I'm trying to imagine Apple's Steve Jobs doing a Rodney Dangerfield impression, standing on a stage somewhere saying, 'I don't get no respect. No respect at all.' Of course that'll never happen, but the lack of respect seems to be coming from a variety of sources. First, according to Leonard Greene of the New York Post, President Obama during a speech at Hampton University singled out iPads and iPods as being bad for democracy. The President, a Blackberry user (when he was allowed to have one), admitted that he doesn't know how to use the devices, but said that the constant access to information was a distraction to real learning.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal (quickly followed by everyone else) carried a report from analyst firm NPD Group that said Apple's iPhone sales were overtaken by smartphones with the Android operating system. That data was foreshadowed earlier this year when another report highlighted the number of developers flocking to the Android standard.
Who'd blame Jobs for thinking he isn't getting any respect?
But the fact is, the iPad and iPhone have met their match. While NPD's figures show that neither Android devices nor the iPhone have overtaken Research in Motion's market share, they do show that Android-based smartphones are gaining in market share, while both Apple and RIM are dropping. In other words, the upstart, open source, user-supported operating system is doing the same thing to smartphones that Linux is doing to computers-it's gaining broad acceptance.
But as is the case with Linux, the reasons for this dramatic turn of events isn't due to the price of the OS. After all, the cost of owning a device, whether it's a server or a smartphone, goes far beyond the cost of the software that's installed inside. The cost, and the value, are more related to what you can do with the OS and how well it meets your needs.
It is in this level of utility where the Android devices shine. It's true that the Apple iPhone and iPad are cool, trendy, and much favored by the glitterati. It's also true that the user interface is sleek and well designed. But the experience is sort of like having lunch with a fashion model in the former Soviet Union. You may have a nice looking lunch partner, but you can still only eat what the state wants you to eat.
In Apple's case, the state is called iTunes, through which every application must pass and be officially blessed before you can install it on your Apple product. The good news is that you're less likely to get malware delivered to your Apple device this way. The bad news is that all of the freedom and creativity that comes with user-supported software goes away. With Android, there's still an AppStore, but you don't have to use it. You can download applications from anywhere.
But there's more to the success of Android-based smartphones than just the freedom to buy applications where you wish. There's also the freedom to buy devices from any carrier you wish to use. While Verizon's Droid line of smartphones is the latest to gain mindshare, you can get Android phones from T-Mobile (the company that launched the first one) and Sprint as well as AT&T.
The reason for the success of Android-based phones isn't that they're the coolest things out there. No question they're very nice smartphones, but they aren't cool enough to be slammed as distractions by the President of the U.S. Instead, they're just cool enough that people want to use them for something besides making phone calls and sending e-mails. They have apps that are both useful and fun, and you get to make the choice where you want to buy the device and what you want to put on it.
While I doubt that President Obama had the marketing policies of Apple in mind when he slammed the iPad, iPhone and their various relatives, the fact is that the people who really count-the people who buy the devices and spend the money to support them -- do have that in mind. And while it's not clear that the iPhone and iPod are dangerous to democracy, it's clear that the freedom that the Android phones provide is getting all of the votes.