October 19, 2010 at 5:09 pm

What Steve Jobs’ Smartphone Attack Means for Music Apps

Phandroid for GoogleAndroid

Phandroid published what could be the grainiest image of a leaked phone ever on Tuesday, of what it claims is the next version of the Android operating system, called Gingerbread.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs dismissed competing smartphone platforms during an Apple earnings call yesterday, claiming that Blackberry is too far behind to catch up to Apple’s iOS and that Google Android platform will doom Android to a perennial second place.

You know, sort of like Apple in the desktop and laptop market.

But smartphones, while computer-like, are not computers. They’re usually locked to a single service provider, their designs vary to a greater extent, and in the case of Apple iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), they only run software from a single store (jailbreaking excepted).

Apple’s centralized control over its app ecosystem gives it an edge over Android apps, Jobs claimed to an audience of analysts, investors and reporters on Monday, because the Android app ecosystem was designed to fragment into multiple app stores, hundreds of hardware designs, and operating system variations.

Google sees this “open” approach as an eventual advantage, but Jobs just doesn’t see the point. To him, all that variety will only confuse users and confound developers.

Jobs’ first target on Monday was Research In Motion’s Blackberry, primarily for its paltry app selection. More than one music app developer has said that they enjoy developing for the Blackberry platform because they get more attention there than in the sea of iTunes apps. And RIM sold nearly as many Blackberrys as Apple did iPhones last quarter, too, but that was also the first quarter in which the iPhone outsold the Blackberry.

These trends support Jobs’ assertion that iOS will continue to dominate Blackberry in the app department for the foreseeable future, and considering the cultural difference between the Blackberry (business) and the iPhone (entertainment, business), this will especially hold true in the case music apps. Blackberry users have several solid listening options including 7digital, Clear Channel, Pandora, Slacker and ThumbPlay, but for music fans with more wide-ranging music “app-etites” (sorry), the iPhone will likely continue to be the better option of the two, just as Jobs suggests.

Phandroid says this grainy photo depicts the next version of the Android operating system, called Gingerbread.

It’s no big revelation that Steve Jobs would claim Blackberry is unlikely to become the dominant app platform, although some app-makers will likely continue doing well there. The real boast issued by Steve Jobs yesterday in the battle to control the music app ecosystem was issued against Android.

Apple still has over three times as many mobile apps as Android, an approximate 300K to 90K advantage, but Android’s design similarities to the iPhone and support for multiple carriers and hardware manufacturers has helped it gain ground.

Steve Jobs compared Google to Microsoft, which allowed any licensed hardware manufacturer to include Windows but failed to succeed with the same strategy in the digital music market. His main attack against Android centered around the fragmentation of its app ecosystem. As many as four Android stores are expected to launch in the coming months including three from competing wireless carriers, plus “244 different handsets.” Some versions of Android OS won’t run apps that run perfectly well on other versions.

Meanwhile, Apple sells two versions of iOS.

Google engineering vice president Andy Rubin defended to Jobs’ depiction of Android’s “openness” as “fragmentation” via Twitter, posting the entirety of code required to create a copy of the Android operating system on Linux computer — all 111 characters of it:

“the definition of open: ‘mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git://android.git.kernel.org/platform/manifest.git ; repo sync ; make’”

Google is betting that this open approach combined with Android’s embrace of multiple manufacturers and stores will help it catch up to, and eventually eclipse, Apple — the same way Windows continues to dominate the US desktop market (Apple’s share recently reached 9.3 percent.)

Screenshot of the next TweetDeck app for Android courtesy of TweetDeck.

Here’s where things get tricky for Jobs: His “244 different handsets” came from an observation by TweetDeck (which he mistakenly called “TwitterDeck” on the call) about the range of smartphone designs their Twitter client had to support. Jobs maintained that it’s hard for Android developers to support all those smartphones. Just one problem:

“Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android?” responded TweetDeck CEO Iain Dodsworth, as noted by Electronista. “Errr nope, no we didn’t. It wasn’t.”

Twitter was specifically designed to be simple enough that regular cellphones can support it — thus the 140-character limit — so it’s no surprise that TweetDeck can be easily deployed across all of these Android phones. However, Jobs may have been right on the money about the more complicated, interesting, and powerful apps that will dictate how we interact with music in the future.

The developers of simple niche apps will continue to prefer iOS if it continues to be the platform for which most apps are sold, and advanced apps tend to have more complicated requirements than TweetDeck’s. You could call Android “open,” the way Google does, or “fragmented” the way Steve Jobs does — either way, it could be tougher for developers to make advanced music apps for Android than for Apple’s more consistent iOS.

Don’t forget, Apple itself initially failed to include “cut and paste” in iOS — and that was for text. Other smartphones, like the Windows 7 phone, still can’t even manage that. Imagine if these mobile operating systems were trying to cut and paste sound files and patches, or pass along song identification information from one app to another without an internet connection.

Considering those challenges, Steve Jobs’  vision of a simplified, app-driven future, which was at least partially formed before he launched Apple’s fully-integrated app ecosystem, could lead to an iOS that’s more robust for music apps than the competition’s — regardless of what he may have gotten wrong elsewhere in yesterday’s his earnings call.

As just one of countless potential examples, let’s take Moog’s impressive Filtatron app, released this week, initially for the Apple iOS only as so many other apps are. I asked Moog whether it plans on releasing an Android version later, and if so, whether it anticipates any technical challenges. I have yet to hear back, but regardless, Moog’s Filatron is iOS-only as of its launch, and it looks like quite a powerful — if niche — music app on initial inspection.

Perhaps Jobs is wrong about all of this, despite his company having invented the mobile app market the way we know it now (before the iPhone, mobile apps were a joke — talk about a closed ecosystem). If he’s right, the developers of the most forward-thinking apps, who currently develop for iOS first and everything else later (if at all) will continue to do so.

Apple’s CEO rarely participates in its earnings calls, but when he does, watch out — those are fighting words. Whether they come from a truly unassailable position of strength, or from a fear that the more widely-supported Android could grow as dominant on the smartphone as Windows did on the desktop remains to be seen.

[polldaddy poll=3952016]

Top image: Flickr/Ben Stanfield; second image: Phandroid; third image: TweetDeck