Smartphone Battle Royale

March 15th, 2010

Looks like the gloves are off in the smartphone battle. Apple is currently the undisputed leader. They reinvented the phone and we all know it. They set the bar very high, and everyone else is trying to catch up. Think of what your standard cell phone looked like before the iPhone and what all the latest ones look like now. An amazing evolution in a very short period of time, spurred in large because of Apple’s innovation. It’s going to be very interesting over the next several months, because Google appears to be a great contender for knocking the iPhone off its throne.

TechCrunch announced today that Tim Bray, the well-known software architect and blogger has joined the Google team to help work on Android. It’s also said that he’s doing it because he hates the iPhone.

This is a significant thing to consider. Apple forges ahead and tells consumers what they will like, and then, of course, we like it. What’s not to like when the package is beautiful, the interface is great, and it handily beats every other alternative? Google’s taking a different approach. They appear to be lining up to offer the more open of the smartphone platforms. They’re also recruiting well-known talent now, too.

In very-related news, John Battelle, author, thinker, co-founder of Wired Magazine and The Industry Standard just wrote an article about the iPad that drums up a lot of the same arguments that the iPhone/Android battle shares. Will Apple’s innovative and elegant interface and closed system architecture win out against a more open platform? Battelle’s article specifically mentions how the now well-known “demo” that Wired showed for the iPad was built and run on another platform. (A Dell using Adobe software.) So to show how great the iPad is, you have to use another computer. That seems a little off.

There are plenty of pundits who will shout at you and tell you that the iPhone and iPad aren’t supposed to be everything for everyone and that the closed system helps maintain stability and performance. Yeah – I’ll buy that, to a degree. And it’s a perfectly good reason/argument. But we’re talking about the competitive marketplace here. Which product or platform will be the front runner a year from now?

I’m going to bet that Google pulls ahead. Why? Because ultimately, I think that the general consumer will win with Google at the helm. Their products and services will be geared toward a more diverse audience, and their system will allow more adaptability to the way that audience wants to use the devices running their operating system. Android already sells two-thirds the number of smartphones as Apple does iPhones, and they’re just getting started.

Google also has their hooks in so many web-connected things, that there’s going to be a natural connection between ALL of the systems that can tap into Google devices, mobile networks, and the Internet. And Google will likely make it easy for people to tap into all of these resources via that operating system and API.

You can already upload any document to Google Docs, which basically makes it a lightweight off-site storage system. You can sync your bookmarks across computers with Chrome’s bookmark sync, your calendar and maps and email can all run through Google’s free services. Add the blogs, video, photos, reader and all the other Google services already in place and we’ve got a pretty significant thing to consider.

It’s all about the interface. And not the iPhone’s, iPad’s or Android’s – it’s about the interface to the Internet. I think Google understands that a little better than Apple. Apple’s making tons of money by controlling how people get and develop apps on their platform and interface. Google’s going to ensure people use their own interface by making it easy to use for the greatest number of people.

This is going to be fun to watch.