The biggest difference so far in Google’s Android business development strategy vs. Apple’s iPhone business development strategy is that Google has un-marketed to experimenters, developers, and companies, while Apple has spent heavily on image-based advertising to techies and early adopters, and taken advantage of brand extension from other Apple product categories. Android has a great spec sheet; but not much of an image.
The iPhone capitalized on the opportunity for iPod brand extension in Apple’s retail presentation and word-of-mouth. The iPhone is not a ‘better’ cell phone — the cellular service providers and handset vendors had commoditized the category, and smartphones were still struggling to be taken seriously; there is nothing that can be spectacular or distinguishing about a cell phone now, except maybe negatively — if too big and heavy, or its battery doesn’t last long enough. So the iPhone is instead a cool expansion on the iPod that includes cell phone capability.
One of Google’s biggest advantages with Android is its portfolio of partners that includes everyone from China Mobile and NTT DoCoMo to HTC and Motorola. It’s also one of Google’s biggest challenges. Even if one of these partners were to introduce an Android phone that one-upped the iPhone with cooler hardware, it would not be a complete product (in the classic marketing definition of Bill Davidow) like Apple’s iPhone.
Maybe Google’s best bet is to re-define the competition by having not one complete product (and image-anchored) Android that is better, but thousands of tiny, splintered, un-marketed, open-source ones.
If that’s the strategy, Google is going to have to be a lot more aggressive in pushing an open source strategy. Recent introductions like a limited Python, Lua, (soon Ruby) programming framework with Google’s Android Scripting Environment (see reality check blog post by Mike Riley at Motorola), or a Native Development Kit (some C/C++ programming and library access for focused performance re-coding of Java apps) on top of Google’s Android Java platform is effort in the right direction.
Google will know it has momentum when there are open source developer forums and wikis that are driving Google’s Android work, rather than the other way around.
Ok, ok, so maybe un-marketed doesn’t really mean there is no marketing strategy and tactics, but, like un-conferences, it does mean that everything happens with far greater leverage and focus, and in a fraction of the cycle time.
See also “How do you sell an Android phone?” on http://counternotions.com/2008/09/15/android/