Platform wars are stupid but necessary, because homogeneous doesn’t work in the market place. Simple as that.
There’s a lot of kerfuffle lately about the Droid, and Android in general, competing with the iPhone and its platform. Rightly so, but I think some people are missing the point of differentiation with this. At the end of the day, there are four platforms worth mentioning: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile. Everything else is dumbphones masquerading as productivity tools.
We’ll start with Apple, because they wouldn’t have it any other way. Most of what you hear about the iPhone is how awesome it is, how many apps there are. This is a key to its success, but it also tends to blind people. So many choices makes decisions tougher, after all. But spend an hour in the app store, and what are you likely to find? A lot of communication toys, multimedia tools, games, virtual beer and assorted hodge podge. What does this make the iPhone, once you dig in? A toy. It’s a multimedia device, which is exactly what Apple wants. Thing is, not many people pay attention to this, or consider whether anything other than total malleability is what they need.
Enter Android. On any device, Android is a killer operating system; it’s light weight, handles well for the most part, and makes your phone feel like a small computer. The market has apps, granted, and lots of them, the number growing sometimes faster than Apple’s AppStore because of differences in developers and approval processes. Android is also open source, which means anyone with the chops can dig in and do whatever they feel like for it with no hindrances past their own skills. This is a big deal! It’s a bridge product, halfway between high computing power and the fun of the iPhone’s platform. There’s fun, but there’s also a smattering of productivity and communication.
Productivity. Something a lot of phones lack, which is only partly bad. Not many people want to type out a thousand-word blog post or a two thousand word article on a phone’s keyboard. Applications for this are, rightly so, limited. It would be nice to see one of the platforms stand up and address this in a straight-forward manner. Windows Mobile sort of tries, but with Microsoft’s lackadaisical attitude to development for WinMo, it’s no wonder no one gives a second thought to it. Device selection failure as well helps the slow execution of WinMo by the iPhone and Android. It’s barely a competitor.
What is? BlackBerry and Symbian. Nokia hasn’t done a lot with Symbian lately – we’ll see what comes up – but RIM has made some decidedly choice moves in the last year. AppWorld is great, there’s a decent suite of applications, but they’re heavily weighted in two directions: Communication and aggregation. Readers and messengers. This is, I think, a decent move for RIM to make because BlackBerry has always been about keeping in touch. I use a Berry myself, so I may be biased here, but it does everything I need it do – I usually have four instant messenger programs running, plus BBMessenger, UberTwitter (until Seesmic works – you’re on notice, Loic) and WordPress for on the fly blogging. RIM may be pushing themselves in toward a niche with pragmatists in mind, but that’s ok. It’s what they’ve proven they’re good at.
So where does this leave us? Winners. The communicators will have their BlackBerry phones. The developers and power users will filter to Android. Everyone who wants the internet in all its multimedia glory at their beck and call will find an iPhone waiting. Someone, somewhere, will love a Windows Mobile handset just enough to give it a happy home. I like having choice. Better still, I like having choices that are becoming increasingly clear.