If Android Is A Freight Train, iOS Is High-Speed Rail

On the eve of Tuesday’s Apple announcement, I wanted to dial the clock back a few years and make a simple yet powerful statement about the state of mobile platforms today.

Over three years ago, one of the world’s most eloquent investors penned what is, in my opinion, the finest essay on the root nature of the Android mobile operating system. If you have not yet read it, please do; if you have, it’s worth re-reading again. The key takeaway is that Android is defensive in nature, that it is not designed to capture the rents from the ecosystem it enables. The essay labels Android as a “freight train,” a traditional, big, lumbering locomotive that will pick up steam, grow in heft, and will be difficult to stop.

Now, three years later, on the eve of iPhone 6 and its corresponding iOS 8, we can revisit the freight train and see just how far apart the mobile operating systems are from each other. Put another way, if Android is a freight train, then the iPhone (and iOS) is a high-speed bullet train, powered by magnetic levitation, moving at rapid speeds and on a path to make up distance in a much-touted but ultimately useless metric (total market share).

Why is iPhone 6 with the latest iOS SDKs a high-speed bullet train? Consider the iPhone and iOS as a massive network effect which can enable the following: iBeacon rollouts; new APIs for CloudKit, HomeKit, HealthKit (via M7), and PhotoKit; reintroduction of NFC (for payments); your usual updates to Mac OS and iPad…oh…and a wristwatch computer that may shift the mobile computing and design conversation yet again.

For the past few years, we’ve heard people argue that “Android Is Better” and “Why Android Desperately Needs A Billion Dollar Success Story,” but the reality for startups (where the new products are built) is that “Android-First Is A Myth” and that developers would be most wise to build for “iOS First, And Android Much, Much Later.” And while many say that startups should build for “Android second,” maybe after iWatch (or basic wearable as 1st generation), it will shift to build for “Android third.”

This was yesterday’s reality. Tomorrow’s reality is that iOS 8 with the iPhone 6 and possibly a wrist-based computer with display will create a whole new set of experiences and computing paradigms for the best developers in the world to play with. For instance, rumors are flying around about how iWatch could act as a method for two-factor authorization for mobile payments. Who knows what will happen within iOS and all corresponding devices in this ecosystem? It will take years to figure out, but iOS has the exact right base of users to help Apple and the developers get through the initial stages, to improve the hardware and software, explore new behaviors through new streamlined APIs for a variety of environments and situations, and most importantly, to invent new mobile consumer experiences that couldn’t exist in any other technology ecosystem at scale…period.

Like an old SAT question, when two trains are traveling away from each other at different speeds, it’s always a critical test to try to calculate their distance apart — especially when one is a high-speed bullet and the other is a freight train.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus