Is Apple’s Closed iOS Its Downfall: Perspective of a Leading Android Developer

Is Apple’s Closed iOS Its Downfall: Perspective of a Leading Android Developer

My friends have been joking that Apple product launches are not 90 minutes, but six months. Speculation on product features finally ended this month with the release of new iPhones and an upgraded iOS 7.

 

And now that the Apple buzz machine is in neutral, the market has spoken. Apple stock prices dropped 7% after the launch, partly because Apple didn’t offer a phone that was more affordable in China, a key growth market, but also for other reasons.

 

With the 2007 iPhone launch, Apple redefined the mobile phone from a communication device to a mobile internet device, propelling Apple to becoming the most valuable company in the world (based on market cap).

 

During the past five years, however, the Android OS has captured 75% of the smart phone market. The development of iPhone and iOS into a minority player closely resembles that of Mac and Mac OS, which has also been marginalized after an initial wild success.

 

As a leading Android developer, I believe the reason for Apple’s ups and downs is largely due to its ecosystem. Apple’s app store is more closed and regulated, acting as a double-edged sword. Its closed nature has ensured a standard user experience and data security, which has been a key for the iPhone’s initial success. But today, despite a head start, its market growth is significantly slower than Android’s and Apple has clearly missed significant opportunities as the market matured.

 

Apple still has not opened the home screen, lock screen, or app widget to outside developers. Android has stock home screen and desktop launcher as well, but users can switch to other launcher apps if they want a different or more personalized experience. Initially, people worried that my company, GO Launcher, would be shut down for replacing the stock Android home screen. To the contrary, we were actually honored as one of the handful of companies to demo at the annual Google developers conference, Google I/O, earlier this year.

 

Based on my experience, Google fundamentally believes that smartphone users don’t want to be limited, and that an open ecosystem can provide more flexibility. This is the philosophy that will make Android a vibrant and long-lasting community.

 

GO Launcher has hit more than 200 million installs since it was released in 2010. Two other apps, GO SMS Pro and GO Locker, have achieved 50 million installs each. This data makes me believe that the trend of personalization of the smartphone experience – not a closed system that is dictated from up high – is unstoppable.

 

Built upon a spirit of personalized user experience, GO Launcher is also an open platform. Designers from all over the world can publish home screen themes. There are over 10,000 themes for GO Launcher, and millions of downloads every day. People love to use different themes, lock screen pictures, and customized interaction to make the phone best fit their own personality.

 

But the iPhone cannot compete, because iOS reserves these features to Apple itself and only updates them when Apple feels there is a need. The user has little say in the arrangement.

 

There is an old Chinese saying, “the key to their success is also their undoing.” There’s no doubt that iPhone is still an excellent brand and a product in much demand. But the “walled garden” of iOS – so appealing several years ago – is a recipe for losing its competitiveness to the more open Android ecosystem.

 

We are seeing the story of the PC repeat itself for the mobile phone.

Xiangdong Zhang

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