Over the weekend, I opined that closed app stores — meaning app stores, like iTunes, that restrict users from loading software from other sources (known as sideloading) — would not survive in a market where comparable alternatives, such as Google's Android OS, exist in an open ecosystem.
In Apple's Q3 earnings call yesterday, Steve Jobs addressed the issue square on. In what many observers called a rant, he framed the issue not as open vs. closed, but as "integrated" vs. "fragmented." Among the points he made:
"Many Android OEMs install proprietary user-interfaces to differentiate themselves from the commodity Android experience. The user is left to figure it all out. Compare this with iPhone where every handset works the same.
We think the open vs. closed is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue, which is: What's best for the customer? Fragmented vs. integrated. We think Android is very very fragmented and becoming more fragmented by the day.
Open systems don't always win."
With the last statement, Jobs has set the stage for the next epic Internet battle to unfold. Surprisingly, he did it in a way that casts Apple as the bad guy. Because whatever the ultimate outcome may be, most people want to think that open will win.
The public is already taking sides:
To buttress his position, Jobs used Tweetdeck as an example: when Twitter client TweetDeck recently launched its Twitter client on Android, it had to contend with 100 different version of Android and 244 different handsets. "The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge," he said. "Many Android apps work only on selected Android handsets running selected Android versions, and this is for handsets that were shipped less than 12 months ago." Tweetdeck founder Ian Dodsworth tweeted his reply: "Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android? Errr nope, no we didn't. It wasn't."
While jobs may be right in saying that open doesn't always win (I won't rehash the reasons why I think app stores won't survive), he has now framed the argument in an emotionally charged way that can only hurt his cause. While only time will tell whether closed triumphs over open in the mobile ecosystem, in the battle for the hearts and minds of the public, Apple is already losing.
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