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  • Can Apple Learn Something from the Google Nexus One?

    January 7th, 2010

    You just know that Apple’s critics are busy harping on the features of the Nexus One phone, from Google and HTC, which appear to trump those in the iPhone. This should, so they say, make it the ultimate iPhone killer.

    But is any of that true?

    It is very clear that Google and HTC have taken a bullet point approach to building the Nexus One, or at least that’s how it comes across. So, for example, the screen is larger and has much higher resolution than the one on the iPhone 3GS, which is no slouch by the way. The camera is five megapixels, compared to 3.2 megapixels on the latest iPhone and there’s also a flash capability, which the iPhone lacks.

    Now in the real world, the Nexus One’s screen may not seem so much better with regular computer-generated graphics, but certainly the camera has better potential. This is one area where Apple has been traditionally behind the curve, though it seems it hasn’t hurt sales any more than the extra features on other so-called iPod killers hurt that product’s march to number one.

    Other advantages to the Nexus One include real multitasking, evidently helped along by a newer generation processor, and decent power management, so battery life remains good. Unlike Apple’s handheld gadgets, you can also swap out the memory card and, typical of most mobile phones, replace the battery without a visit to the service depot.

    Unfortunately, most of the glowing reviews of the Nexus One don’t mention some of its serious lapses, including one that really impairs this smartphone’s suitability for the enterprise. You see, there’s no support for Exchange email servers, a mainstay of the business world and a key feature offered by the iPhone, BlackBerry and other mobile devices. Google instead wants you to stick with Gmail, which may be fine for many, but it could be the deal breaker.

    For the consumer market, the selection of apps is nowhere near as rich as the App Store. Yes, there are 20,000 apps, but how many of them fit into the categories that exploit the multimedia capabilities of Android devices, such as loads of games? In addition, because of the fragmentation in the Android market when it comes to hardware features and OS versions, the app that works on your phone may not work on another device from the same manufacturer. It’s not a seamless process, nor is the ability to upgrade the OS to the latest version guaranteed.

    What’s more, you can’t use a Nexus One or any other Android smartphone as a digital music player in the fashion of the iPhone. That’s another key issue that is being forgotten. Now maybe these other companies expect you to just buy an iPod separately if that’s what you want, or pay the higher “ransom” to download music from your chosen wireless carrier. But that also reduces the all-in-one capabilities of these iPhone killers.

    Apple, you say, may not always offer all the features of the competition, and hardware specs may be middling in some respects, but the seamless software integration and easy syncing of content with a Mac or PC make it shine. This is a main reason why it has taken off so rapidly and continues to be a hot ticket.

    This isn’t to say that the Google OS is a bad mobile platform. Indeed, second to Apple’s, it may be the most compelling alternative for folks who don’t want to buy an iPhone for any number of reasons, including the fact that they don’t like AT&T, or just prefer another carrier. Indeed, I can see where some feel that Apple’s iron-fist control of the iPhone platform may be a severe negative, since it does restrict some of the things they can do with the device. Indeed, that taste for freedom is a prime reason for the fact that so many jailbreak their iPhones, other than just happening to live in countries where it’s not yet available.

    Now as we speak, Apple is without doubt working hard on the iPhone 4.0 software and the next major revision to the product. It may well be that some of the features that the Nexus One possesses now, such as a superior camera, flash capability and a higher-performing processor with good multitasking, will be a part of the iPhone 3GS’s successor come this summer.

    It may also be true that the operating system will incorporate loads of enhancements that many of you have been clamoring for. I, for one, would like to see a working Junk filter in Mail, which may not be high on anyone else’s list, but seems to be something that is truly late to the party. Indeed, the potential wish lists for iPhone 4.0 are no doubt going to be quite extensive, and if it happens that the Android OS has raised the bar in some areas, so be it.

    I’m all for fair competition, which is why Microsoft isn’t a part of this discussion.



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    4 Responses to “Can Apple Learn Something from the Google Nexus One?”

    1. dfs says:

      We can argue a lot about whether this feature or that feature of the Google phone (or any other competitor) is better than its iPhone equivalent. But I’m not sure that’s worth the effort, because I’m not sure that features like this go very far in determining individual user’s purchasing decisions. The much more important lesson the Google Phone has to teach Apple is that, if its exclusive arrangement with AT&T ever made good business sense, it is becoming a bigger liability every day. (Business historians can argue the merits of this in the US, but I would maintain that Apple’s insistence on using the same business model worldwide greatly hurt it, it created a huge delay in the iPhone gaining traction in some major foreign markets, notably China.) If there is any serious challenge to the iPhone’s dominance, it doesn’t take the form of any particular competing device. It takes the form of dissatisfaction with AT&T felt by present iPhone users, the effect AT&T’s bad rap may be having on scaring off potential purchasers, and the similar effect of the kind of high service charges you get when you grant any single carrier a monopoly. This is the real challenge posed by the Google phone: it presents customers with the choice of an entirely different business model. The ball’s now in Apple’s court, I don’t see how they can afford not to react by doing something similar themselves.

      • Karl says:

        @dfs,

        I’m not entirely sure that the exclusive arrangement with AT&T was a bad decision. I switched and AT&T has been just as good as T-Mobile or Alltel (now part of Verizon) for me. But even more to the point, the iPhone has been a success so it’s hard to say that going with AT&T hurt it.

        Also if memory serves me correctly, Apple had to open it up to other carriers in some other countries. So they have shown that they can and are willing do to so when needed. Is it needed here in the US?… not so far.

        I honestly don’t expect AT&T and Apple to end their partnership at least not until Version and AT&T are using the same technology. (That of course is purely speculation.)

        Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you that tying it to AT&T has created issues and has shunned some potential customers, but to say it hurt the iPhone seems a bit of a stretch, since the iPhone has been a very successful product.

        I think Google’s phones are a “me-too” product and will also find success. But Apple doesn’t have to change their business model to compete with it. They will just need to upgrade the iPhone with a better camera and a better screen.

      • Al says:

        @dfs,

        All this talk of iPhone being on one carrier and completely ignoring the fact that the Google phone is only on one carrier. Sure, you can buy an unlocked Google phone for the full price but AFAIK it still only works on one American carrier.

        Apple, OTOH has multiple carriers with the iPhone in many countries. The main problem in The States is Verizon’s obsolete and soon to be abandoned system that doesn’t work with the iPhone. When Verizon gets to critical mass with their conversion plans, Verizon will carry the iPhone if they can agree to Apple’s conditions.

    2. Sean says:

      First, the Nexus One would not even exist if it wasn’t for the iPhone. Trust me, if Apple hadn’t shown the way, the Nexus One would look like a turd-with-wheels.

      Second, Geeks and IT nerds love the open platform, the rest of us NORMAL people couldn’t care less about openness. We want a cohesive, unified experience that includes iTunes and the App store in that mix. Googles disjointed approach will certainly attract those that like disjointed approaches, but others will soon learn how horrible inept that way of life is. People don’t want to repeat their Windows experience, that’s why they are moving to Apple in droves.

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