updated 07:25 pm EDT, Mon October 18, 2010
Jobs says Android fragmentation not true openness
Google is being "disingenuous" when it tries to claim openness as an advantage for Android, Apple's Steve Jobs said during a rare appearance in the company's fourth quarter 2010 results. He accused Google of sidestepping its own real problems with Android fragmentation, saying that the real debate was over whether or not to go integrated. Windows is "open" in supporting many forms of hardware, but it provides a consistent experience; Android can't claim that as there are too many custom interfaces and too many phones, leaving the user to "figure it out."
The Apple co-founder pointed to TweetDeck's recent experiences developing its Twitter client as an example of a long-term problem: it had to support 100 different combinations of Android and custom UIs and 244 devices. That would be a "daunting challenge" to support them all, according to Jobs. Many apps will only work on certain phones and certain Android versions, even when the phones were released less than a year ago.
The iPhone by contrast had just a single experience, and developers only had to target iOS 3 and iOS 4. An iPhone would "just work" and freed developers to focus on better features. The upcoming launches of new Android app stores from Amazon, Verizon and others were only going to make things worse. One-stop shopping was better, and Jobs cited the 300,000 iOS apps versus Android Market's 100,000 as proof.
Even if Google were right about framing the debate in terms of open versus closed, open wouldn't necessarily be the right point of view, the executive went on. Microsoft's experience with Windows Media and PlaysForSure was used as an example. The Windows developer tried to push a universal standard but ultimately failed against the iPod and had to switch to the closed Zune platform, even if it lost partners.
"Open systems don't always win," Jobs summarized.
The claims somewhat masked issues on their own, as they overlooked certain features being disabled or working poorly on older devices, such as the absence of Game Center and overall sluggish performance on the iPhone 3G. Critics have also noted that, while outside Android app stores risk causing confusion or undermining Google's, Apple has no way at all for developers to get publicly available apps on to the iPhone outside of the App Store short of a jailbreak.
Google has been taking steps to reduce Android fragmentation and may accomplish more of its goals with Android 3.0. It has already taken a partial step in this direction by breaking out Gmail as a stand-alone app that it can upgrade regardless of the core Android version.