitive which drives innovation, brings down prices and keeps everyone on their toes. This is good for all of us. The smartphone market will look more like the video game console market of the last 30 years with a few players sharing nearly equal pieces of the pie in constant competition and radical acceleration of technology. Experts say that “the future of mobile is the future of everything,” and we’re lucky that one company doesn’t control the future of everything anymore. Just look at Microsoft, whose Windows Phone 7 platform is ironically struggling with 7% market share and a fresh, innovative concept. Too bad it’s called Windows Phone.