Apple’s Next Announcement: Android Compatibility?

It seems as though the Apple announcement about the availability of Beatles music via iTunes was not such an earth-shaker. Fred Wilson’s tweet was the best riposte that I have seen so far (“I’ve had the Beatles on iTunes since I bought all of their CDs and ripped them back in 2001 #muchadoaboutnothing” tweets Fred).

But here is an announcement that really would surprise the digerati: Just suppose, Apple decides to offer the iTunes app store via Android?

I guess most experts would dismiss this out of hand. Is it not the point of iTunes and the app store that it gives users and potential purchasers a compelling reason to purchase Apple hardware not the devices that come from other manufacturers? Surely Steve Jobs would never want to do this? Wouldn’t putting iTunes on Android be a way of endorsing the competing Android standard? Surely Google would never allow that?

But before we dismiss the idea, give it some consideration:

  1. The prospect that Google might ban an iOS4 emulation environment for Android would surely, in and of itself, be enough to encourage Apple to produce one. Google would lose its moral high-ground if it pulled such a trick.
  2. Apple would surely sue anyone who built a ‘clean room’ iOS4 environment for Android, but that doesn’t mean that Apple could not choose to do that directly. Apple has a choice as to how to play this issue of ‘standards’ and ‘fragmentation. It would be sweetly ironic if Apple brought the Apple standards of e-commerce and app regulation to the small Apple-blessed part of the Android spectrum, letting the rest of the Android world hang on to the devils and dangers of unregulated experimentation.
  3. Apple may not want to appear to endorse Android at this stage, but as Android approaches a degree of maturity Apple will be more interested in ‘managing’, ‘stabilising’ and ‘participating’ in the evolution of standards and expectations that are being set by the non-Apple universe. Apple could exert considerable influence in this way if there is a large library of iOS-compatible apps running through Android.
  4. Apple is capable of using the ’embrace to extend’ strategy beloved of Bill Gates. Remember how many observers (including many music publishers) were surprised when iTunes for Windows appeared in 2003 and the way in which this step re-inforced Apple’s position as the primary avenue for digital music sales.
  5. When Apple’s music and media goes to the cloud, then there will be little reason for Apple not to offer its music service through the Android eco-system. If the music and the media properties are positioned as cross-platform, why not make the same choice for the apps environment.
  6. Android manufacturers and designers would love to inherit the wealth of apps available for iOS4. There would be a bargain to be struck if Apple were willing to license its environment to particular manufacturers or network operators. Bargains being struck means that Apple gains leverage and position.
  7. Apple will gain additional software revenues through its 30% tariff on any app sales through the Android environment. Concurrently providing a direct Android solution for its committed developers would be a way of keeping the lead that Apple already has in the developer community. It might postpone the time when Apple’s developers give equal or greater weight to the Android platform. As the market for apps matures, the percentage of Apple’s profits that is coming from e-commerce will increase and the attractiveness of revenues from an Android-compatible market will increase.
  8. It is unlikely that any Android device manufacturer could produce a device that completely matches the specification of the iPhone, still less the iPad, in every particular. Some apps will not travel outside iOS4. The Ocarina app for example might not seamlessly translate to the best Android phone solutions, what with the differences in microphone positioning and function. But Apple will like that, complete inter-operation across the board, might be too much of a threat.
  9. Apple could decide to run an iOS emulation environment across the Android phone environment, so iPhone apps cross over and iPad apps do not. Keeping iPad apps restricted to the iPad hardware whilst the iPhone apps are allowed out. Again, Apple has choices and can play this game of extension and standardisation in ways that suit Apple and its customers and developers. Google’s ‘hands off’ position on Android begins to look a bit more like a ‘hands tied’ stance.
  10. That Apple have not done this so far, is absolutely no guarantee that they might not be inclined to do it in the future.

There may be some element of the Android and iOS4 licensing that means that such a direct app cross compatibility cannot happen, (if so I am not sure what this road block could be). But if it is a possible development, then I am sure that Apple and Google will have done a bit of ‘what-iffing’ to consider the potential outcomes from such a move.

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