Ask Jerry: Why doesn't Apple sell iOS to other companies?

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Welcome to Ask Jerry, where we talk about any and all the questions you might have about the smart things in your life. I'm Jerry, and I have spent the better part of my life working with tech. I have a background in engineering and R&D and have been covering Android and Google for the past 15 years.

Ask Jerry

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Ask Jerry is a column where we answer your burning Android/tech questions with the help of long-time Android Central editor Jerry Hildenbrand.

I'm also really good at researching data about everything — that's a big part of our job here at Android Central — and I love to help people (another big part of our job!). If you have questions about your tech, I'd love to talk about them. 

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Why isn't Apple selling iOS?

OnePlus 12 vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Ed writes:

Google's Android operating system operates on many different platforms and brands of phones, so why don’t any brands use iOS or request to use it?

Ed asks a question here that I often think about — what if Apple licensed out its phone and tablet OS the way Google does, or Microsoft does for desktops and laptops? More importantly, has it ever been considered, and if not, why not?

I mean a lot of people would love it. Imagine the best phones out there, something like a Galaxy Fold, running iOS. You get the great and innovative physical hardware combined with the software many of us love to use. Or the fun form factor of a Galaxy Flip or Moto Razr. I'll bet a lot of people would buy it and even more people would want to buy it.

I'm quickly bounced back to reality when I remember one thing — Apple has no incentive to do this. Money may or may not be the root of all evil, but it is the root of every decision any tech company makes.

Cold hard cash

A Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 with US dollars

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

The iPhone is Apple's prime source of revenue. Without it, Apple couldn't afford to do the things it wants to do with other products like the iPad or MacBook. Without iPhone sales, Apple would look very different from what we see today.

Historically, Windows and Office are Microsoft's prime revenue streams. These two products have given Microsoft the cash to build a great cloud computing platform and build its Surface laptops. There is even enough money left over for"throw-away" products like phones running Android in case the idea takes off.

Android is not Google's biggest source of revenue. Android is a vehicle for monetization. Using software to ferry people into a system where each generates income isn't a new idea nor is Google the only company doing it, but Android is probably the most successful at it so far.

Microsoft Surface Duo partially open

(Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Each of these things is pretty different from the other but they help explain why Apple keeps iOS for itself. Apple depends on selling iPhones and there is too much competition for it to reinvent itself.

I'll Use Microsoft as an example again. The company came in at the right time with software that was so much better than anything else out there and everyone bought it. By today's standards, early versions of Windows and Office were terrible to use. But the computing age was new and Microsoft got in on the ground floor, amassing a fortune. It has leveraged this fortune to build other products that make money now that Windows and Office aren't the revenue stream of the future.

Google doesn't place as much importance on Android as a product because it just wants everyone to use the internet. Eyeballs on the web and web services are how Google makes money, regardless of the platform being used. 

Android is a way to make computing more affordable because Google saw the importance of emerging markets like India and South America when they were "emerging". I remember speaking with some Google execs over 10 years ago and the most important thing was India's share of the world technology market. It was important that everyone in India who wanted a way to use the internet could afford to use the internet.

They were right, and as places like India turned into millions and millions of eyeballs on the web and Google's services, Google made a lot of money.

iPhone 13 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Apple, on the other hand, depends on people to purchase its hardware. To Apple, iOS is important because it is a way to sell iPhones, not the other way around. Apple has done a lot to maximize profits on the back of the iPhone and tailoring iOS for what it thinks is the best iPhone experience is one of the most important.

Apple could sell iOS to companies like Samsung or Xiaomi. I think both companies would be interested and buy it. But doing that would dilute and pollute the experience and prestige of owning the company's most important product: the iPhone.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • davinp
    I don't like how Apple likes to restrict everything in a "garden wall" Microsoft & Google license their operating systems, but does not. As a result, you don't have choices of devices to choose from like you do with Android. Also, I don't like that they don't make their apps cross-platform as Google and Microsoft do, limiting to just iOS.
    We should have a choice of what device to use the app and not be forced to use Apple's hardware.
    Apple wants to control both the hardware and software.
    This is why Apple's devices unfairly dominate the market and they are able to get away with high prices
    One word: Control
  • scgf
    I remember when Apple licensed Mac software to other hardware companies so they could make and sell their own Macs. What happened was they were sold at much less than Apple Macs and so cannibalised Apple's own hardware. Who would pay Apple prices when you could be running the same platform for much less. The same would happen with iOS. Often when people compare iOS and Android they are comparing apples and pears (lol) - a cheap Android device against an expensive Apple device. Put iOS on the cheap hardware and it's going to be a very different experience.
  • SnowyRVulpix
    Apple having full control of both software and hardware leads to the iOS experience being better.

    I have tried a few different Android phones, and got different experiences with them all... The best experience I have had with Android was from my Google Pixel 8 Pro... Google, who makes Android.

    That said, I just roll my eyes at anyone that complains about Apple's walled garden... You have choices... Vote with your wallet. I highly recommend the Google Pixel as an alternative to the iPhone... Heck, I'm on the verge of saying I like my Pixel better than I liked my iPhone.

    I do not recommend Samsung's foldables... The technology is just not there yet, and my Flip 3 was an exercise in frustration. A friend told me his Fold 5 is annoying to use, and has a lot of problems when moving between folded and unfolded.