Why Apple’s “closed” system gives it a leg up on Android

Tue, May 10, 2011

Analysis, News

The crux of the debate amongst iPhone and Android fanboys ultimately reverts back to control. Whereas Android users like to point to Apple’s Soviet Union style of OS control, iPhone users counter that Android is a fragmented mess that ultimately results in a subpar user experience.

The funny thing is, the control Apple is so often criticized for exerting is actually one of the platform’s chief benefits. This was abundantly clear when Apple last week issued an iOS update to address the admitted bugs found in the consolidated.db tracking file – you know, the “location tracking” that garnered a ridiculous amount of attention a few weeks back.

Within a week’s time, the upper echelon at Apple not only addressed the issue, but had a software update ready to disseminate within a few days. In just a few days, millions of iOS users affected by the bug were able to seamlessly upgrade to a new version of iOS. As one might expect, Apple’s quick fix and impressive turnaround time didn’t make for the type of sexy talking points the media typically loves to harp on.

But that’s Apple for ya. Quietly going about its business, releasing products, fixing problems as they arise, and more or less delivering a top-notch user experience to tens of millions of consumers.

And then there’s Android.

As pointed out by MG Siegler of TechCrunch, the number of Android handsets still running Android 2.2 is 65.9%. Meanwhile, only 4% of users are running Google’s latest mobile version of Android – version 2.3 – even though it’s been available for 5 months.

Imagine if Google found an important bug in its code that needed to be addressed immediately. There’s really no way to effectively roll out an OS update to all of its users when Google has to rely on carriers and handset manufacturers to all be on the same page.

Siegler points to a note from Nilay Patel who tweeted last week, “It took Apple just a week to deploy this update to all iPhone users, while Android makers are still shipping 2.2, and WP7 is a mess.”

And that’s an understatement.

Oh yes, but Google’s so “open”, right? But at what cost?

Currently, this issue has only led to annoyed customers who buy new Android phones and expect updates, only to have to sit on the sidelines for months. But this could become a major problem if Google ever has to push an update quickly.

And then there’s Windows Phone 7. In a scenario that’d be funny if it weren’t true, Windows Phone 7 handsets experienced a boatload of trouble attempting to download an update that was aiming to improve the update process.

Going back to fragmentation, this is an issue that doesn’t only affect users, but developers as well. While you can find many of the top iOS apps on Android, a number of developers have been reluctant to throw their resources behind Google because fragmentation can have a real world affect on performance and it ultimately does affect monetization potential.

And the rub is that as the number of Android handsets proliferate, fragmentation becomes an exponentially bigger problem. So as Android grows in popularity and theoretically becomes a more attractive target for developers, the opposite may, in fact, be the case.

Google made a few announcements at their I/O conference today that aim to fix said fragmentation problems, so we’ll see how this plays out.


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