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Breakdown: Android G1, iPhone share little in common

Software: G1 vs. the iPhone 3G

There are two aspects of software: the first party tools and foundation built by Google or Apple, and the third party software created by other developers. In terms of first party software, Apple is now at release 2.1 after having put out regular updates nearly once a month over the last year and a few months. Google will be delivering 1.0 next month, and has a spottier record of deploying software updates, with only two public releases of its SDK since announcing Android a year ago. Apple released its SDK after the Android announcement and put out a dozen updates since.

Android has demonstrated some unique features yet missing on the iPhone, including support for displaying Street Views within the Maps application and MMS picture messaging. The most obvious departure between the two in terms of software is that Android presents the same desktop PC interface found on Windows Mobile and Linux devices, while the iPhone was custom designed around a new mobile multitouch set of simplified human interface guidelines. Google's interface doesn't follow a standard set of guidelines, and Android Market doesn't yet police any restrictions on third parties the way Apple does, making the Market place more of a free-for-all from the onset.

The G1 and iPhone share a few components, such as similar open source foundations, including SQLite and WebKit. This means the two will benefit each other as shared technology contributions simmered together. The G1's browser, called Chrome Lite, really has more in common with the iPhone's mobile Safari and the WebKit browser pioneered by Nokia. Google's G1 browser therefore has the same rendering accuracy of the iPhone's Safari, although it lacks features like pinch to zoom, because neither the G1 nor Android support multitouch.

A major software difference between the G1 and iPhone relates to third party security. Apple has set up a secure software distribution system for third party developers that protects their interests through FairPlay DRM in exchange for cheap software titles for users with the implicit understanding that software from the iPhone App Store won't deliver spyware, adware, or other malicious payloads, and will follow Apple's guidelines for usability, quality, consistency, and performance. The same cannot yet be said for Google, which plans to deliver software without any certificate checks, quality assurance, nor any way to stop a virus outbreak once malicious coders discover that Android users are wide open targets for exploitation.

The other side of the same coin is that the iPhone's several million installed base is creating its own weather in software demand, resulting in tens of millions of revenue pouring upon third party iPhone developers each month. That's a huge incentive to develop new titles that stand out and to port over existing titles from other mobile platforms, where piracy prevents developers from making much in exchange for their work. While Google has future plans to deliver paid software, there is currently no installed base of Android users and no iPod surrogate to fuel confidence in the market for Google software. This risks leaving Android Market full of placeholder software that nags for paid upgrades; promising titles that lack getting the refinement and updates they need due to a lack of profit incentive; both malicious and just incompetent malware; and other problems Apple has worked diligently to address.

One last comparison between the G1's Android platform and the iPhone is that Apple's SDK is based up on Mac OS X's Cocoa and familiar to the installed base of Mac developers. Interest in the iPhone is now great enough to have shifted things to the point where iPhone development is spilling over into increased interest in the Mac platform. Android is often linked with Linux as a platform, but its use of the Linux kernel is as irrelevant as the iPhone and Mac's use of BSD. The real platform of Android software developers is Java, although Android phones can't directly run existing Java ME apps. Google's Android platform does allow mobile Java developers to port much of their code into the unique non-Java bytecode used by Android.

Again, Google isn't targeting Android toward the iPhone, but rather at mobile software markets represented by BlackBerry, Palm, Linux, Windows Mobile, and Symbian.

G1 vs iPhone

Service: G1 vs. the iPhone 3G

Apart from hardware and software differences, the G1 and iPhone also have significantly different services; while the iPhone integrates with iTunes for mobile apps, music, video, podcasts, cloud sync, and desktop integration, the G1 connects to Android Market for software, Amazon for music sales, and syncs data directly with Google. The G1 currently provides no desktop PC sync nor any Exchange Server sync support, but does offer Google's own cloud as an alternative service to push email, contacts, and calendar updates to the phone.

The Amazon MP3 store, like Apple's WiFi iTunes Store, is only download friendly over WiFi, not 3G, and does not support any video downloads or movie rentals. In terms of media support, the G1 handles the same codecs as the iPhone (MP3 and AAC audio; H.264 and MPEG4/H.263 video) although the G1 also supports playback of OGG, WMA, and Real audio (but not FairPlay-protected iTunes audio or video content, which Apple will not license to third parties).

The G1 provides no bundled general video player application nor video recording features; the only way to watch video is from YouTube. Third-party video players will be available from the Android Market.

A final difference related to service is that T-Mobile limits users to 1GB of data over 3G per month, at which point they may be choked off to 50Kps dialup or GPRS-level access speeds, according to the fine print on the carrier's web [this policy appears to have been taken back]. AT&T offers all the 3G you can find. With T-Mobile's limited 3G coverage, that might not affect most G1 users, who will be forced stick to WiFi as much as possible.

This is not the Android you were looking for

Overall, the G1 offers a debut that delivers more serious limitations than the iPhone did. It's SIM locked to T-Mobile, proving that pure ideology is no match for mobile provider demands. The company says it will unlock phones after three months of service, but the phone will only ever be usable on T-Mobile's network for 3G in the US; GSM and EDGE will work on other carriers worldwide.

Android Market promises a "more free" development environment, but the yawning debut of the G1 means that there won't be an Android installed base anywhere approaching the iPhone for well off into the future when better Android phones appear. By then, the iPhone market will have grown by additional leaps and bounds. Google is counting on a lack of restrictions to motivate developers to join its platform, but the real motivator in a Capitalist society is revenue, something that Google hasn't lined up yet in its store, and something the small number of G1 adopters won't be stoking on their own. Additionally, the security problems Google is simply hoping won't exist will undoubtedly come to haunt the platform.