Apple vs. Android: The view from Google

December 31, 2010, 12:49 PM UTC

Two Android ‘developer advocates’ weigh in on the year’s most closely watched horse race


A pair of veteran high-tech luminaries, both hired by Google (GOOG) within the past 14 months, chose this week to write on their private blogs about how they see the Apple (AAPL) vs. Android competition shaping up in 2011.

What’s interesting is that they disagree.

Former Microsoft (MSFT) start-up evangelist Don Dodge, who posted his predictions Monday, neatly summarizes the conventional wisdom. In the horse race between Android and iPhone, he writes, “Both will win because they are playing different games. Android will win the market share battle, but Apple will generate bigger profits.”

“Apple develops and controls the hardware and software on all their devices,” he writes in The Next Big Thing. “The Mac has never had more than 10% market share, but has been extremely profitable for Apple. Apple goes for the high end of the market where they can charge high prices and enjoy great profit margins. Apple has been successful with this strategy multiple times, and will do it again with iPhone.

“Google has a very different strategy with Android. Google provides software (Android) for free, and makes Google search, Google Voice, Gmail, Contacts, Maps, Places, and other services work seamlessly with Android. Mobile search and advertising are the revenue streams for Google. The advertising revenues are certainly lower versus selling hardware, but the profit margins are very good.”

Tim Bray, who left Sun Microsystems (JAVAD) in February and joined Google in March, sees it differently. “I’m less convinced,” he writes in a piece posted Thursday on his Ongoing blog.

“The iOS ecosystem is something like the Apple ecosystem of yore, but the App Store bouncer at the door is a huge, qualitative difference. And the Android ecosystem, at least in its hardware-agnosticism, recalls Windows, but Google’s business goals are so different that trying for historical analogies seems really risky to me.

“Anyhow, what do I think? I think Apple will sell a ton of devices because they’re good, and superbly marketed. I think a bunch of people will sell a ton of Android devices because they’re good and there are so many options for different needs and networks and price-points.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple shipped a cheap iPhone. And there’s nothing fundamental in Android that would get in the way of a industrial-design and user-experience rock-star team, whether at Google or one of the handset makers, testing the hypothesis that these things are central to Apple’s success.

“Which is to say, it would be sort of surprising, but not that much, if this time next year, dirt-cheap iPhones were competing against Androids that push the user-experience lever farther than Apple or anyone else ever has. In that scenario, where are the prognosticators’ towers of sand?”

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]