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Friday, 06 October 2017 11:31

Game of phones: Apple seems likely to prevail over Google

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With the arrival of its new Pixel phone this week — along with a host of other devices — Google appears to have thrown down the gauntlet to Apple in what some say is a fight for the top spot in the mobile space.

But is such a conclusion justified? Is the decade of experience that Apple has in producing iPhone models, that have sold remarkably well, of no consequence? By contrast, Google's first Pixel phones did not exactly set the Thames on fire.

Features wise, Google has a lot of bling in its new models. But to a large extent, this is just yawn-inducing; what more does one want from a smartphone – a gadget that will do the weekend shopping? Something that will look after your aged parents when they are past their best years?

Look at any phone from Apple, Samsung or any other and the features are quite the same. But the background of the manufacturers provides some interesting differences.

Google's primary business is advertising. Highly targeted advertising that is built on the data it obtains by snooping on those who use its products, on any platform. And thus any new products are all geared towards this one purpose - to gather as much data as possible, be it through artificial intelligence or home speakers that can hear above the normal decibel count in a home.

Apple, by contrast, has morphed from a computer company, into a company that has one main product: the iPhone. It has been putting a lot of effort into making that device secure, and even a cynic like me has to admit that it is far ahead of every mobile maker in this regard.

game of phones

Android has a terrible security record, which is magnified by the fact that it has so many devices made by a multitude of manufacturers floating around. The security snafus that have been a millstone around its neck are so great that there are now indications that Google will prioritise updates only for Nexus and Pixel devices. The rest will have to take potluck.

With a mobile device that one wishes to sell around the world, one needs to build up some kind of consumer-oriented sales structure. Apple already has this. Once again, the Apple Store may not be the best when it comes to catering to its clientele, but it does a fair job. This, from one who has seen both the good and bad of the store.

Google, by sharp contrast, runs a mile when it has to take responsibility for anything. The most recent example came in the wake of the recent massacre in Las Vegas, when people spotted links from the 4chan forum at the head of Google News, with false claims about the name of the man responsible for the shootings.

Google's reaction? The company blamed its algorithms – as though they were some kind of separate entity which had no connection to the firm itself. Google would much rather answer customer plaints with an impersonal email – and sometimes not even bother with that. The human touch? What's that?

In terms of price, Google has also gone up the Apple avenue by putting as high a price on its phones as it thinks any particular market will bear. But in Apple's case, over the last 18 months or so, apart from the usual high prices, the company has been making a bid to entrench its presence in both China and India, the two biggest countries in terms of population.

Apple is far behind local manufacturers like Oppo, Vivo and Huawei in China. So it has gone to the extent of putting up with some of the more odious demands made by the Chinese government in order to cement a presence in Beijing. Google has no presence in China.

In India too, Apple has made nice with the government and set up a manufacturing unit. In Asia, the personal touch is still valued and Apple seems to be aware of this. Doubtless, it will have to look at cutting prices in these markets, given that nearly a third of India's population lives on less than US$1 a day.

In other words, Apple has a plan B to increase the iPhone userbase. Google? If it has a plan, then it has kept it secret.

Smartphone saturation is becoming evident in many other markets and people are getting increasingly locked in by the use of proprietary apps. Apple's iMessage is a good example. Google has a whole suite of proprietary apps on its phones, even though we often hear claims of Android and open source in the same breath.

Where does that leave us? It seems to me that no matter what Google throws at it, Apple is unlikely to be greatly affected.

I have no emotional horse in this race as the phone I use comes from neither of these entities. But from the standpoint of what has been cited, it seems logical to assume that the iPhone will not be jolted from its throne.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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