Android vs. apple: the 2011 cage match

Throughout 2010 there were escalating tensions between Google Android and Apple iOS, as the two platforms emerged as the rising superpowers in the mobile world. But, if you thought things were heated between them last year, then as the saying goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet. These two ecosystems are on course for a massive collision in 2011 and the stakes are about to get a lot higher.

The arrival of the iPhone on Verizon is a major incursion into what had previously become Android territory. Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” (the tablet OS) is about to unleash an army of Android tablets in a full frontal assault on the iPad. There is going to be blood, but as my colleague Larry Dignan notes, the carnage is likely going to have a greater impact on the other competitors in the mobile market more than on Apple and Google themselves.

To help evaluate the race between Android and iOS in 2011, I’d like to approach it from the perspective of where the two platforms

are vulnerable. That will help give us an idea of where they might go after each other and where upstarts may try to challenge them.

Weak spots for iOS
For the iPhone and iPad the number one draw is ease of use. Your toddler and your grandmother (the one who is intimidated by computers) can both pick up one of these devices and figure out how to use it. As Jerry Pournelle says, with Apple products “everything is either very simple or it’s utterly impossible.” The utterly impossible side is where we find Apple’s first weak spot.

1. Software inflexibility: There is very little tweaking and customization allowed by iOS. You have to do it Apple’s way or else it’s probably not an option. These limits allow iOS products to function very well within the protected space carved out by Apple. However, if you have the need or desire to do something that is not within the boundaries Apple has set for iOS (and can’t create an app to handle it), then you’re out of luck.

2. Productivity limitations: Both the iPhone and iPad are far better devices for consuming information than creating it. Part of the problem is with the on-screen keyboard, which works magnificently for short bursts of data entry but is not something you want to use for writing an email or document of greater length. The operating system itself is not especially tailored for multi-tasking or work-focused tasks such as building presentations, editing files, and juggling several bits of information at once.

3. Fewer hardware choices: Some people prefer really big screens while other people like ultra-small and portable devices. Some want a high-resolution camera lens and all the multimedia bells and whistles in their mobile device, while others don’t need any of that stuff (and don’t want to pay for it) but want a really nice hardware keyboard so that they can do longer data entry more comfortably. With Apple products, you have very few choices. In fact, with both iPhone and iPad there are really only two choices to make when buying the product: storage and connectivity. You get to pick how much storage you want and you get to pick the wireless carrier on the iPhone or the Wi-Fi only model vs. the mobile broadband model on the iPad. That’s it.

Weak spots for Android
The best thing about Android is that its Open Handset Alliance includes some of the biggest and best vendors in the mobile world, including Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG, Dell, Sony-Ericsson, and many more. The Android partners make devices in all shapes and sizes and in virtually every iteration you can imagine.

Android vs. apple: the 2011 cage match