Why it takes so long for Apple to catch up to Android

From Dieter Bohn’s “The iPhone 13 may finally get features Android has had for years” posted Tuesday on The Verge:

On Android, there are so many phones to choose from that the need to differentiate is urgently and keenly felt by every manufacturer. So a feature as minor as an always-on display could make the difference in somebody’s purchasing decision. But I struggle to imagine the person that would choose an Android phone over an iPhone simply because they like glancing down at the time on their phone…

The point here is that there are lots of little features that iPhone users are missing out on simply because they’re not compelling enough on their own to convince people to switch. Under-screen fingerprint sensors on Android phones have gone from mediocre to great in just a few short years. Telephoto lenses are folded into periscopes that run along the lengths of the phone for even longer zooms. Screens are interrupted by only tiny little punch holes for selfie cameras (or, in some cases, not interrupted at all).

These are all niceties that aren’t a huge loss if you’re an iPhone user — well worth the tradeoff for the ecosystem, hardware quality, and performance you get with the average iPhone. They come first to Android because the pressure to compete against other Android makes is so intense that any little advantage matters. If there are two new phones on the store shelf that are very nearly the same but one has an always-on screen, well, that’s the one you get.

iOS and Android are not at all the same, though. So when it comes to bringing these smaller hardware features to the iPhone, I can’t help but think that the competitive pressure Apple feels most urgently isn’t the smartphones you see on the store shelf. It’s the iPhone you’ve got in your pocket.

From FOB David Emery, who recommended Bohn’s piece:

The best thing in this article is the last line. For once, a reviewer “gets it.” 🙂

13 Comments

  1. Bart Yee said:
    @David has it right, and for once, even though this is a backhanded complement article by the Verge (who is usually very anti-Apple), I agree with the last line of the article.

    The latest, greatest hardware “advance”, tweek, or gimmick in the Android world ends up being a fad, short lived, or at best, a short term seller of units. Being first may get you a few hundred thousand to million sales units than before, but for most Android model lines, the sales numbers are quite small relative to current and new
    iPhone annual sales. One should remember that an advance may only require a few million parts at best unless you’re Samsung or Xiaomi. Meanwhile, Apple would need at least 10-100 million+ units and the capacity to get more each year. Lining up the parts supply chain reliably and integrating that into your next model is Apple’s priority on top of being sure the tech works, is reliable and useful, and makes a substantial contribution to the overall iPhone user experience.

    Recall that in quarterly top 10 individual models research, Apple consistently takes 4-7 places including top 3 time and time again depending on season. The Androids that fill in the rest are by and large lower and much lower priced models whose sales popularity is price driven, not new superior specs or feature driven.

    8
    September 14, 2021
    • Bart Yee said:
      While Apple has strong demand despite having high end pricing, the Android flagship market has steadily contracted and now maybe sells 40M units combined across all makers in $600 and up models. The new featured Samsung Flip and Flex models, even with their newly reduced prices, are only projected (hoped for) to sell 3, maybe 3.5M units this coming sales year, not even a rounding error in Apple’s world. Android tech like onscreen fingerprint recognition, curved glass edges, periscope cameras, etc. have not ignited sales as hoped. App functions like Google Pay came too soon, too early. Even the super large phablets like the Samsung Note series saw declining sales to the point of discontinuation this year.

      As has happened many times so far, only when Apple adopts and introduces tech to iPhones does that feature or application become validated and mainstream. And Apple focuses on the main features which matter most to Apple users – massive CPU power in a low power usage / high battery efficiency balanced by attractive design and a unified, highly integrated operating system, plus high reliability, superior support, user interface and total experience across its ecosystem.

      IMO, Apple thinks about the entire Apple ecosystem and future rather than short term technological features.

      6
      September 14, 2021
      • Peter Kropf said:
        “As has happened many times so far, only when Apple adopts and introduces tech to iPhones does that feature or application become validated and mainstream.”

        GOOOOOAAAAALLLLLL!!!!

        Apple must have a fairly competent competition team that studies each and every Android advance. The best Android advances are ‘stolen’ and assimilated.

        Competition is a great multiplier.

        Case-in-point: Foldable Phones. If Samsung et al ever get it right, Tim Apple will steal it and produce a foldable that far outdoes the Androids.

        1
        September 14, 2021
        • Bart Yee said:
          @ Peter. “Steal” foldables? Nah, Patently Apple has shown Apple has been researching and developing Foldable tech for a few years now, trying to understand and engineer Apple-centric solutions for any potential Foldable product. As seen from my numbers above, the Foldables market is still a tiny niche forced into the high end in price, and relatively few and poorly executed use applications. It isn’t just the hardware but Foldables need tailored software to make good use of the odd aspect ratios and apps which can enhance their use. Here, Samsung again shows it a hardware company and depends on others to develop software apps.

          So in this sense, IMO, Apple isn’t going to enter the Foldables market until there are compelling uses, a much larger expanded and addressable market, if there ever will be one (say greater than 10-12M units annually) and a distinct way Apple can design and present its Foldable product as a superior and well thought out solution.

          1
          September 14, 2021
  2. Jerry Doyle said:
    It’s ok to compete with oneself, but to move the performance mark timely we need outside competitors. It is for this reason that I value deeply Samsung and its competitive workers. Apple needs Samsung as well as other Android competitors. In summary, I always want Samsung, Xiaomi, HTC, LG, Blackberry and the others to succeed. I say, bring it on! Apple needs you.

    5
    September 14, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      That’s an excellent point!

      Despite its open source attributes, I’ve been generally disappointed with the mediocre track record most Android phone makers have. Samsung has done some interesting things, as has Google. The rest of them seem to just want to compete on price, which is not a strong business strategy.

      0
      September 14, 2021
    • Steven Philips said:
      If it’s against others it’s “competition”. If it’s against “the one in your pocket” it’s “planned obsolescence”! /s/

      1
      September 14, 2021
  3. Daniel Epstein said:
    Well the whole premise of this article is flawed from the beginning. Any feature in any Android phone is considered a general feature of Android even if most Android owners don’t have it. There is no way (and maybe no reason) Apple would match that if they are only making 4 styles of phone! Look at other businesses and see what really happens. If someone invents or delivers a popular new form the other manufacturers try and add it. If they lose because they can’t then their fortunes suffer. So far in mobile phones this has not been Apple’s problem. It could happen but more likely Apple will be able to cover any short term feature deficit that is important because they have the deepest pockets and good vision of what the future products should be. More likely Apple will come up with an improvement that the other Android manufacturers will struggle to match. So who is in better shape. I think Apple is regardless of someone thinking they lack some feature someone else has on a different phone.

    1
    September 14, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      “Any feature in any Android phone is considered a general feature of Android…”

      That’s not necessarily true. Foldable phones and the “Knox” enclave are both Samsung ideas that have not made it into general Android usage.

      0
      September 14, 2021
      • Daniel Epstein said:
        David, As I said in my earlier comment it doesn’t matter if most Android phones or owners don’t have the feature like a foldable phone it still gets lumped in as a feature that Android has compared to what Apple IOS doesn’t by commentators like the one in this article. The idea that Apple has to respond to a perceived deficit or it will suffer is a well trodden style of analysis.

        0
        September 15, 2021
        • David Emery said:
          Ask me how much I care about what ANALysts and talking heads in the tech media think…. 🙁

          0
          September 15, 2021
  4. Gregg Thurman said:
    If there’s any copying going on it isn’t Apple copying Android, it’s Android copying Apple. Prime example #1: the notch. Decried many when Apple first introduced it, two years later every Android had one, some of which were purely cosmetic.

    0
    September 14, 2021
  5. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    When it comes to what to put in and what to leave out, I think Apple is more concerned about feature prominence than feature parity.

    0
    September 15, 2021

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