Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) considers Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) to be its biggest rival -- not Samsung. Tim Cook made that abundantly clear in an interview with Charlie Rose last year, since Google provides the lifeblood to all of the Android OEMs that Apple competes with. In essence, Google is the backend enabler to all of Apple's hardware competition.
So why would Apple ever want to help Android?
It makes sense
Up until recently, Apple has not made any of its first-party apps available for the competing operating system. That all changed at WWDC in June, when Apple confirmed that it would be making an Apple Music app for Android. The development naturally led to the inevitable question of whether Apple would bring any of its other first-party apps to Android.
Now, investors seemingly have an answer to that. 9to5Mac has spotted an Apple job listing for software engineers that can help "bring exciting new mobile products to the Android platform." There are plenty of possible port candidates that could be on the horizon, such as Safari, iTunes, iCloud Drive, or iMessage, to name a few. If Apple was feeling particularly bold, it could even try bringing Apple Maps over to challenge Google Maps on its home turf.
Speaking at D11 way back in 2013, Tim Cook discussed the idea of porting Apple apps to Android. He said, "We have no religious issue with doing that. If we thought it made sense to do that, we would do it."
It seems that it now makes sense for Apple to bring its apps to Android.
Too big to ignore
The idea of Apple bringing its apps to Android suggests an implicit acknowledgment that Android is simply too big to ignore. That's something of an understatement though, considering the fact that Android surpassed 1 billion units shipped in 2014, enough to grab 81% market share, according to IDC.
It's all reminiscent of when Apple decided to bring iTunes to Microsoft Windows over a decade ago. Despite some early opposition from Steve Jobs, the move proved to be a huge success, turning iTunes into a sort of Trojan horse. While it removed the Mac requirement of buying an iPod, theoretically weakening Apple's product "halo," it opened up a whole new world of sales. Apple sold 1 million tracks in the first three and a half days. Here's Steve Jobs discussing the decision with Rolling Stone in 2003:
We did a lot of thinking about it. The biggest risk was that we saw people buying Macs just to get their hands on iPods. Taking iPods to Windows -- that was the big decision. We knew once we did that that we were going to go all the way. I'm sure we're losing some Mac sales, but half our sales of iPods are to the Windows world already.
The end result was that Apple ended up selling a lot more iPods, since it expanded Apple's addressable market exponentially. The historical numbers speak for themselves:
Apple has said before that it also believes the iTunes strategy ended up bolstering Mac sales further down the line. Once many of those Windows users experienced an Apple product, they went out and bought a Mac when it was time to upgrade their PC. That could be part of what Apple is going for here.
The possible end game
The Windows example is different in a lot of ways. It's not as if bringing Apple apps to Android could quickly boost iPhone sales in the short term, but if Apple ports a set of its best apps and shows Android users what they're missing, they might make the switch. Smartphone upgrade cycles are shorter than PC upgrade cycles, and getting shorter with all of the fast-upgrade programs that carriers are introducing, so Apple might not have to wait long.
Even beyond the Android switcher opportunity, Apple could potentially create meaningful service revenue from those who stick with the competing platform. For instance, Apple Music reportedly already has 10 million subscribers enjoying their free trials. If all of those subscribers renew at $10 per month, that's $300 million in revenue per quarter. Imagine how many tens of millions of Android users there are in the world. You can see how quickly that would add up, and that's just the app that we already know is coming to Android.
Take the new Google Photos for example. If Apple were to bring its iCloud Photo Library to Android to compete, it could potentially sell more iCloud storage options since photos can take up an awful lot of cloud storage (my family photo library is over 100 GB). iCloud's 200 GB plan costs $4 per month. While Google Photos offers unlimited storage (for photos that are 16 MB or less) and a handful of other perks, Apple could try to win them over with other features or the promise of privacy. Tim Cook has already described how unsettling it can be to think of Google mining family photos for data.
There are plenty of possibilities, and it seems like Apple is exploring them.