On strengths of Linux, Android will win mobile contest

The Android mobile operating system is bound to outshine Apple's iOS and dominate the smartphone arena.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which mobile operating system is fairest of all? That's a common question, given the many contenders in the mobile arena--and the well-publicized glitches that have recently come up.

How would I answer? Like this: The iPhone can be pretty, that's for sure, but it can't hold a candle to Android's allure.

Linux-based Android is going to win, plain and simple. Why? Let's count the ways.

1. Flexibility

A hallmark of Apple's approach has always been putting users in a "walled garden" whereby they are "protected" from having to deal with the computer's nuts and bolts directly. Hand-in-hand with that approach comes restrictiveness; users are only allowed to do things that Apple has decided to let them do, just as they can only buy applications that have been preapproved. Apple insists on controlling the whole ecosystem.

With Android, on the other hand--much as with Linux itself--it's a wide-open world. Users have much more freedom to do what they want, developers have more freedom to create and sell applications for the ecosystem, and manufacturers can customize the experience for their customers.

2. Strength in Numbers

Apple's ability to be so restrictive stems largely from the fact that there's just one Apple and just one iPhone. That device could be the best in the world, but if there's only one, consumers will inevitably get less control and less choice. You may recall seeing something like that in the desktop arena.

With Android, the choices are many. LG alone is set to roll out at least 20 new Android devices this year. Among other things, that means that if one device fails, there will be plenty of others to continue the race.

3. DIY Tools

With App Inventor, Google has put even more power in users' hands by making it easier than ever before to create the apps they want. Sure, that will result in more junk apps out there--but it will also surely enable some gems. This will be just what the platform needed to help it catch up with the iPhone's head start in the app arena. A year ago, there were some 10,000 apps in Android Market--this month, it's expected to surpass 100,000. Where the apps go, users will follow.

4. Focus on Users

One of the things I found most disturbing in the recent "Antennagate" debacle surrounding Apple's iPhone 4 is how long the company took to acknowledge the problem and to respond. I think this ties directly into its iron-fisted control and monopoly over the iPhone experience. Monopoly-holders don't tend to care much about users; only when there's choice do they become a concern.

5. The Google Factor

Yes, there are other Linux-based mobile operating systems out there--Intel's MeeGo and Samsung's Bada, for instance. But Android is the one that has Google's support, and that's worth a lot.

Then, of course, there's the data. By virtually every account, Android looks poised to dominate the smartphone market in not very long. Some 100,000 Android devices are shipping every day, and market researcher ABI predicts that Linux-based handsets will account for 33 percent of the market by 2015.

Android specifically, meanwhile, is growing quickly. Whereas Apple smartphones lost a percentage point of market share between February and May, Google's Android gained an additional 4 percent, according to comScore. That's pretty impressive.

Heck, even Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg recently ditched his iPhone for an Android device.

In short, while Apple will always have its die-hard fans, just as it does on the desktop, the days of its restrictive dominance are numbered, at least in the mobile arena. Instead, a common sentiment in the coming months, I predict, will be the one depicted on this T-shirt. (No offense, Steve!)

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)

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