How Android Could Beat the iPhone

Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android Market doesn't just host more than 10,000 apps, as has been widely reported. Nope, the store now hosts better than 17,000 programs, and should surpass 20,000 before years' end. Here's why:

Month

New Android Apps

July

1,670

August

1,900

September

2,333

October

2,642

November

2,732

Source: AndroLib.com.

These numbers should scare Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) . Developers clearly like what Google has to offer with Android, and every month they're writing more code for the platform.

Give your robot a hug
But this is more than an embrace -- it's a bear hug. Of the 17,343 apps that AndroLib.com had catalogued as of this writing, 65% were submitted between July and November. Only the iPhone is growing its ecosystem faster, which may help to explain why Android's U.S. share of mobile traffic is blossoming even as Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) , Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) , and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows Mobile are losing share.

Apple's share is growing, too, also thanks to apps. Phil Schiller, the Mac maker's leading marketing executive, said in a recent interview with BusinessWeek that the App Store is receiving 10,000 new apps each week. Five months of Android Market submissions barely bests one week of inflow at the App Store.

And yet we may see that gap begin to close. Top developers are speaking out against the way Apple vets software. Among the crowd you'll find Joe Hewitt, lead developer for Facebook's iPhone app. He told BusinessWeek that he is "philosophically opposed" to Apple acting as a gatekeeper to users. Android Market has no such restrictions.

If anything, Google is encouraging more submissions by sponsoring an annual American Idol­-style contest for coders. Winners receive hundreds of thousands in cash, plus a chance to sell their wares via an increasingly impressive array of Android smartphones, such as Motorola's (NYSE: MOT  ) Droid.

The cost of quality control
Schiller, for his part, told the magazine that Apple prides itself on building and delivering quality products to users and considers the vetting process part of quality control. That does seem fair. Those who saw a despicable app called "Baby Shaker" might even call the Mac maker's QA process a welcome enhancement.

If developers aren't as happy, it's because software development is an iterative process that's interrupted by Apple's gatekeeping. It's a startling precedent, really. Microsoft doesn't allow Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) to place limits on the software it delivers to customers via their PCs.

"Programmers don't use launch-fast-and-iterate out of laziness. They use it because it yields the best results. By obstructing that process, Apple is making them do bad work, and programmers hate that as much as Apple would," writes developer Paul Graham in this essay.

Where are you now, Joseph Heller?
We should take Graham seriously; he's a successful programmer and entrepreneur and the founder of Y Combinator, a venture firm that hosts a twice-annual bootcamp for hungry coders looking to create the Next Big Thing.

Even so, Apple is right to be careful. "Baby Shaker" created a firestorm when it was released. Opening the process would mean exposing the iPhone to more morons, more often. Keeping the App Store under lock and key is the safest play.

In short: this is a lose-lose decision for Apple -- a Catch-22 that's sure to make Google's robotic Android smile.

But that's also just my take. Now it's your turn to weigh in. Should Apple open the App Store submission process? Please take a moment to vote in the poll below. You can also sound off in the comments box at the bottom.

Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple and a stock position in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy shakes martinis and splashes olives.


Read/Post Comments (22) | Recommend This Article (14)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 3:26 PM, agragr wrote:

    The market for independent software on personal computers has shriveled because of the malware threat. By adding independent quality control, Apple opened a huge demand pool. They should duplicate the model for the Mac rather than drop it for the iPhone.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 3:42 PM, marv08 wrote:

    Apple should not give up on quality control and checks for trademark violations or obvious theft. They should stay away from censorship and urgently review their age rating system though. The iTunes store is filled with songs containing adult lyrics (and their "explicit" ratings are 100% inconsistent), there is ample violence in movies and TV shows, but you can't put some cartoon drawings or the "Kama Sutra" on the App Store and every app with any Web access is "17+"? This is nuts.

    I do not see Android catching up just yet. According to most developers sales are low (Gameloft, one of the most successful games developers, said sales on the iPhone are 400 times higher on the iPhone/touch than for Android – this difference is far bigger than the difference in device sales). If almost nobody pays, then this is not "catching up". Android devices differ vastly in button layouts, touch capabilities and screen resolutions, and to make it worse - now we have version 1.x and version 2.x Android phones with no upgrade path for existing owners. Not really what developers hope for.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 4:04 PM, ronjkl310 wrote:

    I switched from the Razr to the Blackberry which was a game-changer in its day. I now own an iPhone another game-changer. The difference is that I can't see how I could ever switch from the iPhone because of applications like NeuroMobile and Dictionary.com that I rely on. The applications advantage makes the underlying handset technology less relevant. Apple now just has to keep pace with the handset technology and keep churning out great applications to continue its dominance of smartphone market.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 4:18 PM, susan322 wrote:

    > These numbers should scare Apple

    17,000 VS 115,000?????

    Those are scary numbers, alright.

    And Android getting farther and farther BEHIND.

    Apple reviews 10,000 apps per *WEEK*.

    (Not "per year".)

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 4:35 PM, Turfscape wrote:

    Apple has made a single channel that is sometimes frustrating to walk through for developers...but they only have to walk through it once!

    It's more profitable to create an app for iPhone than to create an app for Android on Motorola, then Android on HTC, then Android on (fill in the blank)...

    Android is good, but iPhone need not sweat. It's not so good as to make developers STOP developing for Apple.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 4:37 PM, eltoro2827 wrote:

    I'm also scared of those numbers! Wow!

    Real iPhone killer (sarcasm)

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 5:06 PM, harrymacmaster wrote:

    How many more "experts" are going to miserably underestimate Steve Jobs? I invested my money in Apple just after old Steve's return, and what a sweet ride it has been. If I had listened to the "experts" I would have been floundering in the PC world the whole time.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 5:26 PM, Wheeljawk wrote:

    I have to reiterate the comments about the different versions of the android OS and different hardware wreaking havoc on interoperability of the apps between phones. There are articles out there with developers complaining about this very thing. To have to go back to an app and make it work 5, 10, 20 times first off means those initial users that find the bugs are disappointed and have to *wait* for it to get fixed. Some of them might give up on the app, leave bad reviews ecetera. This is the exactly the kind of thing that frustrates Windows OS users so much. Having Apple review for quality control makes perfect sense, for the kind of user experience Apple wants to deliver. So I guess that makes Android the Windows/Linux of the Mobile world? Regardless, I think what it means is that Android doesn't have to be an "iPhone killer" to be successful. There is room in the market for both philosophies.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 5:54 PM, JosephOfFool wrote:

    Apple should never remove it's quality control from the iPhone app process. Rather, it should add a second, free form / no quality control / Android style channel to its store, under the terms "buyer beware". Gives both the developer and user choices.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 6:08 PM, neal157 wrote:

    This column thrives on ridiculous headlines and concepts. I only click for the laughs.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 6:35 PM, xmmj wrote:

    For a really cogent assessment of iPhone vs Android see the article:

    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/11/05/inside_googles...

    -

    Granted it is long (5 parts) but it gives a very thorough analysis. Some have argued that it is biased, which perhaps is true, but being biased is different from being wrong/ I would like to hear some specific issues refuted.

    Until then, I think the author presents a great case as to why Android will not come close to supplanting iPhone. Chief among these is precisely the issue here - the "open" app store of Android. The problem is simple - it is to easy to develop malware for an unguarded system. Already we see that there is a worm targeting JAILBROKEN iPhones - those with the security features disabled. Android phones will be an easy target. (Not to mention the other problems, some mentioned in comments above.)

    .

    If you are serious about the issue, you ought to read the story.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 6:37 PM, xmmj wrote:

    For a really cogent assessment of iPhone vs Android see the article:

    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/11/05/inside_googles...

    -

    Granted it is long (5 parts) but it gives a very thorough analysis. Some have argued that it is biased, which perhaps is true, but being biased is different from being wrong/ I would like to hear some specific issues refuted.

    Until then, I think the author presents a great case as to why Android will not come close to supplanting iPhone. Chief among these is precisely the issue here - the "open" app store of Android. The problem is simple - it is to easy to develop malware for an unguarded system. Already we see that there is a worm targeting JAILBROKEN iPhones - those with the security features disabled. Android phones will be an easy target. (Not to mention the other problems, some mentioned in comments above.)

    .

    If you are serious about the issue, you ought to read the story.

  • Report this Comment On November 26, 2009, at 4:18 AM, jakerome wrote:

    Amazing that you now refer to your own poorly-written, factually-challenged article as if it were the gospel truth. Thanks for reminding me why I stopped visiting the Motley Fool years ago.

  • Report this Comment On November 26, 2009, at 5:11 AM, naspinski wrote:

    I think many people are mis-informed about the Apple QA process. It is not the fact that products are being checked that is the problem, it is what they check for, how often and how long it takes.

    When you submit a program to Apple, they will go over it mostly to make sure you don't break any of their rules and quickly test it functionaly, they do *not* thoroughly test the software, that is just completely untrue. I am a Software Engineer, and you can't simply run through a program a few times and test it, there are entire testing frameworks generally built for each decent size application, they are not one-size-fits-all; there is simply no way Apple *can* thoroughly test these applications.

    That leads to the problems, since it can take upwards of 4+ months to get an application/update approved, it is horrible for the developers and users if a bug makes it into an application. Say you buy application X, X is supposed to do something, but a bug keeps it from working all of the time. In order for that bug to get fixed, the application+fix has to go through the *entire* process again. Even if it was a single line of code, it can now take months for a fix to get to the market - that is the problem.

    That said, who cares which platform 'wins', no matter what us consumers do! It is hilarious how wrapped up and religious people get about these things - there doesn't have to be a 'winner', both can be good... this isn't Highlander.

  • Report this Comment On November 26, 2009, at 11:30 AM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    Hello jakerome,

    >>Amazing that you now refer to your own poorly-written, factually-challenged article as if it were the gospel truth.

    And you're proof that I've referred to this as gospel truth? Oh, right. There isn't any.

    For the record, I agree with naspinski, who wrote:

    >>That said, who cares which platform 'wins', no matter what us consumers do! It is hilarious how wrapped up and religious people get about these things - there doesn't have to be a 'winner', both can be good... this isn't Highlander.

    Precisely. My take is simple: Apple's QA process creates risk as much as it prevents it. And I'm not only the one saying so.

    We welcome your opinions here jakerome, and we appreciate informed dissent. Nonsensical accusations? Not so much.

    Thanks for your interest and Happy Thanksgiving,

    Tim (TMFMileHigh and @milehighfool on Twitter)

  • Report this Comment On November 26, 2009, at 6:31 PM, jakerome wrote:

    Thanks MileHigh, but you're flat wrong. The AdMob report has steered you wrong. Palm is gaining market share, you misinterpreted a 1-month spike in the number of ads displayed by AdMob as evidence that Palm share is shrinking. I mean, do you really think that Palm's smartphone share (not Admob's flawed measurement) has gone from 4% to 10% back to 5% over the course of 3 months? Sorry that doesn't pass the smell test.

    So yeah, my opinion is informed by reviewing 3 months of AdMob metrics and review of their measurement techniques, in conjunction with other metrics. On the other hand, your opinion "Palm (Nasdaq: PALM), Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM), and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows Mobile are losing share" is based on a single press release from AdMob.

    Go ahead and find another metric that shows Palm/ WebOS losing market share since July. I'd be very interested if you do manage to find one.

  • Report this Comment On November 28, 2009, at 4:17 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    Reports from the field about App Store acceptances and rejections: http://apprejections.com/

    FWIW and Foolish best,

    Tim (TMFMileHigh and @milehighfool on Twitter)

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2009, at 12:37 PM, VegasMartin wrote:

    About time Google release the Android. How long have we been waiting for this to be released? I'm glad to see that Google is gaining market share, but this is something that Google should have released years ago and it's unfortunate that it took them so long to do so.

    http://www.ShootTheBears.com

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2009, at 1:38 PM, KenRtbcr wrote:

    Apple has built it market on rock solid code. It's the difference between an apple and a PC. If you want open go PC. People choose apple because the software is bug free. No buggy apps please.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2009, at 3:03 PM, RTFM2009 wrote:

    Quality and Simplicity has made Apple what it is right now and they should never compromise that.

    (Just look at the Auto industry Japanese got the idea from us and then they made cars that were of quality and simple and dominated this industry for the past 3 decades)

    go go apple go.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2009, at 10:22 PM, blackxactofool wrote:

    Let's see what a Baby Shaker App does to the Google Droid? Ya think Google will care? TBD

  • Report this Comment On December 04, 2009, at 1:19 AM, jakerome wrote:
Add your comment.

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