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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Apple v. Google: Battle in the Cloud

I watched with amazement, and some amusement, as more than 300,000 people bought the new Apple iPad on the first day it was available -- and it isn’t even 3G enabled! I find it fascinating to watch people rush to buy the latest and greatest tech gadget the day it comes out knowing full well that it will have glitches and bugs, and will fall far short of versions 2.0 and 3.0 in terms of performance.
I talked with a geeky engineer friend of mine last night who had purchased his iPad last weekend and he gave it a less than glowing review of “it’s OK.” “Wait’ll the next rev,” he suggested.

But who am I to talk. I did the same thing last November when the Motorola Droid, running the Google Android OS on the Verizon network was introduced. I actually contacted Verizon in advance of the Droid launch to place my order. That ensured that my Droid arrived in the mail the first day the new smartphone was available. And guess what? It did have glitches and bugs, and it did fall short of my very high expectations.

Then on December 11 of last year the next rev of the Android OS automatically installed on my Droid and all of the problems I had experienced disappeared. Wait’ll the next rev, I thought to myself.

So I found it a bit ironic that on Tuesday of this week, just 4 days after the launch of the iPad, my Droid once again prompted me to download a new version of the “system software.” Was Google responding to the iPad launch with some vital fixes to the OS, or was it packing new features into it to maintain its lead over the iPhone? I wasn’t sure, but the timing of the operating system upgrade sure was interesting.

It is becoming clear that the future of mobile communications will be a battle in which both Google and Apple will be featured prominently. The iPhone came first, but the Google-driven Droid has proved to be a worthy opponent. And while the iPad hit the market first, there are several similar tablets in the works, including the WePad from Germany-based Neofonie, that will use the Android operating system and access the tens of thousands of apps available in Android Market.

A source no less than Gartner Group is predicting that the Android operating system will surge to 14% of the smartphone market by 2012, putting it ahead of the iPhone, Windows Mobile and the Blackberry; second only to the Symbian OS used in Nokia’s devices which are popular in Europe and many countries outside the US.

And why is Gartner so bullish on the Android OS? The Cloud. Gartner gives Android such an enormous surge in popularity because of a variety of factors, but chiefly because of Google's backing of Android and the range of cloud computing functions and related applications that Google will make available in coming years.

Smartphone applications live in the cloud. Therefore, the smartphone with an operating system designed for cloud computing is likely to perform better, and work more intuitively, than an OS that wasn’t built with the cloud in mind.

To quote Ken Dulaney from that Gartner Group report, “…because Android and Google operate in an integrative and open environment, [they] could easily top ... the singular Apple.”

Yes, Google and Apple will continue to slug it out in both the tablet and smartphone markets. Both companies will make great products and both will market the heck out of them. But the winner may be decided by which of them better understands how to work within a cloud-computing environment. So far, that appears to be Google.

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