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Hey, Steve Jobs! Get Your Facts Right!

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Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) CEO Steve Jobs went ballistic on the topic of competition from Android on last Tuesday's earnings call. Steve's arguments ranged far and wide, but they boiled down to the following:

  • When Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) calls Android "open" and iOS "closed," it's somewhere in between a misunderstanding and lying to your customers.
  • Android is fragmented and thus hard to develop great apps for.
  • (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) , Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , and Vodafone (NYSE: VOD  ) (among others, actually) have their own Android app stores in the works to confuse the heck out of users; Apple has one app store, and it's a joy to use.
  • You don't need to experiment with new form factors and screen sizes -- Apple already figured out what's best, and the result is the iPhone and the iPad.

I'm not here to debunk all of these points -- Steve is right on the money with respect to the Android app-store situation, for example. More choice isn't always better for the user, unless paired with a comparison-shopping service that guides us to whatever store might provide the apps we're looking for. Google doesn't do that for Android apps.

That's where the praise stops
But much of Steve's remaining arguments ring untrue in my ears:

  • The fragmentation issue is actually mainly a problem for unskilled or careless developers, as Google has made it rather easy to make your programs adapt to all-new screen sizes, resolutions, operating-system versions, new capabilities, and more. Sure, you need to read the "best practices" guidelines in the Android developer help files and then adjust accordingly. But shouldn't you do that anyway, with or without adapting your app to various use cases? The bigger issue ties right back to the Android Market criticism: How do you distinguish the good apps from the bad without proper search tools?
  • Don't you think it should be up to the users to decide what they want rather than having Steve Jobs choosing on their behalf? A minuscule or extra-large tablet may be just what I need for some specialized situation that Jobs never thought of. There may never be an iPad to fit that need, but if HTC or Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) doesn't come up with one for the Android platform, you can rest assured that either Samsung or Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) eventually will. The device may not become a blockbuster hit on its own, but add up a few hundred and you have a compelling choice of tools for any user -- shifting millions of units. And yes, we do have comparison-shopping services available to help guide users to the correct Android gadget.

You say "open," Steve says "tomato"
The openness discussion is where Steve's criticism swerves from plain old marketing spin to an outright misunderstanding, and it shows why I think he'd be smart to let his PR team and a couple of smart engineers look over his speeches before they're delivered on a public stage.

"We are very committed to the integrated approach, no matter how many times Google tries to characterize it as closed," Steve said. "And we are confident that it will triumph over Google's fragmented approach, no matter how many times Google tries to characterize it as open."

Steve is comparing kumquats to pomegranates here, starting from this problematic assumption: "The first thing most of us think about when we hear the word open is Windows, which is available on a variety of devices."

If you hear open and think Windows, you don't use the same definition of the word as Google does and you probably also brush your teeth with a comb because it's close enough to the right thing. Open software does not necessarily run on the greatest number of devices -- that's what standardized software does on standards-compliant hardware. Open, in this context, means that anyone can access, read, and modify the source code.

Android chief Andy Rubin made this point in a now-famous Twitter post, defining "open" as the commands necessary to download and compile the Android operating system. Although the message was delivered by an obvious ultra-geek with a large chip on his shoulder, it shines a spotlight on how differently Apple and Google think about their users. Apple tells you what's best, and you'd better be happy with the pronouncements from on high; Google tells you to make your own choices and ask a global community of other geeks for help if you can't figure it out yourself.

As former Apple CEO John Sculley recently told a BusinessWeek reporter, designers are kings at Apple while engineers make the decisions elsewhere:

The designers are the most respected people in the organization. Everyone knows the designers speak for Steve because they have direct reporting to him. It is only at Apple where design reports directly to the CEO.

This makes for great-looking products that a lot of people clearly love, but it also gives rise to a lack of features and form-over-function issues like Antennagate.

Reading Steve's mind
Read into Steve's rant what you will, but here's my take: You don't spend this much time, energy, and infuriated passion to slam a competitor this way unless you're worried about it. We're looking at a titanic clash between diametrically opposed business philosophies: Apple is the Fisher-Price of consumer electronics, making everything as easy and as pretty as possible while expecting its users to like its vision the most; Google expects you to think for yourself and make your own choices, and it lets an army of coders and suppliers create what users want best through a series of trials and errors. And I think the commander of the Toy Army is worried that its approach won't win this time.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation and a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple and are Motley Fool Stock Advisor choices. The Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

Read/Post Comments (14) | Recommend This Article (8)

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 October 24, 2010, at 11:16 AM, bsimpsen wrote:

    While I do think that Android will address the needs of a wider range of individuals, that should not be Apple's concern. Apple's products address the needs of the vast depths of people in the middle.

    This is not form over function, it's realizing that function comes at a cost. Apple tries to minimize the cost of using its products, with the firm believe that our time, our mental bandwidth and our pleasure are valuable commodities.

    I don't think Antennagate is an example of form over function. By all objective measurements, the iPhone 4 antenna works as well or better than any other. The design did encourage us to misinterpret the facts, but the facts remain.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 11:46 AM, FreeRange1 wrote:

    The author has the issues of fragmentation completely wrong. This has nothing to do with developers. The fact is that their are various versions and flavors of Android out there that aren't compatible with all devices and don't give the consumer a consistent user experience. Further, the early adopters aren't even able to upgrade the OS on their devices, and only the most expensive/newest/fastest devices can run the newest version of the OS. On top of that you have hundreds of iterations based on the hardware features, and the various overlays the handset makers and carriers are building. This in fact IS FRAGMENTATION.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 12:16 PM, stocktrader7758 wrote:

    I bought 5 iPhones .. in 2 years I will still be able to sell them for $150 to $200 each and get my money each. If I buy and Android phone, it will be obsolete and worthless in 6 months.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 12:34 PM, kramsigenak wrote:

    The three posts above are spot on. Anders, are you feeling okay? You totally miss the point on fragmentations (as freeRange explains)... it's obvious you're miffed at Steve for the rant, but cool your jets and think. He's right about pretty much everything he said, even if it is smarmy to rub RIMM, microsoft, and Googles noses in it. You don't like that his product is superior and he announces it to the world. You'd prefer a less obnoxious approach (and I agree). But the facts remain... he's right. Apple's products work better, much better, so it's certainly not form over function. Quite the opposite in fact.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 12:49 PM, TMFZahrim wrote:

    @FreeRange1, what you're saying is correct under some circumstances but The Steve was specifically talking about how fragmentation affects quality of applications and difficulty of development this time. I do agree that service providers should make it easier for consumers to upgrade their OS when there's a new version to be had, even if that only means not locking the hardware so you can stick CyanogenMod or something on there at your own risk. But more choice is more choice, and that's usually a good thing for the consumer -- no matter what you call it.


  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 12:50 PM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    1). You argue that it isn't Googles fault that Android is fragmented. I didn't hear Steve Jobs say that it was Googles fault. Only that Google was fragmented.

    2). I didn't hear Steve jobs argue that users shouldn't be allowed to buy 7 inch screens. I believe that the simply predicted that they wouldn't buy them. Don't you think he has the right to do that?

    3). The open closed arguement. This means different things to different people but Googles black and White characterisation of Google as open and Apple as closed is dishonest.

    For example, the bulk of iOS is available to anyone from the Darwin source site. Similarly, Apples open source browser topknot is used in most mobile browsers including, I think, Androids.

    The terms and conditions under which Android source is open fall far below those normally accepted in the software industry. Google's search engine is as closed as it can get.

    Steve Jobs didn't claim that Apple was open and that Google was closed. He simply objected to the characterization that Google is open and Apple is closed, and he was right to do so. Furthermore he pointed out that this software definition of open is irrelevant and misleading to users. They need breadth of integration, not a theoretical ability to modify, rebuild and reinstall their system, which is largely impractical in reality.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 1:02 PM, techy46 wrote:

    Great commentary Anders. A lot more thoughtful for investors than the social opinions and drivel that comes from Cody and Moss. We have five heavies (AAPL, GOOG, INTC, MSFT and NOK) getting ready to start round 4 of a 10 round fight. AAPL and GOOG return 4% EPS, INTC 9.6%, MSFT 8% and NOK 6%. AAPL has had a great run creating the smartphone standard but like IBM and the PC that doesn't mean they'll win the fight and Jobs is definitely worried. Just like the PC they'll be more integration winners than hardware and software. In five years I'd order software: Android, WPn, S^n and iOS. I'd order hardware INTC and ARMH (QCOM). There will certainly be lots of drama and rhetoric as this fight unfolds. The INTC and WPn duo could be very interesting given their 95% desktop share.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 1:38 PM, gskorich wrote:

    i like steve jobs approach to things. i myslef do not care whether a system is open or closed. i care that i can make a call and download an app when i need it. as a consumer i want things to work. how it works is up to the company i buy my product from. mobile android was developed on what the apple OS did not do. where is the innovation in that? was Steve Jobs wrong to say that andorid isn't as open as they say it is? no, who else besides google is releasing version of it? its like a statue in a park, its put up for everyone to see but what happens if you decide you want that statue for yourself? you can't take it with you when you leave the park

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 2:03 PM, gslusher wrote:

    ". Open, in this context, means that anyone can access, read, and modify the source code"

    Then Android is NOT "open." Does Google officially allow ANYONE to modify the source code? No. Only those who license the software, which means handset manufacturers. Do handset manufacturers officially allow any USER to modify the OS? No. Do the manufacturers and carriers allow the user to remove pre-installed carrier-specific apps, some of which duplicate functions built into Android, yet which take up space? No. Heck, the user can't even upgrade the OS unless the carrier provides the upgrade. (That's fragmentation at work.)

    Please don't refer to people who "root" their Android phones.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 4:11 PM, TMFZahrim wrote:

    @gslusher, there are no licenses involved and you are in fact free to read, change, and use Android source for your own projects any time you like. It's not Google's fault that the carriers and hardware guys aren;t encouraging and enabling us to do that, but you can for example get the source code for the media player and modify it to suit your own tastes -- then publish it in the Android Market and make money from sales and/or advertising. Nobody's gonna stop you; the source code is freely available; no need for anybody to pay any licenses.


  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 5:22 PM, Henry3Dogg wrote:


    If there are no licenses involved, then why can't Motorola ship Android phones unless they include the Google location stack and who is paying Microsoft their technology royalties.

    There are many different licenses involved.

    Google may believe that it is somehow exempt from the Jave license terms. Time will tell.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2010, at 5:35 PM, gristan wrote:

    Hey, Anders Bylund, STOP BARKING ( or WHINING? ) just like Boguss " Consumer Reports "!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Who Should Be Get IT Right is NOT " Steve JOBS " but " YOU "!!!!!!!!!!!!


    You NEVER KNOW What The True Meaning of " REAL OPEN SYSTEM " is!!!!!!!!!!

    Mr.S.J's Comment About Android & Google is " REALLY RESERVED ONE "!!!!!!!!

    What Not Only He And We Really Want to Say is:

    All this Android's Open Source marketing is BS.

    The truth is Android is "Openly Stolen Intellectual Property".

    - Stolen Multi-touch interface from Apple.

    - Stolen App store from Apple.

    - Stolen intellectual properties from WinMo.

    - Stolen JAVA from SUN/Oracle.

    - Stolen Location Service from Skyhook.

    - Stolen Logo/Icon name from Atari.

    And What The Most Significant " FAKE " is :

    - Wide OPEN to Carriers and Manufacturers BUT Desperately CLOSED TO END-USERS, Unless Rooted!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    You TELL us ALL The READERS about THAT Android Phones' " INFAMOUS BLOATWARE " for Our Reference????????

    What Real Open Source means:

    "Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in."

    Android is not Open Source because Google develop it behind closed doors and don't contribute back to the upstream Linux kernel. They "use" Open Source but they don't contribute to it which makes them leeches.

    Android apps and games run inside their Java VM only and don't benefit the broader GNU/Linux ecosystem.

    Google doesn't care about real Open Source licences. All they care about is harvesting as much information from fAndroids so as to sell them more advertising. It's ultimately about how much money they can squeeze out of users.

    WE ( At Least REAL TECHIES unlike YOU ) ALL KNOW Android's Open Source is just a " MARKETING LABEL "!!!!!!!!!!!!.

    In A NutShell, Android Open System is Counterfeited!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2010, at 12:45 PM, CatHatMan wrote:

    i think i will just stick with palm we have the most open, most legitamate, most user friendly mobile operating system

  • Report this Comment On October 27, 2010, at 1:50 AM, beetlebug62 wrote:

    I just skimmed your piece, starting at the part where you begged to differ. Where exactly did you point out that Steve didn't get his "Facts Right?"

    Your fragmentation is a problem for "unskilled or careless developers" doesn't prove that Steve didn't get his "Facts Right".

    And, your second point about consumers choosing their size disputes what? That Steve said 7" tablets are DOA? You probably will have some consumers who prefer a different size, that doesn't mean 7" tablets aren't DOA.

    You can count on Anders when it comes to an Apple story.

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