Does Android Have What it Takes to Beat iOS?
Android vs iOS
The Android mobile operating system by Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) is the main competition the Apple iPhone juggernaut faces. Android has commanded the dominant share in units sold but Apple has the trophy when it comes to profits.
I am an investor in both Google as well as Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) and wanted to see how the two operating systems compared. Ultimately the fate of these companies mobile initiatives lies in the demand for their actual products which is if course largely determined by how good they are.
Droid X Sits on the Night Table
About two years ago I purchased a Motorola Droid X which was one of the latest and greatest Droid phones at the time. I also owned the iPhone 4. Yes I do actually purchase multiple phones and use them to fully understand the competitive landscape. I believe you have to get in the weeds a bit to fully understand how each competitors best efforts compare.
After spending quite a bit of time on the Droid X I was left largely unimpressed (don’t flame yet Droid fans…read on). The operating system and phone were buggy, slow and clunky. Reboots were very common on the Droid to unfreeze it. Oddly enough, even the Google search did not work correctly. I would have thought that was one thing they would have got right! I would enter a search term and get a blank Google search page. I knew Apple had little to worry about and figured Apple would continue to leap ahead every year. My Droid X spent 99% of the time sitting next to the bed on its charger dock.
Ice Cream Sandwich Tastes Better
Fast forward to today and the latest Android version known as “Ice Cream Sandwich” or “ICS” paired with the current flagship model by Samsung which is their Galaxy S3. I purchased the Galaxy S3 about a week ago and have spent quite a bit of time with it. I actually purchased THREE of them so I could see how my wife and son would use it as well for my own market research. They are both iPhone users as well.
So after my week with the latest flagship Samsung Galaxy S3 I can say it is considerably improved over my first Droid X phone. Following are my first gut feelings on it in no particular order. The screen is great although a bit darker than the iPhone’s retina display. I like the larger size as compared to the smaller iPhone 4 display. The phone is much lighter and thinner than the iPhone (both without cases). I do like the lighter weight although the iPhone is not exactly “heavy”. It’s just a relative comparison here.
I love the tight Google integration. I am a huge Google Apps user (contacts, email, calendar). It’s nice that everything sync’s to the desktop via Google’s cloud. After the simple starting setup this just works. The iPhone also has Google Apps sync but requires some steps to setup an Exchange server account to do this. As a technical person this is no problem for me but for the non technorati a little more difficult.
Facebook (Nasdaq:FB) and Twitter integration are also well done. My Picasa, Google Voice, Google Plus and Google Drive services work well although there was a bug for uploading photos to Picasa. I’ve read this will be fixed with their next OS update “Jelly Bean”. I hope so as I rely on Picasa for all my photo management. Screen animation and responsiveness were MUCH better than the Droid X and I would say on par with iPhone. That said the iPhone still feels just a bit more polished, cleaner and slicker.
I used Google Play to sync my iTunes music libraries and that worked well enough. I think Google has made good strides here. The camera is decent but the iPhone seems to take better quality photos.
The actual physical use of the Galaxy phone is my biggest gripe. The power button is on the side and when I grip the phone I’m either hitting the volume button, the power button or both. This is extremely annoying. The power button should have been placed higher up or on the top of the phone. I’ve shut the phone display off by accident during normal use no less than 50 times. Also the “touch” sensitive buttons to the left and right of the middle home button are constantly getting hit in normal handling. Again this is really frustrating. On the iPhone I have no physical handling issues as buttons are well placed. I’d say these physical handling issues are my biggest strikes against the Galaxy.
Is There a Winner in the Mobile OS War?
There is a lot more to like about the new Droid Operating System running on the current flagship hardware versus that old crusty Droid X. Google (and Samsung) have done a great job fixing many of the issues and closing the gap with iPhone. We now stand just a month or so away from the big iPhone 5 unveil and we’ll have to see how things compare at that point. The new iOS 6 has a lot of new, innovative and potentially disruptive features. I suspect Apple will widen the gap once again but with the iPhone 6 refresh a year away it gives the competitors plenty of time to improve their offerings.
So in my own shootout I’d say there are many things I like about the new Android OS and Galaxy S3. I love my iPhone and it will be my primary phone but I’d say it is safe to say that this new Android phone won’t be spending time unused near my bed. It will come along with me and my iPhone. There is much to like about both devices.
This is a huge market and Google’s Android is now a decent competitor to iPhone. If I were forced to choose one phone I would still keep the iPhone but today it is a harder decision than it was two years ago. Will the iPhone 6 make that an easier decision? Will Apple’s lead hold after iPhone 6? We’ll have to wait just a bit more to see.
How am I playing this in the market? I am long both Apple and Google. I believe both companies will retain and grow share at the expense of the remaining players like RIMM (Nasdaq:RIMM). There is much to love about both Google and Apple. Phenomenal growth rates, pristine balance sheets and a gift from Mr. Market who is selling shares of both on the cheap!