They say someone can judge a person by the quality of his or her enemies. With that little trope running in my head, it's a little hard to pin down how Google Android should be judged based on this week's scathing attacks from not one, but two, Steves… one from beyond the grave.
The most recently revealed broadside comes from the upcoming biography of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, which reveals Jobs has a particularly aggressive position on Google's mobile operating system.
According to excepts of Walter Issacson's book Steve Jobs obtained by the Associated Press, Jobs was furious over what he perceived as "grand theft" of Apple's ideas showing up in the Android platform.
"'I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong,' Jobs said. 'I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this.'"
You can't get much clearer than that.
Leaving off whether Android has or has not copied ideas from Apple's iOS (since there are loads of lawsuits out there trying to determine that very thing), it's probably more than just Android's similarities to iOS to which Jobs was objecting. Beyond the "theft" of ideas, Android stood a very good chance of getting in Apple's way of producing a closed platform that provided mobile users with an end-to-end, Apple-with-every-finger-in-the-pie, user experience, and Jobs must have known that.
And, wouldn't you know, that's exactly what happened. Android, by virtue of its commoditization, has swept the mobile smartphone market, leaving the iPhone in a distant second. Google even managed to roll out its own branded Android phones, in an effort to own the stack all the way from user to server.
According to Issacson's biography, "Jobs was particularly enraged by an Android phone released by HTC in January 2010, the Google-branded Nexus One. It turned Google into a smartphone brand in its own right and included many iPhone-like features such as a multi-touch screen, prompting an 'expletive-laced rant' from the Apple co-founder."
Jobs was certainly a worthy opponent for Android. That same characterization, though, does not hold for the other Steve talking smack about Android this week: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Ballmer, who was interviewed on stage on Oct. 18 at the Web 2.0 Summit, was asked by moderator John Battelle of Federated Media on his thoughts about Android phones, Ballmer wittily replied:
"Well, you don't need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows Phone. I think you do to use an Android phone."
As my colleague Preston Gralla points out, "Android was by far the most popular smartphone operating system in the U.S. with 43.7% market share, compared to 27.3% for second-place iOS, and only 5.7% for Microsoft smartphone operating systems."
And here's Gralla's zinger: "Are there really that many computer scientists in the United States?"
The broader point here, (other than Ballmer was acting like a dope--again), is the fact that while indeed there are inconsistencies in the way different Android phones look (a point he made just seconds later in the same interview), consumers still don't give a hoot about the look and feel of one Android phone versus the other. At least, not in terms of over-analyzing those differences. Occasionally, you might get the "oh, I wish my phone looked like that," and then they upgrade and their phone does look like that. Certainly nothing for which you need a computer scientist.
Windows Phone (and Windows Mobile before it) isn't exactly the paragon of interface stability either, as that platform's look and feel has changed remarkably from its start as the Pocket PC platform. Android's variations look positively tame compared to Windows Mobile/Phone changes.
Is Android the best mobile OS platform, ever? Such a platform has yet to be seen anywhere, I think. But for now, Android gets the marketshare because it's less expensive. It's got apps. And it ties well with Google services, which most people tend to like, for better or worse.
And all the complaining from the Steves doesn't change that.
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