Sunday, August 05, 2012

Apple's Challenge

I've had an iphone for a few years now and bought an ipad on the first day they came out. Apple changed the game for phones, effectively invented the tablet market and I've been a huge fan; I'm on my second ipad and will probably get an iphone 5. Yet I don't really entertain any notion that the new iphone will be much of an improvement on the iphone 4, which pretty much ticks all my boxes. I think the android/ios device arms race is now in stalemate; beyond incremental improvements in memory and chip speed there's probably not too much they can do to these things to make one vastly superior to the other. One of my friends has got himself a Nexus; while I'm yet to ambush him to get my fingers on it, I'm sure he's right that the Nexus is an excellent device at a brilliant price.

But one side is going to lose this race eventually and I think it will be Apple. Someone on one of the tech blogs was writing that Google's mastery of systems will eventually see it win through and I reckon that's right. We're getting to the point that the device is almost irrelevant, it's all about the OS, the user-experience and the content - and the Google cloud experience is immeasurably superior to Apple's. I have quite a fast PC and it really struggles with itunes. The icloud seems to resent me intruding to alter things; the Chrome browser by contrast is immeasurably better written and unites your internet self with your real self pretty effortlessly. I expect android is much the same.

The App store has been a big help to Apple, but now I wonder if the App Explosion is over. So many are just gimmicks; I install one, play with a bit, throw it out, rinse and repeat. Maps,twitter, instagaram - Android has the essentials that Ios has. There' s the fracturing of android which some say is an issue, and some issues with app quality on android, but few people say that's a massive problem.

This may well be the last iphone I buy because really Apple are selling a pair of devices to me now, a partnership of phone and tablet, and a cloud experience to unite them. If Google start to nudge seriously ahead - the Nexus won't be their last tablet - and their cloud experience continues to improve, and nothing radical happens to itunes, then I may well desert the Jobs temple and I won't be on my own. This Nexus is a real declaration of intent; cheap and effective. The next one will have more memory and probably pack 3G. By contrast Apple's rumoured change to the charger, which makes a number of devices in my house partially redundant, is aggravating and Apple no longer enjoys the tech-lead which would have allowed them to inflict this change painlessly. There is an arrogance there which doesn't fit with the tough spending decisions many people in their target markets are having to make. Apple executives are rich with their options and may not have heard about double dip recessions. This may be a problem, over time.

The iphone 5 is a real defining point. It has to be something great that puts it ahead of Samsung's brilliantly received Galaxy II, and by some margin. The future for me as a consumer is lightweight computing that allows me to unite with my content, work and fun wherever I am , whichever of my gadgets I have, and with a minimum of fuss. Apple gets there but I'm starting to wonder if Google and Android aren't starting to do it better, and crucially, cheaper.

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