Comparing Apples and Androids

Apple ups the ante against Android with iPhone OS version 4 -- but first they have to answer to the 3.3.1 worm.

A tale of two platforms.

The iPhone ushered in the new era of smartphones — with an eye toward form and steadily updating the function, the iPhone has cemented itself as a market leader.

Not to be outdone by the iCupertino gang, Google has steadily improved Android over a series of software releases most recently with the release of Android 2.1 running on their own hardware, the Nexus One.

The approach between these two giants could not be more divergent:

Apple owns everything from top to bottom.

Google takes an open source stance, more or less.

Apple developers cannot even talk about beta iPhone SDK releases without fear of the NDA they signed. The iPhone legalese is likely the most broadly read and debated contracts in recent memory.

Android’s source code is free for download and experimentation. There is a license, but it doesn’t get nearly the same level of scrutiny.

iPhone applications must be built on the latest Mac hardware. Android applications can be built on Linux, Windows and Mac platforms, alike.

Apple made the term “App Store” a house-hold phrase and they make it easy to find and purchase mobile content. Google — the search giant — ironically relies on a relatively weak shopping experience to distribute applications commercially.

Applications for iPhone are only available via the App Store, excluding enterprise apps. Applications for Android can be distributed any way you can imagine sharing digital files.

Apple is “controlled” and “integrated”. Android is “open” and “free-form”.

Which is better? Depends on your perspective, I suppose.

This is highlighted perhaps in no better way than the experience of “synching” music to your device — and who would dream of having a device that could only make phone calls, right?

Want music on your iPhone? No problem, plug it in and iTunes starts. Drag and drop a playlist and you’re done. This is as close to “stupid simple” as you can get.

Want music on your Nexus One? Uhh… plug it in, pull down the notification screen, tap “Mount”, go to your PC/Mac, find the MP3 files on your hard drive and drop the files onto your “SD Card” removable storage folder. Not rocket science, but also not “corner office friendly” either.

The corner office

If you can make the boss happy, you have a new market to sell to beyond consumer markets.

From my vantage point, Android is on the radar of some corporate shops but only in the long range forecast — particularly when compared to iPhone which is already seeing penetration in the corporate space.

While arguably a consumer-focused company that was “saved by the iPod”, Apple is increasingly targeting corporate customers as evidenced by the feature list of iPhone OS version 4 which is due to ship within the next few months.

While the “multitasking” capabilities promised in the upcoming release are getting most of the headlines, I am taking note of the enterprise feature list.

The iPhone has been making strides in corporate environments largely because of the guy or gal in the “corner office” has demanded to use their cool iPhone and more often than not, corporate IT has cut a corner or two to please the boss. In iPhone version 4 the corporate IT managers get some backup from Apple:

  • Improved data protection: Device based passwords allow for the encryption of email messages and attachments. This functionality is also available to developers to secure enterprise application data. This is good for the “Uh-oh, I lost my iPhone on the train” scenario.
  • Mobile device management: To date, the BlackBerry platform has been the king of the mobile device fleet management market with their BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) product. iPhone version 4 brings new remote management features such as software deployment and configuration, compliance monitoring and yes, even wiping the data off of that $500 device left in the “seat in front of you” on your cross-country flight. Very nice feature indeed.
  • Wireless application deployment: Contrary to popular opinion, iPhone applications can in fact be deployed outside of the Apple App Store, but the use case is fairly narrow. For large enterprise shops, iPhone applications can be deployed to an employee’s device. Typical applications include sales force automation of field service data collection applications. Historically this meant synching each device to a machine via a usb cable, or for the shop with many devices, using one of the available multi-device docking stations. Deploying or updating applications wirelessly is a must-have for an organization with a very large number of devices.
  • Multitasking: iPhone users have long endured the “go home” first syndrome — hitting the home button to switch between applications. I have long thought that Apple has been “keeping their powder dry” by holding back multitasking until they really felt that it was necessary as a competitive advantage. While iPhone’s multitasking model of seven defined services being permitted to run in the background is not a full-on multitasking environment it is certainly a step in the right direction. Just the idea of running email, browser and mapping application concurrently negates a big leg up that other platforms such as Android and the soon to be sold or boarded-up Palm WebOS have enjoyed over iPhone.

What about Android?

The Nexus One looks like the perfect device for Google fan-boys who live in the Cloud. If you use Google Mail, Google Calendar, and perhaps enjoy passing your time on Google’s YouTube, the device is for you. While I do have a gmail account, that Cloud usage scenario doesn’t describe me and many other would-be Android devotees. However, I like the device nonetheless for the home-screen experience, the rich browser environment, the intuitive multitasking, and as a developer, it is an awesome platform for testing code and for pushing the envelope of the mobile experience.

As far as a professional experience the jury is still out — email, calendar, contacts synching is second rate at best and I’ve popped the battery twice three times already when a call didn’t connect properly.

The Android home screen is by far better than Apple’s for staying in touch with what is happening such as calendar reminders, incoming emails, missed calls, etc. — I’ve written before about the challenges of using Android in a corporate setting without solid ActiveSync capabilities to plug into the de-facto corporate standard Microsoft Exchange environment. Like it or not it is still a Microsoft world when it comes to corporate collaboration.

Perhaps an equally challenging obstacle for Android today is the lack of leadership in the area of mobile device management — i.e. no BES equivalent. Google Apps Premier has some trivial mobile device management capabilities, which is a good start, but these features must mature for Android to compete in the enterprise. Without the ability to lock down and/or wipe a device remotely, Android will struggle to scale the enterprise walls and Android does not currently have the “my boss wants it, so figure it out” momentum that iPhone has commanded.

iPhone and Android continue to play leap-frog with each new release. The technology and innovation are really exciting to watch and be a part of, but we have to also remember that technical reasons alone do not drive buying decisions. You have to be a good citizen. In this case, we have to take a closer look at the fine print of Apple’s new iOS license.

The poisonous worm

“The only thing worse than finding a worm in your apple is finding half a worm in your apple”. I am not sure the origin of this statement but it certainly turns the stomach.

Unfortunately for fans of the iPhone, there may be half a worm left in your Apple. And it has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with business practice.

While there are arguably many points in any contract to debate, this particular poison pill is found in section 3.3.1 of the latest iPhone developer agreement:

3.3.1 Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++ or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++ and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

If this language sticks and is enforced by Apple, it could pose problems for folks like Adobe who are set to release a Flash-to-iPhone tool in their CS5 product suite.

PhoneGap should be OK as they live exclusively in Javascript and the WebKit browser control.

After deciding that living in the browser control wasn’t good enough for them, Appcelerator’s Titanium cross compiles Javascript to iPhone compatible code, so it is unclear exactly where things will shake out for them. I am confident that they will work out a solution for their nearly 40,000 developers.

XMLVM may get shot down as well.

Unity3D’s platform is probably in the clear as their tool produces Objective-C code and Xcode projects. And there are others.

While these vendors and the developers who rely upon them certainly have some hard concerns here, it begs the question of just what Apple is trying to accomplish in the bigger picture. They have a great product line, a great sales distribution channel and new revenue streams including a new in-app advertising channel, named iAd, of course. They should be encouraging people to come to the platform, not leave it for business-practice issues.

Is Google perfect? Of course not, but at least with respect to Android, they are a more welcome dance partner than Apple at present.

As a good friend recently commented to me about a situation out of my control, “you cannot always make other people do the right thing”.

Let’s hope Apple relents and we can continue loving and hating them based on technology alone.

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