So the buzz is that Android sales (OS for handhelds, from Google) may tip the iPhone by 2012? Sounds like a Mac vs PC debate. Well sort of, but the Mac debuted in 1984, when PCs had already been pushed by IBM with DOS. However, Apple was in the Personal Computing business earlier than the PCs and was already the pioneer to beat. So there is some similarity here, but this time

1. The iPhone is already in by a few years, so developers have invested in this platform. Legacy is what dictates the future more often than creativity (unfortunately), but in this case Apple has both.

2. Buying apps from a store which guarantees one-click download, no silly forms each time you buy something for $0.99 and ensuring -what you pay for you will get for sure. This is what the iPhone App Store has achieved.

This however, does not mean that things cannot change. We live in a world where you cannot predict technological breakthroughs (in price or paradigm).

Now getting to the heart of the debate-

3. iPhone and Apple products are proprietary as have always been. Android is open source based on Java, and will run on various hardwares (like Windows on PCs), whereas the iPhone/Mac OS run on Apple products.

My view about this open/close issue has always been that Apple never lost out to the PC for this fact, but had more to do so with Macs in 1984 were way ahead of their time for most programmers to learn a GUI and event driven model, when all they could do was write print commands on a black screen. 1984, User friendly = developer demanding, and the Mac was always the second choice for those learning computer programming.

However, today Apple has done a brilliant job in making sure that developers get all the resources to learn and build for their platforms. User interfaces and GUI libraries are object oriented with tools/support from all over the web. So there is no reason a developer who wants to do just simple things -like a report or costing for internal use, needs to stay away from a platform which demands sophistication (the DOS printouts were not WYSIWYG, but useful enough to output as rows on a dot-matrix).

Being ‘closed’ will not dictate the future of iPhone, though Android will get market share being licensable to third parties. Personally, I’d care less if Android has more numbers in 2012, as many handheld devices will do many trivial things for which an iPhone or smart PDA will be an overkill.

In fact, this time it may be a win-win for all.
The generic devices running Android are truly open (unlike generic PCs which had a proprietary Windows on top). The world always needs many generic tools which can be tweaked- which Android can be right for. The world also needs nifty gadgets which have everything consistent and designed insanely right. This can only happen when a platform is closed and developers see the same API but things can be fine tuned inside. Apple will deliver that-as proven time and again. 68K-PowerPC-Unix-Intel, yet the Mac is not that different in experience!

4. So the key for Apple is to keep an eye on development ease and productivity- if someone comes out with a radically easier way to code (you never know!) and programmers can build something in minutes instead of days, Apple can adopt/promote it.

Apple had missed the boat with Hypercard in the ’80s (hypertext links in a stack of cards, leading eventually to the web/http) and then with Applescript ’90s (GUI Scripting/Recording has by far been the most productive non-programmers tool- but Quickeys and OneClick were needed!).

ObjectiveC may not hold up too long when Java and Ruby are languages that most programmers talk in. The good news is that they are ahead with Ruby support on the Mac.

Win-win for all? We will need to wait a bit longer. I had the same hope in last year’s blog article

@saumilzx
Mumbai
10 Oct 2009

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