Android and iOS: Neck and Neck With Plenty of Road Ahead

The battle between Apple and Google in the smartphone market heated up further Monday with the introduction of the iPhone 4 and new information about iOS 4, the next-generation operating system for iPhones, iPod touches and iPads.

In the other corner of the ring stands Android, and it’s fired up as well. Sprint said its HTC Evo smartphone, which was launched Friday, broke one-day sales records for the company. In addition, Android version 2.2, also known as “Froyo,” looks to bring further improvements to the Android ecosystem.

Two of a Kind?

“Android 2.2 and iOS are comparable but different,” Carl Howe, director of anywhere consumer research at the Yankee Group, told LinuxInsider.

For starters, both can trace their lineage to Unix-like systems. Both offer tethering and multitasking. Both OSes have a folder feature. Both offer in-app ads — iOS through Apple’s iAds and Froyo through Google Mobile Ads. Google’s got Adsense for mobile ads as well.

Both OSes support apps tailored for them, available largely through a centralized application storefront.

On the other hand, each has features the other does not.

Apple supports HTML5 and the H.264 standard, while Froyo supports Flash, although HTML5 support may be offered as well in forthcoming versions of Android. Froyo has a WiFi hotspot feature, while iOS does not. While iOS 4 supports video chat through the FaceTime feature, Android does not, and users will need to get add-in apps if they want video chat.

Who’s Zooming Ahead?

Right now, Apple has a larger share of the overall smartphone market than Android does. The iPhone had 28 percent of the smartphone market in the first quarter of 2010, while Android devices had 9 percent. BlackBerry led with 35 percent, according to Nielsen.

However, both the iPhone and Android gained 2 percent of market share each (year over year) for that quarter, while BlackBerry lost 2 percent.

Things are going to get interesting over the next year.

“Android will grow pretty quickly,” the Yankee Group’s Howe said. His projections peg iPhone sales at 40 million units worldwide this year and 50 million in 2011. Meanwhile, Android sales will nearly double, from 13.8 million this year to 25 million in 2011.

“Android will show faster growth, but remember that it has a much smaller base,” Howe pointed out.

We Have No Time to Stop and Stare

Time to market is critical in the highly competitive smartphone arena. Apple refreshes its iPhone OS once a year, while Google has been pushing out new versions of Android at a frantic pace.

“Google has a faster refresh cycle,” the Yankee Group’s Howe said. “The handset makers can’t keep up with Google,” he added.

That has perhaps exacerbated the fragmentation of the Android market, and Andy Rubin, who leads Google’s Android efforts, recently told Gizmodo it’s difficult for developers to keep up. He’s looking to slow down the product cycle from twice yearly to once a year. However, Rubin predicted that the next six months will blow users’ minds, although he declined to elaborate.

Still, Apple may retain its lead because it controls everything about its own ecosystem.

“Apple develops the hardware and software in tandem, while Google tends to build for a wider variety of hardware, and so it has to lead the market a little,” the Yankee Group’s Howe said. “That’s why Apple is growing faster, because it can say it won’t support a particular line of hardware any more.”

Slouching to the Hardware’s Limits

Although the software is becoming increasingly feature-rich, it’s a long way from hitting the limits of the hardware yet.

“With the processing capability that’s out there, especially with parallel processing and multiprocessing, hardware development is on pace with the software,” Francis Sideco, a principal analyst at iSuppli, told LinuxInsider. “If anything, the battery life is the known deficiency in these platforms.”

Who’s Gonna Win the Brass Ring?

It’s hard to say whether the iOS or Android will win out — whether one will reach so far ahead of the other that they’re barely considered in the same category anymore.

“When it comes to smartphones in general and their operating systems, success really has to do with how well-developed their ecosystems are,” Sideco pointed out.

“There may not be a direct one-to-one comparison between the iPhone OS and Android because there will be just the one iPhone, while Android devices will range from high-end smartphones to low-end devices,” he said.

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