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Waning Influence: The iPhone’s Social Position and The Rise of Android

I have been a Verizon customer for nearly 10 years. Their incredibly consistent network strength has earned my loyalty, and that loyalty has guided — and somewhat hindered — my choice of device. During my tenure as a customer of Big Red, I have owned many different devices. When I signed my first contract, I was a Motorola user all the way. My father was on his third StarTac, but that didn’t deter me. I decided to go with the v120c as my first phone.

Out of the four people in my class with a cell phone (see: 2002), I was the only one without a Nokia device. In those times, Nokia was king, selling a combined 536M units of its 1100, 3210, and 3310 models. The Nokia 1100 — which sold 250M units — became the world’s best selling handset, and helped Nokia garner a ridiculous amount of the mobile market share. Now sure, I was the only one who couldn’t play Snake — a game that should be in the mobile gaming hall of fame — but I had something that they didn’t — service everywhere I went. You can play a game, but can you make a call? My v120c had an extendable antenna (for those of you too young to remember, an extendable antenna came in handy making a call anywhere that wasn’t an open field). I saw the horrible call quality my friends suffered through, and decided to stick with Verizon, games or no games.

Fast forward five years. I have gone through multiple handsets by now. A couple of Motorola handsets (T720, E815), an LG (VX8100), and a Samsung flip that I can’t remember. I was using an LG Chocolate (Why? I still don’t know) when I first heard the rumors of a phone being released by Apple. For years I had been an iPod user. From the original iPod, to the mini (yes, there was a mini), to the nano, I had used and enjoyed what was then the flagship product of Apple. But when it came to Apple and cell phones, I wasn’t sure. I had been burned once. I was excited by, and subsequently disappointed with the absolute failure that was the MotoROKR. I was curious to see if the iPhone would crumble under expectations, just like Apple’s previous attempt to enter the mobile market.

On June 29, 2007, Apple released the iPhone.

It was amazing. The iPhone was a truly revolutionary device. Priced ridiculously high, but still revolutionary. The sad part, for me at least — the iPhone wasn’t available on Verizon — at the time, it was an AT&T-only device. For years I had seen my friends choose between the lackluster cell coverage from Cingular/AT&T, and the lackluster phone options from Verizon (before the somewhat recent love fest with Android, the device selection on Verizon was horrid). Even though I wanted an iPhone, I didn’t want AT&T. I went another route. I decided to stick with Verizon and purchased a Blackberry Curve.

I needed a smartphone, and my Curve served me well — it was practically indestructible. Dropped in sinks, on concrete at least 100 times, even in the Atlantic Ocean — and it still worked. Then the trackball stopped working. After a few tosses against a wall, it started to work again. It was a decent phone. But I still wanted the iPhone. It still wasn’t on Verizon. I still wasn’t going to AT&T. Unbeknownst to me at the time, another option would soon become available. A close friend said he was going to purchase a “Google Phone.”

On October 22, 2008, Google released the G1 on T-Mobile.

It was an amazing device. Not revolutionary, but nonetheless amazing. It was different from the iPhone. The screen was better. It had a keyboard. It was fast. A dedicated Google search bar. It had widgets. But it wasn’t the iPhone. It didn’t have iTunes. I couldn’t sync all my songs and get rid of my iPod. I definitely wasn’t leaving Verizon for T-Mobile, which, at the time, may have been worse than AT&T. So I stayed put. I kept my aging BlackBerry. Hoping. Waiting.

I started to pay attention to the smartphone market. Rumors would come and go, proving to be untrue that the phone I desired would come to my network. I can say with confidence, not having the iPhone on Verizon was one of the reasons I became a tech journalist. That was the main reason I began following the market. If the iPhone didn’t come out when it did, I couldn’t tell you what I would be doing right now.

In 2009, Verizon got its first Android device, the Motorola Droid. I used it, and liked it. It had a keyboard. It was fast. I could call people. Overall, it was a great phone.I still own it to this day. But it wasn’t an iPhone. It didn’t pique my interest like Apple managed to do with their device. In an effort to combat the iPhone’s dominance in the market, Verizon opted to move forward with Android, leading the way with an influx of Android devices on their network over the next year.

The phones were decent, but in all honesty, they weren’t what they could have been. It seemed these companies were putting out phones in mass just to spite Apple. A flood of lackluster Android devices flooded the market, establishing a viable network of users for developers to reach that was not connected to Apple. With the rapid expansion of Android, and the continued dominance of Apple, former prominent mobile handset makers like Palm and BlackBerry were effectively silenced. Verizon managed strengthened their network while lifting Android’s position in the smartphone market. The decision proved to be a brilliant one, as Android was now seen as a true competitor to Apple’s dominance.

At the end of 2010, I started to hear rumors of the Verizon iPhone. I had heard the same rumors since the iPhone was released. If you followed the smartphone market, you quickly learned of the technical difficulties surrounding a move to Verizon. It wasn’t as simple as giving them the rights to sell the phone. It would require Apple to add a CDMA chip into the iPhone — which at the time, only came with GSM. In a world with predominantly GSM networks, for years Apple had no need to add a CDMA chip. They were the dominant smartphone in most markets. It would require a rebuild of the iPhone 4. It would require manufacturing to different phones, something that Apple did not want to do But thanks in part to Verizon, Android was getting bigger and bigger. Apple had a decision to make.

Apple Announced the Verizon iPhone on January 11, 2011. The wait was over. The Verizon iPhone 4 was released on February 10, 2011. I got the phone early and was ecstatic. It was the iPhone I wanted, but with a kicker — I could actually make a phone call. In Manhattan. This was mind-boggling.

I turned my habit of following the smartphone market into a career and became a tech journalist. I started reviewing more and more phones and tablets. Google released Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) a few months prior, which strengthened their position in the market once again. A few months later, Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) was released for Android tablets. I bought an iPad 2. BlackBerry was falling off. Palm had just about kicked the bucket. Nokia released the N9, an amazing device, but they forgot about the Western Hemisphere.

In 2011, Apple made a significant change to their usual schedule, skipping their usual summer release date for the next iteration of the iPhone, pushing it back to the fall. The change threw many in the industry off, but one company had something up its sleeve that had the capability to change the game. Google.

For some time, rumors were buzzing around the next “Nexus” phone and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Many were claiming a departure from the Android most had gotten use to over the last year. The device would be buttonless they said (“they” meaning the indescribable “person(s) with knowledge”), it would come with an edge-to-edge screen, and resolution comparable to the iPhone’s unmatched Retina Display. It was safe to say I was intrigued.

For the first time, I had to actually debate if I was going to purchase the iPhone.

On October 4th, Apple announced the iPhone 4S. On October 5th, Steve Jobs passed away. Due to the death of Steve Jobs, the announcement of the Galaxy Nexus — originally scheduled for October 11th — was pushed back to October 19th. During that time I purchased the iPhone 4S, with the reservations I had removed. With Steve Jobs gone, I wanted to own the last device that he may have been hands-on with. It’s a great phone that has served me well. But my purchase didn’t discourage my intrigue with the Galaxy Nexus.

On October 19, 2011, Samsung and Google announced the Galaxy Nexus.

There was no doubt that the phone was amazing. 4.65” 1280 x 720 curved glass screen. Android 4.0. NFC. Verizon LTE. But I have reviewed many phones that seemed amazing at unveilings, but failed to meet expectations (Palm Pre, HTC Rezound, anything from LG to name a few). I had to see it in person. I had to use it extensively.

So for the last month, I have been using the Galaxy Nexus. It totally changed my view of what Android could, and has become. If I had to choose between the Galaxy Nexus and The iPhone 4S, with no prior investment in either OS (money already spent on apps can be a game-changer), I would choose the Galaxy Nexus.

It’s the best phone on the market — if you’re not invested in Apple. It has the best hardware. The screen is amazing, it’s blazingly fast, and the battery is just as good as the 4S. Android 4.0 is just about equal with iOS 5 in terms of features. They both do different things brilliantly. If I was a user of any other platform, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Symbian, or a feature phone user, I would by the Galaxy Nexus.

The problem is, I bought in to the Apple ecosystem, including the great set of exclusive apps — which are the only thing holding me back from purchasing the Galaxy Nexus. This may be changing very soon.

During the Instagram kerfuffle, I came to a realization. Those iPhone owners hating on Android weren’t exhibiting class warfare as many declared, it was fear. The only thing keeping Apple on top in the smartphone market is its social position, and the apps you can’t get anywhere else. What will happen when these advantages are gone?

There was a time when if you wanted the best smartphone, you bought an iPhone, no questions asked. It was at the top of Christmas lists, a must-have device for millions. It stood out from the pre-Gingerbread Android devices and the BlackBerry’s of the world as a vastly superior device. Two years ago, “iPhone” was the definition of a smartphone for many. Now, when I mention smartphones, I get asked about the newest “Android phone” just as often as I get asked “When’s the new iPhone coming out?” There was a time when the only thing the average person knew about smartphones was Apple and BlackBerry. That time is over.

The hardware and software in the iPhone 4S is collectively better than every current Android phone, sans the Galaxy Nexus. But what truly holds it together is the apps you can’t get anywhere else. It’s the most American thing about Apple. For years, American corporations were just that, American corporations. Then the world started catching up with us, and the American corporations saw an opportunity for expansion. Now those same corporations are global companies. Apps like Instagram, which was once “App of the Year” in the App Store, have now expanded to Android.

The social position of the iPhone has nearly been matched by Android. If app selection is the biggest reason iPhone owners aren’t switching to Android, what happens when that roadblock is removed? What happens when apps like Flipboard, Tweetbot, Camera+ make the move? Android already has the advantage of Google integration. What happens when your favorite apps are all available on Android? What happens when there is no advantage for Apple? Will their immaculate designs be enough to keep them on top, or will Android’s gigantic screens, specs and widgets take over?

I’m not sure, but if I was Apple, I would be worried. There are more and more people buying phones everyday that haven’t bought into either ecosystem. If I was them, I would buy a Galaxy Nexus.

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4 thoughts on “Waning Influence: The iPhone’s Social Position and The Rise of Android

  1. Pingback: Anticipation: iOS5 Features « SMB Matters – Small and Medium Business Blog

  2. Pingback: Anticipation: iOS5 Features | SMB Matters Blog - SMBMatters.com

  3. I would beg to differ. One of my favorities, Instapaper, will never be on another platform and be only iOS exclusive. We talked one time about how consumers stick with one OS because they invest large amounts of money into their systems. Then, if they switch, they have to migrate all their data to that new system. It’s even more difficult with online services like dropbox, google, iCloud to migrate data across the web.

  4. Pingback: 2012 in Review: Tech | Current Editorials

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