The debate of which mobile OS is better has been going on for years. Whether you use iOS or Android, you’ve probably heard phrases like “open”, “we had it first”, “smoother” or “more polished” to describe the differences between the two. Both are true in many cases, but what many don’t realize is why that’s the case.There’s a distinct reason why the Android ecosystem can afford to push out “less polished” products and services, and why Apple tends to take its time to “get it right.” The reason? Business models.
While many may think that Apple and Google are very similar, the truth is that they are very different, especially when you look at the way each generates revenue. For Apple, it boils down to hardware sales. If Apple sells more iPhones, iPads, and Macs, they make more money. They simply make a product, and sell it for a profit.
Google on the other hand is pretty much an advertising company. The majority of their revenue comes from ad sales. If they sell more ads, they make more money. This difference between the two companies dramatically effects how products services are shipped. Let me explain.
First, let’s look at the iOS ecosystem. Many would use the word “closed” and “curated” to describe it. That’s a pretty accurate assessment if you ask me. Take a look at iMessage, Apple’s text-messaging alternative. Why haven’t we seen iMessage ported over to Android? The answer boils down to hardware sales. By making the service only available to those with Apple devices, it incentivizes people to buy Apple products. If I know that the majority of my friends and family use iMessage, I’m probably more likely to buy an Apple device. Keeping the services proprietary pushes the sales of more hardware. This is the case with many of Apple’s other services too. FaceTime, Airplay, Find My iPhone and more.
Now let’s look at Google. For Google, it doesn’t matter nearly as much if they sell less Nexus devices. All they care about is ad sales and user information. This is why they have no problem creating services that work on iOS. In fact, one could argue that Apple users are more important to them than Android users. Why? Because usage patterns have indicated that iOS users spend more time on their phones, browse the internet more, and spend more money. All this makes Google happy.
But that’s not the most important part. Because Apple is a hardware company that depends on sales of their devices to make money, it’s much more important that the products they make are really good from the start. If Apple were to build a half-ass iPhone or iPad, it would have a dramatic effect on their bottom line. Google, on the other hand, doesn’t nearly depend on device sales. Again, they’re all about ads and user information. If Google builds a half-ass smartphone or tablet and it flops, it doesn’t hurt them nearly as much.
At the beginning of WWDC, Apple played a video that explained how they approach building products. The video said things like “design takes focus” and “it takes time.” These are absolutely true for a company that has very little margin for error when shipping a product. They have built themselves to be the company that puts out the nicest hardware year after year.
This isn’t to say that Google can’t make good products. What it means, though, is that Google’s priorities are in a very difference place. Because ads contribute to the vast majority of their revenue, they can afford to try things out and have them fail with almost no consequences. A tablet with touchscreen problems doesn’t effect them nearly in the same way. Imagine if that had happened to iPads? It would be a PR nightmare.
So next time you pick up an iOS or Android device, think about why certain decisions are made. It’s not because one is lazy or less innovative. It’s likely because they have very different business models and different expectations.