Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Android or Apple: open or not open, that's the question

(Photo by Milan6)
Steve Jobs and Andy Rubin (Android creator) have a bit of a tiff. The crux of the tiff is the openness of Android and the closedness of Apple's Os's. The mud is flying both ways. Steve Jobs pointed out that Android is so fragmented that in effect it is as much a closed system as Apple's OS's are. Meaning that only technically proficient users can make use of the open aspects of Android. Many Twitter voices said much the same when Rubin responded with a tweet that contained a line of cryptic install code. Most users will read that tweet with the words "Say what?" on their lips.

Steve Job's argument seems a little far fetched though even if it is effectively true. Android is in effect a closed system to all but die hard code monkeys but that is a side effect of its distribution strategy: everyone can and more importantly may add to it, distribute it and use it if they have the skill. In Apple's case the OS being closed is part of its basic underlying philosophy. The OS is closed to protect users from fiddling with the innards and messing up the works. No one is allowed to touch it apart from the hallowed hands of the Apple coders. Result: a stable and homogenous system. However to attack one another over this seems a little pointless. Customers are better informed than ever thanks to the Internet so in most cases potential buyers know what they let themselves in for. And in any case: both platforms offer enough functionality out of the box to please most customers, no fiddling required.

The big question is: do we want our platforms to be open? The iPod, iPad and iPhone are locked into the tightly controlled world of Apple apps. However there are a couple of hundred thousand apps to choose from. There is an app for most functions you might want to use an apple device for. In practice there are only a limited amount of apps one really uses. The fact that the platform is closed is not relevant to the user. My washing machine isn't an open platform but it performs its duty perfectly.

Android is an open platform. Anyone can program for it, anyone can put it on his or her hardware and any program can be written and changed by anyone and finally the apps can be distributed through any website the distributer wishes to use. The result is a platform that is indeed open but Steve Jobs does have a point: it has become so fragmented that it is almost impossible to talk about a platform anymore. Android runs the risk of becoming one of those platforms where certain programs only run on certain iterations of Android. Like its Linux forebears the text terminal and cryptic code typing to get things working are never far away. Yet it has the huge advantage of welcoming everyone with a little programming skill to try and code for it. Through democratic filtering by users the easily usable and most functional apps will float to the top and become standard elements of the Android OS.

In both cases the bottom line is: does a device perform the function its user wants it to perform. And for both platforms there are a lot of users who will feel right at home, whether the front door is wide open or whether it needs a key. So bury your hatchets guys, the world is big enough for both of you.

No comments:

Post a Comment