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Android vs. iPhone: Who Will Win?

Some thoughts on a war with many fronts.
August 8, 2012

If this is what “thermonuclear war” looks like, it’s pretty tame.

Apple, it appears, will be removing the built-in YouTube app, formerly a staple of its devices, from devices running iOS 6, report the Times and others. As the Times puts it, “Its disappearance seemed to chill any remnants of the warmth that once existed between Apple and Google, which owns YouTube.”

The Times seems to be interpreting this action as a shot fired by Apple across the bow of Google. And that may be so. But it’s not especially clear. Apple said in a statement that “our license to include the YouTube app in iOS has ended.” And YouTube said, “We are working with Apple to ensure we have the best possible YouTube experience for iOS users.” Neither has said, “This is thermonuclear war.”

If anything, Apple may have given YouTube a gift by letting the license lapse. The Apple-built YouTube app was controlled largely by Apple, meaning YouTube couldn’t update the app without Apple’s help or even, says the Times, run advertisements on YouTube videos that played in-app.

More to the point, it’s hard to see this as a real rift in the way that Apple’s jettisoning of Google Maps for its own version was (see: “Apple Charts a Course for 3-D Maps”). Apple, after all, doesn’t have a rival online video platform, nor do I see it building one anytime soon.

The YouTube kerfuffle is probably nothing more than that, but that’s of course not to say that Android and iOS aren’t in a fierce war. The main front of that war right now is arguably the Apple vs. Samsung patent wrangle, which has been unfolding for days and will last through the month. MacWorld has a good day-by-day chronicle of the trial, for those interested. Yesterday, an email emerged that didn’t make Samsung’s case look too good.

Who, in the end, will win the smartphone wars? I’m not a soothsayer, but here are a few thoughts. First, let’s consider the U.S. market. It’s been suggested that Android has been surging ahead in the States, where Apple had been traditionally dominant. But it’s actually a little bit difficult to get solid numbers on market share. Analysts tend to use surveys, but a stronger way of calculating may be by looking at sales through the major carriers. M.G. Siegler over at TechCrunch recently went through the numbers exhaustively, concluding that Apple’s market share is at 50%, and only stands to grow as it joins more carriers. He builds a sound case that in the U.S., the iPhone still simply remains more desirable to consumers, and that in the long run, Android won’t win here.

What some of us stateside tend to forget, however, is that there’s a whole world out there. IDC recently reported that Android has 59% of the global market share. That’s impressive, but the iPhone, again, isn’t necessarily readily available on all the global carriers that Android is. Apple’s look-before-leaping strategy could also lead to a surge later abroad, as the iPhone becomes available on more people’s carriers.

Taking the long view though, what about an era when the smartphone becomes affordable even for poorer populations in developing nations–whenever that might be? Apple is a luxury brand, but the bulk of the world is, of course, not wealthy enough to buy a luxury product. Android’s openness, its free-for-all spirit, and its willingness to partner with many manufacturers probably makes it better equipped to become the smartphone of global populations that we don’t yet think of as being smartphone buyers. If that happens, Android might indeed conquer the global market–but then again, Google is not likely to make much money flashing advertisements to someone who scrimped and saved just to buy a low-end Android phone to begin with, so it might be a Pyrrhic victory (which is to say, not an especially lucrative one for Google).

What are your thoughts? Pressing fast-forward on this battle as it stands now, who do you see winning the smartphone wars?

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