Is “Android vs iOS” “MacOS vs Windows” Round Two?

A lot of time is spent discussing whether the Android OS or Apple’s iOS makes for a better smartphone. It’s a hot topic as two tech titans, Apple and Google, face off for control of the mobile handset market. Many of the questions I field about the Android versus iOS debate lead to a discussion about the PC versus Mac wars of the 1980s and 90s. Both comparisons involve two major tech companies fighting over which software and application development platform will “rule” the market. The fact that Apple (Mac and iOS) is present in both battles helps fuel the comparison. However, I think it’s a faulty comparison and that making it vastly oversimplifies the smartphone marketplace. 

The biggest problem with this comparison is that people today are much more attached to technology than they were 20 or 30 years ago. During the battle over the desktop, most people purchased one computer for themselves—in many cases, one computer for the entire family. This single computer had to satisfy each user. This is one of the big reasons that the Windows PC won the Apple versus Windows battle. At the time, it was easy for someone in a family or in an office to be dissatisfied with the Mac. Perhaps a favorite computer game wasn’t Mac compatible or the Mac was too expensive.

These days, we’ve seen a resurgence in Apple’s computer sales—both desktops and laptops.  Much of this increase can be attributed to the Mac OS X operating system and the halo effect from iPods and iPhones, but there’s more to it than that. Families often own more than one computer and the ability to have several computers in the home allows for more personal choice.  College students are a good example. Data collected by research firm Student Monitor shows that 95 percent of the college students it interviewed owned at least one computer—83 percent owned a laptop, 24 percent a desktop and 15 percent owned both a laptop and a desktop. Of laptop owners, 27 percent owned Macs and 24 percent owned second-place finisher Dell. When asked if they planned to purchase a new computer, those who answered “yes” were asked what type of computer (desktop vs. laptop) they planned to buy and what brand. Of the 87 percent who said they’d buy a laptop, 47 percent planned to buy a Mac compared to 12 percent who said they’d buy a Dell. When only one person needs to be satisfied with the purchase, a Mac becomes a much easier decision.

The same logic applies to the handset market.  In the U.S., it’s incredibly rare to purchase one handset for a whole family, and there’s no requirement that each member of the family need to use the same device to call or message one another.  Many mobile applications are so simple to develop and the SDKs (software development kits) so easy to use that a long list of good apps and/or close copies are available on each major platform. Mom, wanting a device that’s simple to use, can choose an iPhone. Dad, wanting to focus on work, can select a Windows Phone. Junior may want an Android phone to tinker with and Sissy can take her BlackBerry and splatter 10,000 texts a month with that delicious keyboard. Every member of the family can maximize his or her unique brand of smartphone happiness.

For this reason, I believe the iOS versus Android debate is overrated. There’s plenty of room in the market for several mobile platforms to exist. There may even be room for a few more if they can bring differentiating stances.

What are your thoughts?
David Egger IRU Mobility Programs Lead Marketing Manager AT&T About David