This is a guest post by Shep McAllister, editor-in-chief at our favorite college blog – HackCollege! Find out more about him below this post.
A few days ago on Twitter, Thomas asked me if I thought the iPhone would still be the dominant smartphone a few years down the road. Attempting to look at this objectively, and not as an Apple fanboy, I frankly see no scenario where it wouldn’t be.
I know what you’re thinking; Android has more momentum right now than iOS. The media likes to give this theory a lot of play, and I remain unconvinced, but let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s true, and Android handsets will outnumber iPhones 2-1 in a few years. Here’s the problem though; even in this worst-case scenario, Apple would still be the most “dominant” phone out there, by any important measure.
The first problem Android faces is fragmentation. There may be a ton of devices out there using Android; but they’re all made by different companies, and all compete amongst themselves for the same customers. It’s the same concept as Macs and PC’s. Apple might only have about 10% PC market share, but few would argue that the company doesn’t do well for itself in the marketplace. They are, after all, the most profitable computer manufacturer in the world. Today, if you look at smartphone market share, Apple and Android have comparable user bases, but Apple sells far more smartphones than Motorola, HTC, or Samsung individually. This is unlikely to change significantly in the future as Android manufacturers will cannibalize each others’ sales.
Apple also has a huge lead in mindshare. They were first to market with what we would consider to be a modern smartphone, and they’ve never given up their early lead. Every new Android phone that comes out is compared immediately to the iPhone. Many handsets are dubbed “iPhone killers,” particularly if they arrive late in an iPhone’s product life cycle as Apple’s hardware starts to age. Of course, none of them ever are iPhone killers, but this overused comparison speaks volumes to the iPhone’s power in the marketplace.
Part of this, of course, is due to Apple’s superior marketing. While people reading this site may not be swayed by commercials and billboards, their significance is not to be overlooked. If you see an iPhone ad, you know immediately that it’s an iPhone ad. Apple does a brilliant job of convincing you that you need an iPhone, and they can do it in a single, iconic, 30 second spot. I don’t know who the Android handset manufacturers pay to produce commercials, but they should take their business elsewhere. Special effects, robots, lightning and meteors won’t sell phones, as HTC would have us believe. Showing how the product is actually used will. Apple has always excelled in this area, and their expertise makes it tough for anybody else to stand out in the market.
We also cannot forget about the iPod Touch. Though it’s not a smartphone, but it’s a gateway drug to the iPhone. Apple sells these things in bunches to teens and young adults who haven’t yet purchased their first smartphone, and it locks them into an ecosystem that, fairly or not, is difficult to escape. If anyone spends a year with an iPod touch, paying for apps and learning how to use the operating system, convincing them to start from scratch with an Android phone is a tough sell. There is currently no real Android-based competition to Apple’s flagship MP3 player, putting the platform at an immediate disadvantage. The same argument could be made regarding the tablet market, where the iOS-based iPad is putting every Android-based competitor to shame.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the clear advantage Apple enjoys in app selection. Yes, Android is more “open,” and will allow some apps that Apple won’t, and that’s all well and good for readers of this site who like to tweak their phones. Hell, even I have jailbroken my iPhone. But the fact is, the average consumer doesn’t care about downloading different task managers and web browsers, but they can be swayed by something immediately mesmerizing like the game Infinity Blade, by Epic. Epic’s Tim Sweeney spoke to Matt Buchanan of Gizmodo recently and said that it is simply easier to develop top-of-the-line apps and games for Apple devices than the myriad of Android offerings available today. This echoes the frustrations that many Android developers have voiced in recent months. They complain that it is difficult to develop apps for such a fragmented ecosystem, and even harder to profit when they try. Say what you will about Apple’s App Store, but a lot of developers stand a real chance to make some real money by releasing software on Apple devices, and as long as this advantage exists, the developers aren’t going to be devoting as many resources to their Android apps. The resulting App Store purchasing experience far exceeds that of Android, and will keep the iPhone out in front in the phone wars for years to come.
Android is an impressive platform, don’t get me wrong, and you’ll be seeing it on a lot of phones for the foreseeable future. That said, no single Android phone in the next few years has a chance to knock the iPhone off its mantle as the “model” smartphone. Android may have greater market share than iOS (by many measures, it already does), but I’ll go on record and predict that no Android phone will have a greater market share than the iPhone at any point in the next five years. Can you honestly imagine a world where the iPhone 7 is being billed as a potential HTC (insert random force of nature or highly-masculine adjective) killer, rather than the other way around? I know I can’t.