Why do Americans overwhelmingly prefer iPhone when the rest of the world has overwhelmingly embraced Android?
The numbers tell an incredible story. Worldwide, Android has 75% market share in smartphones, versus 15% for Apple, according to IDC. But in the United States the iPhone still rules, accounting for 63% of smartphone sales at Verizon and an amazing 84% of smartphone sales at AT&T.
In Asia, affluent young buyers are dropping the iPhone and turning to Android devices, particularly those made by Samsung, Reuters reports. One marketing manager in Bangkok says Apple products have become like Louis Vuitton handbags, something that once was considered luxe but now is commonplace.
But here in the States Android still lags far behind, even though, to my mind, the top Android phones like the Google/LG Nexus 4 and Samsung Galaxy S3 (my primary smartphone) are at least as good as the iPhone.
Why do such a huge majority of Americans go out of their way to choose Apple?
Home Team Bias?
Part of it might be that Apple is an American company, and Americans like to root for the home team. Part of it also might be that Apple’s lawsuits against Android phone makers have been an effective form of marketing, creating the impression that Apple’s rivals are a bunch of Asian cloners - a message that resonates with many Americans.
But Apple and its cheerleaders in the States don’t just criticize Android phones; they also criticize Android users, depicting them as low-class people who are uneducated, poor, cheap and too lacking in “taste” (a favorite Apple fanboy word) to pay for an Apple product and instead willing to settle for a low-price knockoff.
See, for example, a recent story by Sam Biddle on Gizmodo called “Android Is Popular Because It’s Cheap, Not Because It’s Good,” illustrated with a photo of a homeless man sleeping next to a shopping cart and bags full of collected cans. Nice touch! (The article includes a breathtaking reference to African Americans having less money and therefore choosing Android, ironically citing as evidence a Samsung ad that depicts a well-to-do African American family using a $700 Galaxy Note 2 to take a family photo.) Apparently inspired by this article, John Biggs of TechCrunch picked up the “Android is cheap” meme and ran with it too.
This crap about Android being cheap has been around for years. It's true that there are inexpensive Android phones. But there are also inexpensive iPhones. And there are Android phones that cost more than an iPhone. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 costs $300 on Verizon with a two-year contract. The Galaxy S3 costs $200 with a contract. Apple’s top-end iPhone 5 starts at $200 with a contract, while the 4S costs only $100, and the iPhone 4 is free.
But while we're on this: What on earth is wrong with making phones for people who don't have much money? And is the implication that somehow those sales don't count? Or count less?
The other canard is that Android lags behind Apple technologically. This was true at one point. But it is simply not true anymore. At the very least the two platforms are on par. And I would argue that Apple now lags behind Android.
The Inconvenient Truth
First, look at software. As a leading mobile recently declared, Apple’s iOS operating system has fallen behind Android. So much so that last year Apple tossed out the guy who ran its iOS software division.
In hardware, Android quality varies depending on the make and model. Certainly you can buy a poorly made Android phone, but high-end phones like the Nexus 4 and Galaxy S3 have top-notch fit and finish.
Then there’s screen size. With Apple you get two sizes: tiny and not-quite-as-tiny-but-still-frustrating. Android phones have bigger displays. Sure it's a matter of personal preference, but to me the bigger screens are better. The rest of the world seems to think so too. Apple and its fans have touted the superiority of Apple Retina Display. (Except when the iPad Mini came out without the Retina Display, at which point the fanboys said they really didn't notice the difference.) But that's on tablets. On the phone, apparently, they still notice the difference, and the Retina Display is said to be a huge advantage for Apple.
But guess what? The iPhone's pixel density is 326 pixels per inch (PPI), which is actually less than some of the latest Android phones. Even the Samsung GS3 has 306 PPI, which should be indistinguishable from the 326 PPI on the iPhone, since as Steve Jobs once said there's a "magic number right around 300 pixels per inch" above which the human eye can't tell the difference. Apparently that "magic number" stopped working once Samsung hit 306 PPI. Or maybe it got bumped up to 326. At least that seems to be the case for Apple fanboys, who will tell you that even though Steve Jobs said the human eye can't see any difference above 300 PPI, they can still see it. By the way, why are we arguing about pixels? How about we call it even on resolution, and give Android the win when it comes to size.
As for number of apps available, Android has caught up with the former leader and now is on track to surpass Apple by the middle of this year. Anyway, that game of “total apps available” has become pointless. When it comes to the apps that most of us need and want, they’re all available on both platforms. Some developers now give Android more priority. Also keep in mind that in the past year even hardcore Apple fans have been replacing their built-in Apple apps with superior apps from Google, including Google Maps.
The Power Of Propaganda
Nevertheless, in America, a noisy chorus of pro-Apple bloggers keeps repeating the mantra about Android being cheap and crappy and second-rate, and people keep believing it and insisting that they must have an iPhone. American consumers have been told that those Android smartphones are hard to use, or complicated, or geeky, or unreliable, and, worst of all, on top of all that, they're made for poor people.
And that's where the rhetoric starts to border on something ugly. Look at what Apple fans were saying in April 2012 when Instagram became available on Android. Cult of Mac had a nice roundup which included sneering tweets about Walmart and “poor peasants” and “riff raff” and “poor people," but also included these:
* “It’s like when all the ghetto people started coming to the nice suburbs. Instagram was our nice lil suburb.”
* “Instagram just got a whole lotta ghetto.”
The italics are mine, and I've added them for a reason. Yes, it's the dreaded G word, and it comes up again in a Dec. 13, 2011 article by Glenn Derene, who wrote that “Android’s Cheap, Low Quality Apps Make It Feel Like A Technological Ghetto.”
Thank you, Apple fans, for bringing Karl Rove tactics to the world of tech.
Despite all this name-calling, Apple promoters still claim to have no idea why Android users resent them, or resent Apple. Confronted with the insults that they've been hurling at Android users, they effect a faux-naif posture of innocence and disingenuousness.
One example is a post that Apple fan Marco Arment just wrote lamenting what he sees as “Anti-Apple Anger,” and wondering “What is it about Apple and its success that makes people so angry?”
Yes, indeed, why are those Android ghetto riff-raff so ticked off?
See, I don’t think it’s Apple’s success that irks people.
I think it’s that Android users are sick of being called stupid, poor and lacking in taste by a handful of smug, condescending posers.
I think it’s that we don’t don’t like to see Android users depicted as homeless people sleeping on sidewalks.
I think it's that we don't like seeing Apple bloggers imply that Android's success doesn't really count because what -- poor people don't count?
I think it's because some of us understand what that ghetto coded language is about, and when you start tossing it around we really don't want to be in your club anymore.
The real question is how long can this lifejacket of bullshit continue to buoy Apple's business in the U.S. market? At some point won't the U.S. wake up and realize what the rest of the world already knows?
I tend to think that things revert to the mean. I tend to think that open beats closed, that choice beats lack of choice, that diversity beats homogeneity, that offering a range of models from low-cost to high-cost ends up being a winning strategy.
I also tend to think that Apple’s stalled earnings growth and stock price collapse based on three quarters of disappointing financial results are living proof, in numbers, that Eric Raymond's 1997 essay, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," was correct.
Of course if Apple comes out with a breakthrough TV its business will take off like a rocket again. Better yet, if Apple produces a TV we will be treated to the spectacle of seeing its chorus of fanbloggers becoming overnight experts on television technology and sharing their wisdom at great length on things like chamfers, bezels, aspect ratios, color saturation, contrast ratio and all the other aspects of industrial design that only incredibly sophisticated, Dieter Rams-loving aesthetes can truly appreciate. The display might have more pixels than other TVs, or it might not, but it will still look better than any other TV because the pixels themselves will be better pixels, made from magic pixel dust.
Most important, the Apple TV will cost more, and thus will be more desirable, and all other TVs will be cheap Asian clones made by Asians who speak Asian and copy Apple, and therefore those TVs will appeal only to homeless people and people who have no education and no taste or who can't afford an Apple TV because they collect welfare and live in the ghetto, if you know what I mean, nudge nudge wink wink.
The worst thing is, that kind of bullshit will work. Because it always works, especially in America. Which says more about us than it does about Apple.
Image courtesy of Reuters.