Google's Android market needs Jobsian strongman

Tough iPhone love


The Apple standard

But to reach consumers, there really needs to be consistency in the way that users find and consume applications. Apple has set the standard – for better or worse – with the App Store. Android apps require users to purchase and download only from their device, generally not an issue, but not always the best user experience.

The big question is whether or not the task of building and maintaining an Android app store similar to Apple's store should fall to the Google-borg or whether third-parties such as Motorola or Verizon should take ownership and are capable of offering the breadth, depth and level support needed for a wide variety of applications.

Perhaps connecting your iPhone to a computer is where Apple has found Android's current Achilles Heel. For better or worse, with the iPhone, you know Apple is in charge. With Android, it could be one of a dozen or more companies, from your device manufacturer to a carrier to a startup to Google itself.

Having said that, Android is a promise of things to come, and it will likely leapfrog the iPhone within the next 18 to 24 months – at least on the operating system side. Developers like the tooling, APIs, and possibilities associated with new devices, and many resent Apple's choice of Objective-C on principle alone.

For their part, device manufacturers like the customization capabilities as well as the fact that there is a core kernel that is developed similarly to Linux with a theoretically benevolent Google directing development.

And, while Android lacks Apple's combined polish of hardware, operating system and marketplace, there is historical precedent that suggests being part of the world wide web rather than building a walled garden is the right way to go. Just ask AOL.

On that basis, Android will likely coalesce into just a few versions and continue in general to take market share from RIM, Microsoft, Nokia, and Palm – a move that could easily sound the death knell for the mobile operating systems of any number of companies.

However, market dominance is one thing – actually having consumers like and want to use your device is another. Handset makers and telcos, especially, are not known for their forward thinking. The mobile apps market has been marked by years of mediocre applications and walled gardens that lock in both consumers and developers. The market bread indifference and frustration towards phones and service providers, and that's what made the iPhone seem so revolutionary and appealing.

The challenge for Android, then, is not motoring to some kind of inevitable ubiquity but in corralling the various app stores and marketplaces to make it easier for developers to make money with their own applications and for consumers to find and pay for them.

To achieve that, someone, somewhere has to start taking a cue from Apple's user experience and consistency. ®


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