While it's true that Android certainly would be nothing like it is today without the advent of the Apple iPhone, it's hard not to get a little twinge of angst when seeing fans of the iPhone writing off Android altogether and cursing its existence.
Steve Jobs' famous words of thermonuclear war intent towards Google's Android will echo for ages to come and incite rivalry between advocates of each mobile operating system that will ruin friendships and generate page views for the clever headline writers . And in and of itself that is neither good nor bad.
What bodes well to keep, however, is a pragmatic perspective towards how the companies in question, Apple and Google, are run.
Being publicly listed companies means more than just allowing members of the public to take ownership of them. It brings with it a new set of lenses that management must use to view the world. While it could be argued that corporate law doesn't specifically require companies to maximise shareholder wealth, it is fairly obvious from simply listening to a quarterly earnings call that everything Apple or Google does needs to be framed with a shareholder's perspective in mind.
Far be it from me to accuse the management of these companies of corporate greed, such a statement would be unwarranted, but the CEOs and high ranking management are remunerated based on financial performance of the company. It is rare to find a publicly traded company that incentivises it's key players based on customer satisfaction metrics.
Saying that, I personally don't hold to the ingrained western thought that more money breeds better performance. While that train of thought is not within the scope of this article, if you are interested in scientific studies that measure what effect monetary incentives have on cognitive performance you may be served well by checking out Dan Pink's work. His talk at TED is quite acclaimed and can be found below.
Regardless of your views on the actual efficacy or lack thereof when it comes to monetary rewards, the fact remains that people running these companies must make decisions that affect the devices and services millions of people will use, while under the shadow of "what will make the most money".
If I've lost you, let me give a quick hypothetical example.
Company X has a wonderful new feature it has developed in secret and it is ready to ship. They estimate they will have exclusivity of the feature for about 9 months until their competitors are able to introduce a similar competing feature. It is January. The most profitable time to release the feature into their range of devices would be two months before Christmas. As there is no competing feature in the market place, the company estimates they will lose no sales at all and are better served by waiting until October to release the feature. This will make their product the "must have" item during the high volume Christmas shopping period, and they would have extracted maximum revenue.
I'm sure your imagination can serve up plenty of examples of companies making decisions purely based on profitability, so I will leave the examples there.
All this is to say that I firmly believe Apple are far from immune from this behaviour. The only thing that will have any chance at keeping them in check and ensure they are delivering the latest and greatest to their customers is competition. Altruistic board members will not do it. Well intentioned development teams will not do it. More spending on R&D will not do it. An absolute onslaught of quality and sundry competing devices in the form of Android phones and tablets will do it.
Within the tech community it is well agreed that Apple have class leading products in three of the tech industry's most coveted sectors. Their iPhone, iPad mini and MacBooks are widely considered by industry observers as the best in class. Even by those who decide Apple's offering doesn't suit their specific needs, the high level of quality, finish, features, and overall usability is unquestioned. If you feel differently, have a look at GDGT's iPhone 5, MacBook Pro, and iPad mini scores
Putting aside Windows' dominance in the desktop computing space for the moment, while these devices are ahead of the game, there is only one competitor that is close to breathing down Apple's neck. Google's Android. Certainly in the mobile space in terms of sheer numbers of units shipped Android is more common than Apple's iOS devices (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad). But with everyone reporting different metrics, some reporting units shipped, others units sold, and even the definition of what constitutes a smartphone or a tablet being debated, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is profitability, a metric Apple holds a comfortable lead in.
So working within the premise that Apple is still delivering class leading products, it behooves the Apple advocate to question what exactly is driving Apple to innovate and stay at the level it is at. One of the iPhone's biggest and most successful direct competitors is the Samsung Galaxy SIII, an Android smartphone. It scored a 92 in GDGT's aggregated scoring system, vs iPhone 5's 96. Not far behind at all.
I'm not suggesting I want to switch to an Android device, I'm just suggesting that perhaps the reason the iPhone 5 is a 96, is because there are 92 devices out there trying to take it's lunch.
Hopefully the same will go for the desktop operating system Apple uses on it's Macs. While I don't particularly like the usability of Windows 8, the actual design and styling of it feels extremely fresh and modern compared to the Mac's OSX.
So while I won't be switching to Android any time soon and have nothing but high praises for my iPad mini, iPhone 5, MacBook Air and Apple TV, I am grateful that there are people out there wanting a piece of the Apple pie, pushing the envelope of ideas, innovation, design and thus indirectly pushing forward Apple itself.