Apple’s Direct Assault Against Google and Android

June 6th, 2014

Implicit in the WWDC keynote this week is Apple’s effort to reduce reliance on Google for search, and to answer the complaints about the lack of features by those who have adopted the Android platform. The most blatant example of the former was putting Bing search in Spotlight. The trend had started with Siri, and it’s clear Apple and Microsoft are working more closely together than ever nowadays.

It’s notable that Microsoft managed to deliver a version of Office for the iPad, but it’s still missing in action on Windows 8. To be fair, Microsoft is also going to release an Office for Android in the near future. But to Microsoft, expanding Office to other platforms only expands the use of Word, Excel and PowerPoint as industry standards. Besides, it means more money for Microsoft, so why not? But it’s telling that a touch version for Windows 8 is taking very long to complete and may not arrive until 2015.

Now when it comes to Google, it’s also telling that Safari searches will also rely on Spotlight for results, and that, again, means Bing. Adding DuckDuckGo, a search engine that promises not to track you, as another option under OS X, must further dilute Google’s prospects. Sure, if Google remains the default when OS X Yosemite is released, and previous defaults settings would likely be retained, that will still give the world’s number one search engine the upper hand, but in an environment where there’s more to lose.

In passing, I wonder why Apple doesn’t just buy DuckDuckGo, though that might cause a political problem with Microsoft. But the price has to be real cheap.

In any case, the message is clear. Besides, Siri is already using Bing, so Google has been out of the picture there for a while. Indeed, Google reportedly earns more money via the Apple connection than from Android, so this has to be an ongoing problem for them.

Beyond search engines, Apple’s new posture of opening up iOS to more third-party opportunities goes far to eliminate the features that many may prefer on Android. I remember when one well-known Mac pundit, Andy Ihnatko, famously adopted Android because iOS didn’t let you install third-party keyboards on a systemwide basis. While you could get keyboards from Swype and other vendors, you had to use a complicated copy and paste routine to put text into your email or Pages documents. With iOS 8, you can drop in another keyboard and be assured it’ll fully replace Apple’s. You may prefer the default QuickType keyboard, offering smart predictive capabilities, or perhaps you’ll want to consider SwiftKey, highly praised for originating similar capabilities. Regardless, it appears that the major developers of alternative keyboards for Android will have replacements available for iOS 8.

Does all that give Ihnatko the incentive to return to the iPhone? Right after this column was posted, it appeared that he had indeed reached that conlusion.

Apple is also addressing other perceived Android advantages by letting you add widgets to the Notification screens, and to allow apps to talk to one another. That means, for example, that a third party can deliver extra filters and features to Apple’s new Photos app. There’s also an iCloud file browser, so you can see and manage your files in a way similar to what Android offers. Sure, Android is accessing files directly on your smartphone or tablet, but iCloud Drive means your documents are in sync on all your iOS gear and your Mac. It also preserves the limited storage space on your device.

I’m sure Android uses can cite chapter and verse of how their chosen mobile platform still offers other advantages compared to iOS. There is, of course, the feeling that Apple is too controlling, and the looser environment offered by Google is an advantage.

I suppose it does, especially for power users who want to explore every nook and cranny of their gadgets and customize to a fare-thee-well. But Apple doesn’t add features because they exist. Offering extra sandboxing capabilities for iOS means that Apple has tested them to provide the maximum level of security. This is why it didn’t just happen overnight. It’s also true that you can find a number of features that Apple has “borrowed” from other platforms, even though you are apt to find a unique slant on the original concept. It’s not the same as Samsung matching an iPhone feature-for-feature without thought to making changes to avoid patent lawsuits.

Most important of all is that, by this time next year, over 80% or possibly more of iOS users will have upgraded to iOS 8. That the iPhone 4 is no longer compatible will leave tens of millions of customers behind, though I can see where the next iOS might simply have performed so poorly on the older hardware that the user experience would be unacceptable. Don’t forget that, until the 7.1 update, running iOS 7 on an iPhone 4 wasn’t always a pleasant experience.

Does this mean Android users will suddenly come rushing to Apple? Well, supposedly half of the new customers Apple signed up in China gave up Android, so the potential is there. What’s more, it’s not as if Google has been rushing to add loads of new features. In recent years, Android updates have been relatively minor. Version 4.4 KitKat, released last fall, is installed on less than 10% of existing Android gear. The next version of Android is widely expected to be 4.5, although the rumors claim there will be a greater emphasis on new features. We’ll see.

In any case, the other reason Android users may prefer their gear is that the screens are larger, sometimes much larger, than an iPhone. But that state of affairs is widely expected to change with the iPhone 6, which may come in 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch versions. That appears to leave Android users with fewer excuses not to jump ship, but we’ll see how it all turns out come this fall.

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12 Responses to “Apple’s Direct Assault Against Google and Android”

  1. Jim C. says:

    Surveying the tech blogs after the WWDC keynote, one still found the Apple/iPhone haters out in force. Apple can do no right in their eyes. I’m not a developer, but I found the breadth and depth of what Apple served up at WWDC to be hugely impressive. Google is said to be working on some kind of 3D tablet, and Amazon’s rumored entry into the cell phone market offers a 3D experience of some sort. In contrast, Apple continues to refine and increment its offerings in real-world ways that people can understand and use today. And, clearly, they doubled down on their ecosystem at WWDC, laying the groundwork for new devices and applications from not only Apple, but third-party developers as well. Exciting times.

  2. kiki says:

    RE: “Does that give Ihnatko the incentive to return to the iPhone? Hard to tell, as his personal blog doesn’t even mention the WWDC or its announcements”

    Ihnatko live-tweeted from WWDC. It appears he was sufficiently impressed with what he saw at the keynote.

    Direct quote from one of Andy Ihnatko’s tweets on Twitter (@Ihnatko) during WWDC:
    Ihnatko: I won’t lie to you…for the first time, “switching back to iPhone” isn’t just a hypothetical thing for me in 2014…

  3. kiki says:

    True dat, Gene. We will have to see what Andy eventually decides to do, but I’ll add one more quote from his Chicago Suntimes blog from a couple days ago as an indication that he may probably end up switching back:

    “To my genuine surprise, my switch to Android became an actual tech news story for a week. I used the experience to illustrate some of the limitations I was seeing in the iPhone, and to dispel some of the myths about Android’s “problems.”

    (Like the malware story. I’ve been a daily Android user for at least two years now. I only download apps from the Google Play store. Zero malware infections.)

    As I sat and listened Monday, I heard Apple address every personal complaint I had presented about the iPhone a year and a half ago. Apps can work together. You can customize things. Hardware features that make Apple’s own apps work better will now make all apps work better. Honestly, if the theme of iOS 8 was written on a Cupertino whiteboard as “We have to get Andy back as an iPhone user,” they couldn’t have done a more precise job of it.
    It doesn’t feel like a catch-up feature-dump, either: This feels legitimately like the next evolutionary wave for iOS. iOS 8 is the greatest iteration.

    I will be this plain and direct: If Apple comes out with a larger-screen iPhone this fall, I’ll be hard-pressed to come up with a single damn reason to keep using Android.”

    We will see what eventually transpires, like you said. Have a great day! 🙂


  4. Peter says:

    First, between Android and Windows Phone, most of these features have been available for years. It’s De Rigeur for an OS to include these capabilities. Hell, even Blackberry has had some of this stuff! So Apple is definitely being forced to allow these things because their competitors do.

    I found it a bit disingenuous for Apple to be bashing Android on one side while doing their best to copy them on the other.

    • @Peter, I think you realize that Apple doesn’t add features because other companies have them. They appear to take the extra time to get things to work correctly or at least in a way that conforms to iOS or OS X user conventions. But Apple is bashing Android for other reasons, and security and the inability for most to upgrade their OS are at the top of the list.


  5. Peter says:

    I think you realize that Apple doesn’t add features because other companies have them.Debatable.

    Apple adds features because other companies have them and people like them.

    Apple didn’t decide to allow third-party keyboards because they were suddenly inspired. They did so because people liked other kinds of keyboards. How did they know this? Because this capability has been in Android and Windows Phone since the beginning and lots of people have remarked that they like this. You can only ignore reality for so long.

    • @Peter, But this could have been added before. It’s also about security, and opening up inputting on a systemwide basis to a third party has its risks, although it appears Apple has made a good effort on that score. This is the sort of discussion that will work best after iOS 8 is out, and you can see how well the keyboards work in practice. One report claimed that the keyboards would be restricted in support for inputting secure information, such as passwords. We’ll see what we shall see.


  6. hannahjs says:

    It did not escape me that the date is June 6. I took a wild leap and wrote this…sorry for the soup of metaphors…

    But it is total war. Gene draws an unstated analogy with D-day, June 6, 1944, the allied invasion of Normandy that was a direct assault on totalitarianism. Their eventual triumph to make the world safe for democracy can not countenance passively turning everything personal over to Google and similar suction vampires in exchange for discounts on cosmetics. Better to cauterise the canker sore than allow it to fester.

  7. DaveD says:

    With Microsoft’s Office for the iPad and the Bing search engine, Apple is showing that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I use Google and DuckGoGo for web searches. While I am uneasy with Bing for Siri and the to-be-enhanced Spotlight, life goes on.

    You have to think quite a bit about Google. Are they following their “Don’t be evil” mantra? Or are they just merely words for the sake of appearance. We know Google sift through the user information on their product usages. Do we know what kind of info that are in Google’s big database in the clouds? We do know that Google can be devious when they hacked a workaround to bypass Safari’s third-party cookies block.

    While Apple and Microsoft get security challenges often, does Google get them?

    Android and users of Google services, be vigilant.

  8. Apple’s direct assault against Google and Android says:

    […] Much some-more in a full essay here. […]

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