How Google can checkmate iPhone

March 1st, 2010 by jeremychone

When looking at the future of the mobile market, we can clearly see two big contenders, Apple and Google. While Apple has a definite head start, Google mobile’s strategy and execution has been impressive. In the last couple of years, Google has managed to create an open platform, engage with a wide variety of device manufacturer partners, and promote its own branded device. Although iPhone fans might disagree, it is fair to say that, with the latest Android 2.x generation of devices (i.e., NexusOne), there are fewer and fewer hardware and software differentiators between the two solutions.

The dilemma: iPhone is still the big gorilla

However, despite Google’s successes with Android, iPhone is still the big gorilla, and it is too early to predict whether Android will ever take the lead.

Looking at the three aspects (i.e., product, distribution channel, and ecosystem) of each business, we can easily see that Apple is still the clear leader in the market it created: the application ecosystem. In this category, iPhone beats Androids on all counts (i.e., users, applications, and revenue)

In the real world, this means that if you intend to build a mobile application, you will probably do it first for iPhone and then for Android with the leftover. Ironically, Google is in the same position that Apple is in the PC market vis-a-vis Microsoft.

So the billion dollars (or downloads) question, is how can Google turn the tables?

The solution: Embrace and extend

The short answer is, Google should embrace and extend the iPhone [ecosystem] by creating an Android.iPhone SDK.

Google should enable its Java/Eclipse mobile development environment to support iPhone. This would allow developers to use a single mobile development environment to target different devices. This move would hit Apple at the source of its core differentiator, the developers.

The trick of such execution is to strike the right balance between the write once, run anywhere model and to use the best aspects of each device. In fact, from my experience, the best way to tackle this problem is to offer both models and let developers and time decide which one deserves a greater investment.

For example, Google should offer the following options:

  1. A way to “cross-compile” an Android application for the iPhone. This would have the advantage of the write once, run anywhere model, but would inherit its disadvantage as well (i.e., the lowest common denominator).
  2. A specific Android.iPhone SDK that would extend the Android SDK where necessary to fully utilize the iPhone specificities.

The good news for Google is that this path, of third-party iPhone development tools, has already been paved by numerous small companies, as well as by Adobe with the upcoming Adobe CS5. Consequently, it will be difficult for Apple to single out Google even if this move could be more disruptive to the iPhone business than Google Voice application (which has been notoriously rejected by Apple for competitiveness reasons).

If Google were to offer this solution, it would have a big impact on how developers approach mobile development. It would eventually position the Android SDK (and Android.iPhone SDK) as the de facto standard environment in which to develop native mobile applications and make Android an easy and cost-effective device to target.

Additionally, this strategy has the unique advantage of bringing Apple into the foreign territory of openness and inclusion. Apple is very comfortable in competing and innovating in closed markets (i.e., music and mobile), but tends to be a little defenseless in open ones.

The catch: Cost

The only catch of this strategy for Google would be the cost. Doing this the cheap way would backfire, and doing it well would not be easy. However, this embrace-and-extend strategy could be the next single most effective step that Google takes in the mobile space.

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10 Responses to “How Google can checkmate iPhone”

  1. dave Says:

    Interesting post, makes sense. Apple is in the cat birds seat right now and depending on the success of the iPad they could become an even bigger Gorilla. If Apple can release a kick ass social networking model, ouch says Google.

    Google is at risk of becoming a subservient service under the Apple or Facebook platforms, Wave and Buzz are their best defense right now. As social networking continues to evolve more and more, internet search will be derived from that data as much or more than indexing websites, Google doesn’t have it.

    It is an interesting race to see who can become the primary portal.

  2. Joshua Guffey Says:

    Good article. =)

    I see Google making an impressive attempt at a broad communications / information take over. I can imagine Google’s own ISP, mobile phone carrier, television and more.

    They were smart about positioning the backend services and products to support such integration before making any particularly telling moves. Although, if I’ve seen this coming for a year or more now, I’m certain than many have. Yourself included.


  3. Interesting article on Google vs iPhone - Nexus One Forum - Google Phone Forum Says:

    [...] article on Google vs iPhone Thought you might like it… How Google can checkmate iPhone | Bits And Buzz, by @JeremyChone __________________ Nexus One [...]

  4. _mark Says:

    judging from the feedback I’ve seen around the web.. the iPad isn’t going to be a big seller. Most say they are waiting for a Google Tablet. That is where Google can pwn Apple if they hurry the F up!

  5. narikin Says:

    Google are doing very well with Android.

    Despite that no single phone will ever come close to iPhone… when combined… all the Android phone products are beginning to add up. It’s a tide building out there, and Google with its free open OS are going to gain momentum. you can almost see it happening.

    Yes open it up to single environment. Apple are vulnerable in open markets. very.

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  7. Edwin Khodabakchian Says:

    I am not sure I agree: the future of mobile development (ipad included) is the web/HTML5. What you call the “lowest common denominator” will very soon be good enough to compete with what most native applications need. Apple more than anyone else knows that and is continuously pushing the limits (continuous improvement of Javascript performance, hardware acceleration of CSS transitions and animations, etc.). Investing in a competitive application model would be a great waste of time and energy. Microsoft has already proven that with Silverlight.

  8. Jeremy Chone Says:

    @Edwin First, I would agree (and strongly hope) that the future of mobile Web Development is web/HTML5.

    However, fortunately or unfortunately the mobile market has been reinvigorated (by Apple) with the “device applications” concept, and this trend is probably here to stay for a long time.

    It is one thing to use HTML/HTML5 to do rich web application, but when doing games and other entertainment applications, the Web (without flash) falls a little short. Trying to build a tap-tap-revenge in HTML5 would be challenging to say the least.

    Consequently, Google has to fight on all fronts. Continue to build up Open Web and, at the same time, embrace all popular application development model and distribution.

    Google already successfully did that with Android (great eclipse/SDK tools, and advance web-kit browser support), and my suggestion here is for them to extends their eclipse/SDK tools a step further.

    Nevertheless, I agree that this strategy should not temper Google of continuing push Open Web/HTML5 to be the future of application development for devices of all shapes.

    On Silverlight, different problem, but 100% agree that this is and will be a failure:

  9. Edwin Khodabakchian Says:

    I do not know much about games. My comment was focused on information centric applications.

  10. Jeremy Chone Says:

    @Edwin, ha ok, yes, for information centric apps Open Web should be the way to go.