Andrew grapples with Android in readers' Mailbag

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Andrew's Mailbag Are we all missing Anssi Vanjoki yet? I am, and he's still got six months to go before he leaves Nokia, after missing out on the top job. Speaking to the FT recently, Vanjoki compared to plight of manufacturers who adopt Google's Android to Finnish boys who "pee in their pants" to keep warm.

If you haven't heard that one before, you may have difficulty dislodging that metaphor it from your mind (don't they have Damart underwear over there - it's freezing). But Vanjokki was addressing a concern I raised here, via the Asymco blog - about profitability, and then elaborated upon here. That caused a bit of a stir.

In fact it got more ratings than any other story El Reg has ever published.

Far from arguing that Android would be a flop, I was challenging the idea that it would be sure-fire success, at the expense of Apple. The smartphone business is a product market, not a platform market, so making something that causes people to rush out to buy it (eg, a Razr) is a bit of a mystery to manufacturers. It certainly takes more effort than slapping a few widgets on the most fashionable OS of the day. Now here's the kicker. When every other manufacturer is doing exactly the same thing, with exactly the same platform, it becomes harder to make the kind of high value, high margin phone that means you can come back and try it all over again the following year.

This is the problem. It's what the PC business looks like - and we know nobody makes any money there. The only thing Dell and the others stick on a box is the badge. I think that's Vanjokki was saying too.

Over to you.

Read your article on The Register today with some interest. Watching Android vs Apple vs The Rest is one of the most interesting things in the computer world at the moment, apart from watching iPad vs The iPad Killed of course.

But I think you've overlooked something in your article. People bought into Blackberry, and people bought into iPhone. People (outside the nerd community) are not buying into Android. They are buying the latest and greatest, which happens to be Android (in many respects at the moment). That used to be Nokia phones, and it most certainly is the iPhone at the moment.

Android will win because it's prettiest in a market of buyers that care less about "the phone" than they do about the colours on the UI. Android as an OS is merely nerdy masturbation about how good an underlying OS may be, but at the end of the day, Tracey from Hull doesn't care about that, she merely cares about what is hip and cool, or at worst, how quickly she can make the desktop pink. iPhone makes her cool, pink makes her happy.

What Android won't ever do is sell to the wider market on its name (still unlicensed?) or the Google brand. People look at the Androidboys with that faint "i'm not actually listening to you but looking through you look" - people just don't care.

So yes, I fully agree with your speculation that Android is no better off than Symbian right now.

I do disagree with your later article about phones being packaged with a plan being successful.

Nokia were successful in the past (I used to be one of those people who would get the latest and greatest first) because they led the market from the front. The always had the best phones and had the features (remember the 7110 and WAP, and the 7650/3650 with a phone camera (you could pull in those days if your phone had a camera....)).

But Nokia lost it because they became complacent with their UI. The E61 is the only phone I have ever sold on the UI was so poor.

The iPhone kicked everyone into touch because here was a real UI on a mobile phone, with an app store that worked the way one should (you download and it goes on the device vs you download - you connect the phone - you work out which folder it should go in - you then open the phone - find that folder and file - run the install - and then work out where the app went again).

People bought iPhone because it worked so well. And that's what everyone is copying.

I make the prediction that even if Nokia gave away an ounce of gold for every smartphone sale, they will never regain the height they had in the 90s and early noughties. They will be consigned to selling crap handsets by the millions and that's about it.

If it comes down to raw numbers, I'm sure Android will win in the medium term, but it won't be because of the strength of the product but purely because people wandering into phone shops will buy the phone with the gaudiest UI colour scheme of them all. Much like Windows 7, where a 3 year old choose the colour scheme for the entire OS.

The other problem with Android and Google in general is that they are not leading. They are followers. And Google wants to be Apple hence the arrogance that they launched Nexus One with - they thought their name would sell it - and gee it must hurt to watch Apple pull off the same stunt so effortlessly. But Google are following now, they are the new Microsoft in every respect, we're just 15 years down the line and Google are the new Microsoft. Everything Google is doing from here on is copying others (dayam they are desperate to face down Facebook), and anything vaguely unique is just killed by a thousand mouse clicks because its so esoteric.


Justin Clements

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