The Garden of Good and Evil

Apple had its quarterly earnings call today, and while looking through the news a thought hit. The financials are proof positive that the lawsuits against Android OEMs and partners can never stop. I'll admit that it sounds like I'm wearing a tinfoil hat, but if you read through the data you'll find one thing that can't be ignored -- Apple makes all of their money on mobile. Apple sells very few (relatively) laptops and desktops when compared to any of their competitors, sales of the iPod are waning, yet they keep making billions from the iPhone and iPad.

Don't be fooled by the images you see online, with rooms full of MacBooks. That's part of the tech bubble effect, and if you were to put 100 "real" people with a laptop in a room, 95 of them would be running Windows. Or 96 if you count Bootcamp. Apple surely enjoys a high profit margin on the OS X hardware they sell, but it's a niche product. That's unlikely to change in the near future. Apple's money and popularity comes from their mobile offerings -- even Steve thought so.

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Back to the original thought here -- Apple can't let its hold on the mobile market slip away. Android may have a higher smartphone market share and are slowly creeping up in the tablet arena, but sales of the iPhone and iPad keep growing as well each quarter. Apple has to keep it that way, and they see how easy it would be to lose their spot in the hearts and minds of the public.

Google, and to a lesser (but not to be ignored) extent Microsoft, is slowly gaining ground on the content side. In the U.S., you can get books, magazines, movies, TV shows, music and applications for your Android products right from Google Play. It's really easy, your purchases instantly sync across multiple devices, and things are competitively priced. The real difference between Google Play and iTunes is in the content -- Apple just has more. As this gap grows smaller and smaller (and it will, Google wants your money bad enough to spend their money), there will be a point where new users will look at device features and capabilities for the deciding factor. Long-time users of either platform are less likely to switch over, as your content doesn't follow you from iOS to Android (or vice versa), but new users who aren't invested have a choice. At one point, iTunes was Apple's cash cow -- the amount and quality of the content was what many users used to make their purchasing decision -- but that will change. Even Apple can't keep Hollywood studios and music labels from wanting those Googlebucks, and eventually other countries will cave and licenses will be negotiated. It may cost Google everything it has in its war chest, but it will happen.

When the content is equal, and users look at what the device they are going to spend $700 on, features and ease-of-use become the deciding factor. Folks on the Internet will argue mindlessly about lag or quibble over pixels, but the general public sees things like widgets and pop-up video players on big screens and they are impressed. Fanboy arguments aside, looking at a Galaxy S III beside an iPhone 4S, the iOS simplistic beauty is lost on many consumers. Lost to giant weather widgets and saturated 4.8-inch SAMOLED screens. The more features Apple can have stripped away from Android devices, the better the iPhone and iPad look -- and operate.

We hate (as in hate) the smartphone wars and software patent mess that goes on across the global courts. We would love to see innovators battle each other only with innovation, because we all win with awesome new features on both platforms. But that's just never going to happen. Apple can't let it happen, and when the "next big thing" comes along to take on Android (and it will) Google can't let it happen. Money makes the world go 'round.