Why does Android have Steve Jobs rattled?

October 19, 2010: 3:32 PM ET

The Apple CEO is throwing everything it has at Android, but why?

A commenter from my hometown of Akron, Ohio, makes a good point about yesterday's Apple (AAPLearnings call:

This was Apple's quarterly financial report to the market and Jobs should have been beating the drum about Apple's financial results, but instead spends time talking about the competition. The more time you spend focusing on your competitor means they are foremost in your mind. I think Jobs is feeling the heat from Android. If you are so much better than the competition why waste your breath?

Why is Jobs so preoccupied with Android?  Certainly Microsoft (MSFT), longtime Apple foe and world's largest OS/software maker (who is releasing their Windows 7 OS on the home-turf AT&T (T) network this month) has to be a concern for Apple?  Jobs didn't even mention Microsoft yesterday.

HP (HPQ), the world's largest PC maker today announced a big update to their webOS smartphone software, via former Apple VP Jon Rubinstein.  Not a word from Apple yesterday.  Nokia (NOK) is the world's largest smartphone maker (at the moment)?  Not a peep about Nokia.

The only thing Jobs had to say about any other platform was a quick hit on the previous number one U.S. smartphone maker RIM (RIMM) "We've now passed RIM, and I don't seem them catching up with us in the foreseeable future".   Or the longer version:

First, let me discuss iPhone. We sold 14.1 million iPhones in the quarter, which represents a 91 percent unit growth over the year-ago quarter, and was well ahead of IDC's latest published estimate of 64 percent growth for the global smartphone market in the September quarter. And it handily beats RIM's 12.1 million BlackBerrys sold, in their most recent quarter ending in August.

We've now passed RIM. And I don't see them catching up with us in the foreseeable future. They must move beyond their area of strength and comfort, into the unfamiliar territory of trying to become a software platform company. I think it's going to be a challenge for them to create a competitive platform and to convince developers to create apps for yet a third software platform after iOS and Android. With 300,000 apps on Apple's App Store, RIM has a high mountain ahead of them to climb.

Since Apple passed RIM, the previous number one smartphone OS maker, shouldn't it have been time to celebrate Apple's iOS-iPhone as the number one smartphone OS in the U.S.?

Well, it's complicated.  Android, by most accounts, has passed both Apple and RIM in the smartphone OS field.  Apple doesn't get to say it has the number one selling smartphone in the U.S.

So Jobs saved the bulk of his negativity for Android.  He went on at length about Android's weaknesses which you can read about in full here.

But if Android is so bad, why is it so unbelievably popular?  Not only are consumers buying up Android hand over fist, some are so in love with Android that they are becoming "Fandroids," the Android equivalent of the Apple Fanboy.  There are no shortage of popular Android-devoted sites out there popping up.  This is the kind of thing usually reserved for Apple's dedicated followers.

Steve Jobs is known for his ability to distort reality to his liking and he did plenty of that yesterday.  For instance, Jobs called seven-inch tablets DOA. With the excitement about the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, I'd think they'll come close to the 10 million unit projection within a year.  They've exceeded their expectations on their Galaxy S smartphones. Is this Jobs talking reality or reality distortion to his audience?

Ask noted Apple fan, Daring Fireball's John Gruber, his thoughts on the seven inch Galaxy Tab:

Now here's a video of an iPad competitor [Galaxy Tab] that actually looks pretty good. I'd sure like to try one.

Moving on, what about the comments Jobs made on Android development  about TwitterDeck [sic] and "fragmentation"?

Twitter client, Twitter Deck, recently launched their app for Android. They reported that they had to contend with more than 100 different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets. The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge. Many Android apps work only on selected Android handsets running selected Android versions. And this is for handsets that have been shipped less than 12 months ago. Compare this with iPhone, where there are two versions of the software, the current and the most recent predecessor to test against.

Not so fast says TweetDeck CEO Iain Dodsworth who responded via Twitter, disputing Jobs' claims that Android development was 'daunting.'

Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android? Errr nope, no we didn't. It wasn't.

He followed up later saying that TweetDeck only utilized only two developers ...

We only have 2 guys developing on Android TweetDeck so that shows how small an issue fragmentation is.

Perhaps the most laughable comment by Jobs was also directed at 7-inch tablets:

Well, one could increase the resolution of the display to make up for some of the difference. It is meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size. Apple's done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff  [Just like Antennas? - yukyuk]. There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.

Those not buried in reality distortion probably thought of the iPhone or iPod touch and their diminutive 3.5 inch displays as a good example of a device that stretches the limits "of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them" and one that takes advantage of the "meaningless increase in the resolution of the display".

Would you need to sandpaper your fingers further to use an iPhone which is considerably smaller than a 7-inch tablet?  No, no you wouldn't.  It works just fine without finger sandpaper. And the higher resolution is nice, if I don't say so myself.

Laughable.

The jabs from Jobs aren't new.

Jobs told an internal all hands meeting of Apple employees last year that Android was trying to kill the iPhone.

We did not enter the search business, Jobs said. They [Google Android] entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won't let them.

Distortion.

Google actually entered the phone business when they bought Android in 2005.  Apple announced iPhone in 2007 so I'm not so sure killing the iPhone was Google's original intent (but maybe killing the BlackBerry or Windows Mobile was).  In fact, Google was the back-end behind three of the iPhone's original few apps (Google search on Safari, Maps, and YouTube) which Jobs invited Google CEO Eric Schmidt to the stage to present.

Eric Schmidt was on Apple's board for over a year after the first Android phone was released, so clearly Jobs didn't consider it an issue, or more appropriately, a threat until something happened.  Android got really popular really quick.  Then the relationship changed immediately.

So what did Google do that was so bad in Jobs' eyes?

Google is competing and more importantly winning in a lot of areas that Apple would like to dominate.  Apple wants to be number one in smartphones just like it is in MP3 players.  With Android winning the smartphone battle in the U.S. and closing in abroad, Apple won't be able to dominate any time soon.  Tablets and TVs are the next logical step.

And Apple doesn't have a real answer to counter Google's strengths (hence the distortion above).  Apple is taking steps to counter Google (GOOG) by uncharacteristically opening up to Adobe's (ADBE) Flash and other third party development tools, rapidly expanding its sales footprint (including a likely Verizon iPhone in 2011) and venturing into areas like advertising that it would never have considered without the Google threat.

Apple doesn't often sue over patent rights, instead using them as a defense mechanism against lawsuits from companies like Nokia.  But Apple uncharacteristically sued HTC over its Android phone innovations.  Apple usually out-innovates its competition to the point where patents become meaningless, but having no other recourse but to sue HTC is a huge sign of weakness on its part.

But will everything Apple is throwing at Android be enough?

One could argue that Google's Android is adopting some of the features that the iPhone pioneered (even though that same iPhone utilized a lot of Google revolutionary services).  But so is the webOS (who poached a lot of Apple Engineers to do so).  Windows Mobile 7 and Blackberry OS 6 also use a lot of the iOS multi-touch features that Apple pioneered on their browsers and maps applications.  Why aren't they on Apple's firing line as well?

The simple difference is that Google's Android is incredibly successful while these other platforms are not (at least yet).  Apple is throwing everything they have at Android and yet customers, even on AT&T's network are flocking to Android in record numbers.

So, perhaps Android head, Andy Rubin shouldn't take Apple's jabs so harshly.  The only reason Android is being signaled out is because of its success.

Update: FakeSteve Jobs' rebuttal is here.

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Seth Weintraub
Seth Weintraub

Google went from searching the Web to worming its way into nearly every facet of business and government. Seth Weintraub unveils where the company is going, who it's competing with, who it's about to compete with and how market forces push the company to veer or adhere to its Don't Be Evil motto. For 15 years, Weintraub was a global IT director for a number of companies before becoming a blogger.

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