Is it Apple vs. Google or platforms vs. carriers? I think neither. I think it's carriers vs. us, the users and here's why.
We have been distracted by ridiculous arguments and fabricated “wars” for too long. We have been distracted by thinking that Google is Microsoft and Apple is Apple in a doomed fight already fought 20 years ago.
But that is not the fight we should be caring about at all. The fight we should be talking about, but aren’t, is the fight between mobile device makers and the carriers. This is the only real fight that matters.
Only not really, because aside from Apple it doesn't look like other platform makers or manufacturers are putting up much of a fight. Some are compliant, letting carriers dictate terms of the features and apps that can or can't be installed -- everything from indelible bloatware to locked down search engines to locked out side loads. Others are complicit, designing phones expressly to the specifications of carriers -- see Torch, BlackBerry.
Now TiPb has been covering these issues long before it was trendy, so if you want to groan and reach for your giant foam FANBOY hand, go right ahead. But if Apple had partnered with Verizon in 2007 would the original iPhone have had no Wi-Fi, a crippled GPS, and carrier-exclusive store (not to mention a big ugly logo on the face?) It might have. But Apple didn't go with Verizon. They didn't make that deal. They still haven't. They struck a deal with AT&T that ensured Apple control of the phone experience, and network knocks or not, a few embarrassing delays like MMS and tethering aside, the iPhone is exactly the phone Apple thinks their customers want.
During Steve Jobs' interview at the D8 conference he said companies often don't understand who their customers are. To make that sentiment fit this context, most platform makers and manufacturers think the carriers are their customers. Apple thinks the users are their customers (even if they think they know what we want better than we do) and that more than anything else explains the massive difference in end-user facing iPhone vs. other platforms.
There are carrier apps on some webOS devices and the original Pixi lacked Wi-Fi. RIM sees carriers as partners to such an extent they created the Storm. AT&T Android phones can't side load apps as shipped. Verizon is looking to supplant Android market with their own, curated carrier app store. Samsung's Galaxy S phones are littered with bloatware. Verizon's Galaxy S has Bing not as the default but as the only search option (sans hackery).
Are the carriers to blame for that? Friedman and MG Siegler from TechCrunch seem to think so:
My point is that the same “openness” that Android users are touting as a key selling point of the OS could very well end up being its weak point. If you don’t think Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are going to try to commandeer the OS in an attempt to return to their glory days where we were all slaves to their towers, you’re being naive.
And I'd agree -- if the platform makers and manufacturers were putting up a fight. But again, they're not. Motorola is busy locking down their firmware, not battling it out with Verizon (and it's Verizon, not Motorola, who licensed the Droid trademark from Lucas, lest we mistake who owns that line of devices). Google even canned their lone, shining light of rebellion -- the Nexus One and the carrier-free store that sold it.
It should be obvious by now carriers aren't abusing Android's openness, they're using it. Google wanted Android adopted quickly and broadly by manufacturers and carriers and they've gotten their wish. Had they wanted it to be truly in the best interests of users they would have set it up differently from the start, used a different license and built in some protection, told the carriers to slag off, and not only stuck with the Nexus One but made the Nexus Two, Three, and Four. At the very least they would have denied Google branding and apps to carriers that violated the spirit of their OS. At most they would have used the same single act of will Apple did to disintermediated the carriers. If anyone besides Apple could do it, it's Google.
Instead they've turned back the clock and eroded what Apple started in 2007. They've given the carriers a competitive platform the carriers can control.
It means if Apple vs. Google is the wrong fight, manufacturers vs. carriers is the wrong wrong fight. The true battle is carriers vs. users, because it looks like every manufacturer besides Apple is letting carriers dictate the phones. And, as customers, if there's anyone that's proven to be less user friendly than Apple, Google, or any other platform maker, it's the carriers.