On bias

Two mobile platforms matter at the moment, Android and iOS. Others may matter in the future, but those are the ones that drive the agenda now. So those are the ones that I write about and talk about and try to understand.

However, the things that matter in understanding them are actually quite different.

The key question for the iPhone, very simply, is how many people can afford to buy a $650 iPhone. A subsidiary question, of course, is whether and how Apple might make a cheaper phone. Other aspects of Apple are interesting too (retail,supply chain etc), but that is the key question, and relative to this, product questions are relatively unimportant.

Apple Maps is a fiasco, but it is fundamentally a secondary issue and there is no evidence it affects sales. The same is true of skeumorphism, or 'openness' or a dozen other issues that people talk about. What matters is the addressable market. Criticisms of Apple product, by and large, do not matter so long as they do not affect sales, and there is no evidence that they do, to any material degree. Hence, they do not really interest me, regardless of whether I personally agree with them, as a user of the product.

Android is different. Android does not really face an addressable market question. 1.7 billion phones will be sold this year, perhaps a little more, and half will be smartphones, and almost all of those that are sold for less than $400 will run Android. In a couple of years, if nothing changes, Android will be selling a billion units a year or more.

The important questions, therefore, are within Android: they are product questions. Something like a third of unit sales are in China and have little access to Google services. What does that mean? Another third to a half of units are sold by Samsung, and all the other branded Android OEMs are struggling. Android is fragmented, Android is very weak in apps for tablets, and so on, and so on. What do all these variations mean? Android is many different things in a way that the iPhone is not, and understanding those variations makes up the analytical challenge.

In other words, product questions are important to understanding Android in a way that they are not to understanding the iPhone. Product questions change what it means to say 'Android'.

Is that criticism? Negativity? Not really. Android simply went in a different direction, and made different compromises, that's all. And it has been a huge success. It has brought the mobile Internet, and indeed the internet itself, to hundreds of millions of people. It has only achieved that, really, because of things that look, to high-end users, like flaws to be criticised. It is fragmentation that makes possible the $45 Android phone and the $90 Android tablet. To see what would happen if Android wasn't in many senses a fragmented chaotic mess, look at Windows Phone. I doubt anyone thinks the world would be a better place if Android had followed the same path.