Worth Reading: The Android Explosion

The clash of the titans in mobile, between Apple and Android, rings too many bells for people to ignore. This is a story we’ve heard before, and it has the potential to play out exactly the same. The original story was Apple vs. Microsoft. Even with a one-year lead and more initial resources available, sales of the proprietary hardware/software combo offered by Apple faltered when up against a platform supported by multiple manufacturers. Apple slipped into the niche position, despite its lead, and strongly held on to it.

Fred Vogelstein provides an insider story of the journey of Android, with all the struggles and triumphs along the way. While it definitely polishes up the edges of the Android history books, the facts are strong, especially the emphasis on how much more beneficial Android becomes for carriers and manufacturers, leaving Apple to fall from its seat and take its rightful place as the niche product.

This is not just about phones. Mobile devices are quickly becoming our primary computers. In the fourth quarter of last year, sales of smartphones topped sales of PCs and laptops. And tablets—such as the iPad and new Android devices like the Motorola Xoom—are widely seen as potentially replacing the personal computer. The split is reminiscent of the PC platform wars back in the 1980s and ’90s, only now Apple is competing with Google instead of with Microsoft. Customers are squaring off into separate camps, identifying themselves as iPhone or Android users much as desktop users declare themselves Mac or PC people. And just as in the formative days of the PC industry, the result of this showdown will ultimately shape the future of computing.

Apple is a company driven by style, design, and control. Competition is fierce, and when manufacturers and carriers want a bigger cut of the pie, Android is the next logical place to turn. That might mean that history will repeat itself and Apple will retreat from its current market dominance to its usual role as a high-end niche.

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