News reports suggest that March has been a good month for lovers of, and developers for, the Android operating system in pretty much every regard. That good news comes at the expense of the Apple iPhone and iOS we are led to believe, which appears to be losing the fight against Android in a number of areas. But looking behind the headlines, just how accurate is this notion of Android beats Apple in everything?
Tesco, the second largest retailer in the world by profit after Walmart, has revealed that it is now selling more Android-powered handsets than iPhones for the first time. The revelation, relating to sales of handsets through the Tesco Mobile service (a joint venture between Tesco and the O2 carrier) in the UK, is a total reversal of the market a year ago. In the run up to Christmas, iPhones were outselling Android handsets by two to one at Tesco Mobile, but by the end of January 2011 those numbers had levelled out and during February Android had surged past the iPhone.
That should not come as too much of a surprise, to be fair. After all, Tesco Mobile currently only offers the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 compared to dozens and dozens of various Android powered handset options. So that one metric alone just suggests that if you keep a tight proprietary hold on your mobile OS then it will ultimately stand no chance, in terms of numbers of units sold, against an OS that is available on multiple devices produced by many different handset manufacturers. The iPhone has driven the smartphone market as far as desirability and consumer aspiration have been concerned, but in taking the commercial decision to remain firmly at the high end of the market in terms of pricing Apple has allowed the Android competition to flood the profitable middle market with great success. Consumers who have been priced out of the iPhone boom are discovering that Android offers them a very similar user experience at a fraction of the cost. The figures remain, however, an interesting trend indicator suggesting that Apple cannot remain complacent in terms of the consumer smartphone marketplace. Rumors that Apple may be working on a smaller, cheaper version of the iPhone could mark an understanding of the need to stem the Android flood.
One area where Apple and the iPhone has always had the edge over Android is that of the App Store. With in excess of 10 billion downloads, and rising fast, the demand for iPhone apps is not in question. However, demand for developers of Android applications most certainly is. In fact, according to one recent report more companies are currently looking for developers with Android skills than iOS . The report based its conclusions on there being more open positions for Android developers than iPhone developers at Dice.com, 987 compared to 970 as at March 1st to be precise. Again, it counts as being an interesting metric and certainly shows that Android app development is a growth area right now. But does it spell D.O.O.M and G.L.O.O.M for Apple and iPhone app development? Erm, N.O.P.E is the obvious answer. For a start, the figures quoted in that report do not appear to have counted searches for development jobs relating to 'iPad' or even 'iOS' which would probably have swung things way back into Apple supremacy territory I imagine.
The report admits that, with there being more than twice as many iPhone apps as Android ones yet Android handset sales now going through the roof, anyone developing a new iPhone or iPad app is likely going to be hiring an Android developer to work alongside that development. Apple only really needs to start worrying, I would suggest, when there are more Android apps than iOS ones and that's unlikely to be for quite a while yet.
Finally, let's move to the news that apparently IT professionals are more interested in Android than iPhone . This time the news story hangs off of the results of survey by e-learning and training software developers SkillSoft which determined that IT professionals looking for information and support now search less for iPhone and more for Android. Again, I'm not actually sure that this signals anything other than coders need more help with Android app development than they do with iOS app development. It could be tied into the rising popularity of the Android platform courtesy of the sales of consumer handsets, forcing iOS developers into learning news skills of course. This is especially true of the smaller development houses which might often be more accurately described as development bedrooms, one man bands looking to port an iPhone app across to the Android platform and finding themselves somewhat bewildered by the one size does not fit all handsets approach. If anything, this is good news for Apple which, for all the negatives of a walled garden approach to app development, does have an advantage in making the development process itself relatively easy.
Personally I'd have to conclude that Android is, obviously, a threat to Apple and iOS (and RIM/Blackberry for that matter) but nothing I've read in the news this month makes me think that it is winning the smartphone war. Perhaps the most sensible reporting comes from Amy Gahran for CNN who, in a story revealing that Android smartphones have captured 29% of the US market compared to 27% a piece for the iPhone and BlackBerry, did at least point out that these figures while comparing apples with blackberries most certainly did not really compare apples with apples. Gahran states that "Android is an operating system, and there's considerable diversity among the manufacturers, models, features, and general user experience available in that category" as well as determining that both RIM and Apple are the real winners as they both create and sell smartphones with their respective operating systems.