opinion A funny thing has started happening to me over the past few months.
The story goes like this: I walk into a cafe and sit down for a coffee. It could be with a friend, or something related to my work — a meeting with a source or a client.
We exchange greetings and order. My standard is either a decaf latte — yes, essentially a warm milk — or a long black, depending on how hardcore I am trying to look. I’m quite partial to a blueberry muffin but I see it as excessive and so normally abstain.
We’re enjoying the cafe atmosphere — the background music, the morning light, the rustling of newspapers and the intense look on the faces of our fellow customers as they peer deep into their laptop screens as if they can divine the secrets of the universe there. And maybe they can — after all, Stephen Hawking is on Twitter.
And then, amidst all of this morning pleasantness and civilisation, my coffee mate turns to me like a bolt out of the blue and pulls a small, gleaming object that I only barely recognise out of their pocket. They hold it up like it was their precious newborn child, cradling it with a look of naked satisfaction, and say:
“Have you seen my new Android phone?”
They then proceed to show me — in great detail — the ways in which their Android phone is better than my iPhone. It has a better camera. It integrates better with Google services like GMail. It has Adobe Flash (hi, Steve!), the window shade feature for multiple alerts, background processes, you can more easily connect it to your PC without the iTunes nightmare, it’s open source, Google isn’t censoring its applications market and so on.
After about ten minutes of this, I say something like “that’s enough!” and change the topic of conversation.
Outside I am calm and controlled. But internally I am in full, lock-down panic mode. The reason is that this Android exhibitionism is the same behaviour I used to witness from people when pulling out their iPhone. It signifies that although I own an iPhone, a Wii, an Xbox 360, two high-specced PCs with multiple monitors and about a bajillion other tech gadgets, I could again be at risk of falling behind on the technology curve. And that is something I simply cannot tolerate.
The question that I and a number of other people are asking at the moment is: Is the tide starting to turn on Apple’s flagship iPhone in Australia? Is it time to dump the iPhone and join the other camp?
Over the past few months, all of Australia’s major carriers have put a strong focus on launching Android-based handsets that provide much of the same functionality as the iPhone — but with more choice.
Telstra has the HTC Desire (and the Australian buzz around it has been intense), Optus is focusing on Motorola and is rumoured to be bringing the HTC Legend Down Under, and it looks like virtually everyone has the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10. And this is just the start — apparently at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Android was all anyone was talking about.
There’s even been a blog set up — Android Australia — just to cover Android launches locally.
Of course, Apple has a stranglehold on the Australian mobile market and has had for some time. The expected launch over the next few months of the company’s next iPhone (hello, Gizmodo!) will only give it a stronger sales story. It has the hardware, the applications, the brand and the growing eco-system to keep the iPhone platform as the dominant smartphone player for some time.
But Apple’s problem with the iPhone at the moment is that there is not much it can really add to the device to make it more attractive to those who don’t have one. And this is exactly the opportunity which Android is slowly starting to capitalise on.
Google’s fledgling mobile platform is increasingly offering Australian telcos and customers most of the shiny things that the iPhone does — as well as everything Apple refuses to put into its tightly controlled handset.
Custom phone designs to suit every customer and manufacturer. Handset distribution through the traditional vendor/telco partnerships. A much more open platform that telcos can customise with their own branded services and users can customise to their heart’s content.
And yes, even “adult applications” for that time you want to get your sexy on in the back of the Cadillac.
These are all things that Australia’s mobile ecosystem wants from its smartphone manufacturers. And increasingly, it’s Apple’s rivals that are meeting this customer demand. Apple doesn’t meet customer demand that is already in existence. It meets customer demand that it creates itself.
If I was to sum up the growing feeling amongst Australian early technology adopters at the moment, I would say it’s probably the same feeling they had back in 1985 when it became apparent that Apple was going to launch its long-term technique of tying its hardware, software (and now, internet platforms) together into one unbreakable package that creates a great overall solution … but has a bunch of niggling problems due to Steve Jobs’ personal foibles.
In short: Sure, Windows is not as good a solution as an Apple operating system. But you can run anything you like on it, and it runs on anything you like. Just like Android.
The question is — will Australia’s early Android enthusiasm translate into the mainstream? And what shine will it take off the iPhone if it does?