Androids, iPhones, and Informal Collusion.

I ran across this recent post on the constant evolution of the Android phone. The post talks a lot about how the Android platform is evolving so rapidly that phones become antiquated pretty quickly. That’s probably not great news for Android customers, but it’s even worse for Google/Android competitors people like Apple.

I started to ask myself this question: If you really wanted to beat Apple, who seems years a head of many phone providers, what would you do? I started to think about Apple’s main Achilles heal – planned obsolescence. Apple may do a lot of radical things, but there’s one thing you can set your watch to; they’ll refresh a product line about every 2-3 years. You can count on each new model to contain amazing new functionality, but that feature set is framed around one single release. (They’re beginning to break this pattern with phone OS updates, but those are rather rare.)

All this Android activity could hit Apple in their weak spot. By using an open platform Google has convinced many providers to constantly evolve a product platform. What this mean is that multiple companies are working to add more customers to the common platform, which will create more apps, and an overall better experience. This open platform is sort of working as an informal collusion amongst many of Apple’s competitors. The platform is their agreement on how the market will evolve. If you notice how rapidly this platform has begun to gain parity with the iPhone experience, you can also see how soon it could actually surpass it. Sure, the fact that the platform doesn’t have walled gardens creates some quality control problem on their apps, but it also allows for some pretty cool features, (mobile, ad hoc wifi networks.)

This made me realize that the products that a company creates can actually be a fleeting advantage. I had a strategy professor in school that used to talk about ‘economic time.’ His big thesis was that no competitive advantage could withstand the tests of time, and you could only create temporary inhibitors (patents will expire, technology will obsolesce, relationships will erode).

As Android (and other open platforms) gain ground, it sort of takes the wind out of planned obsoleteness for Apple. They’re going to have to start pushing more OS updates, they’re going to have to get better carrier partners. They created a solid game, but now a group of players is looking like they’re ready to play harder (which could be rocky for their customers). While working on the same platform will make it more difficult for any one player to surpass the others, that’s still bad news for Apple, who quickly becomes the odd man out.

Apple has a lot of other advantages that hurt the overall Android movement, but if you were Apple, how would you defend?

(Side note: I ran across this ridiculously extensive review of smart phone sales. If you’re interested, you can grab it here.)

1 comment

  1. Great thoughts here. Apple being the odd man out could work to their advantage by helping them maintain the type of differentiation that they currently enjoy. Trademarks could be considered a form of a competitive advantage and they last indefinitely. I think you’d like the writings of Professor James Conley and his discussion of value transference here: http://www.core77.com/reactor/12.05_ipod_trademark.asp, especially since he discusses Apple in this article. Let me know what you think.

Leave a Reply