iPhone, Android, carriers, and the wrong wrong fight

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.

John Gruber from Daring Fireball links to this article from Elia Freedman's Elia Insider:

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.

That's disappointing.

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.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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iPhone, Android, carriers, and the wrong wrong fight

44 Comments

Right on. I agree that it's a crying shame that the Nexus One model failed to do what we hoped it would.

It seems to me that the choice between apple and android tends to be "which carrier do you want?" Now that's a battle we should be fighting. Every carrier sucks. But we should at least get to choose.

I completely agree. But I feel like this the result of having subsidized hardware. (Excluding Apple) I think that it's crazy that Verizon and other carriers are replacing core features that come with Android to push their own. (i.e. Search, Google Maps, Side-loading apps) It's just crazy to me that the Nexus one is the only phone that you can get stock Android on to get all goodies of Android.

Rene,
I don't understand. You make it sound as if Apple isn't compliant with the carriers. R u kidding me? Aside the logo issue with Verizon, Apple as been extremely compliant.
Here are some examples (if you don't believe me):
1) WiFi vs 3G. Until at&t gave their blessing, allowing apps like Slingplayer, Akype, etc to use 3G, the app store (aka Apple), did not alow these apps to be released with 3G enabled.
2) Tethering - Even though it was always possible to tether (ala Jailbreak apps), Apple never allowed it because it would piss off at&t
3) selling unlocked phones in the USA. Gee, apple sells unlocked phones in other countries, but at&t said NO!, therefore NO!
So please, Apple is jsut like every other manufacturer, they r in bed with the carriers.
Apple is little better than other hardware manufacturers.
Sorry,
The truth hurts.

Rene I dont understand why you even bother with these editorials. A Verizon iPhone would have been a huge success. And you make it sound as though Apple turned Verizon down. Thats clearly not the case. Next Verizon added a section to the android market that contains apps that Verizon thinks are useful (ex. Skype, Barcode scanner) along with their v-cast apps, but they don't require you to download any of that and if the user doesn't click on the Verizon tap they'll never even see what Verizon has to offer.
Sure the carriers always add useless less functional crapware to their phone but the iPhone is no exception. Have you heard of At&t Nav in the app store?
And i cant believe you even touched on the point of Motorola locking down their phones.
You are ridiculously bias and you should really stop attacking Android on an iPhone blog. You make the rest of us iPhone supporters look bad. You never see precentral, or android central blatantly attack ever other platform and it really makes the stereotype about iPhone users having huge egos more realistic.
I have both a droid x and a iPhone 3gs and both of them are equally customer friendly. And if someone complains as much as you do about bloatware, with android you can simple remove whatever you don't want on your phone by means of third party apps or by rooting.
I dont use stocks, compass, voice memos, the itunes app, or gamecenter (yet) and they cant be removed in anyway with a stock iPhone. So the iPhone has its share of bloatware too.

Good post. Almost makes up for the Ninja stars goober. Indeed, the manufacturers pale in comparison to the evil carriers. That said, and even with the iPhone exclusivity, AT&T has been good for me.

Mike, your an idiot! I don't like AT&T anymore than the next guy. But, if they had allowed the apps like slingplayer or the use of tethering it would have collapsed their entire network. The iPhone had and continues to have unprecedented sales figures. AT&T is trying hard to keep up, but no carrier could have handled this kind of load without the delays and restrictions. I think Verizon has the best network and coverage, but the dumbest asses in the world running the company. The greedy bastards don't want anything bein used on their network that they can't control and especially charge for. It's simply not enough for Big Red to get our money for calling, data and text. The feel the need to find a way to charge for GPS and anything else.
Rene, your dead on! It is and always has been the carriers vs. the users. Thanks for having the guts to put it out there.

Great post Rene. I really did like the direction Google was taking with the N1 and was sad to see it canned. Apple is the only one here with the balls to keep any outside(carrier) influences out of their vision for their phone. It's clear noone else cares about the end users. If they did, putting Bing as the default on the Fascinate would have been ludicrous.

The carriers are definitely an issue that will end up needing to be reigned in at some point but it won't be by the manufacturers. It will be by consumers and possibly by government intervention on the behalf of those consumers filing enough complaints against the carriers. As Mike pointed out, Apple is just as guilty of bowing to the carriers as any other manufacture. Maybe AT&T limited some of what they could do because of their poor network but the fact they stuck exclusive to AT&T while that was happening is telling of just how much control carriers have even over Apple.

good post almost everything said is true. Their are only two android phones that you can get the way google intended the n1 and droid1. Im thinking about getting an iphone 4 just because I don't want a cartier in my phone. I was amazed when vzw switched me too a d2 in how much bloat this thing comes with, from skype mobile that is all but useless to backup assist that eats up ram and does the same thing as one of androids core frictions. I'll give them until the end of the year if this continues I'm gone

@Allex,
Did you read what I wrote? Apple does kiss at&t's tushie. Yes, Apple has a vision. Apple does stick to that vision. But to say that Apple is not influenced by at&t is rediculous.
It was at&t that put the kabash on Skype going 3G way back when. at&t didn't want their customers using data (where it was unlimited) for free to call friends and family...
and it was at&t that didn't want Slingplayer to crush their fragile network (which it was and still is in NYC) by being a bandwidth hog.
There there is the 10 meg (now 20 meg) limit to downloads (podcasts, apps, etc). Apple wouldn't care. That is all at&t.
I firmly believe that many of the more visiable rejections were at&t instigated. Not all, we know that Apple can be heavy-handed, but at&t was part of the problem.
So please, Apple is no angel here.

@Scooby,
If you cannot keep personalities out of it, then please don't post.
If u disagree with me, that is fine. We can agree to disagree. No need to get poersonal.

That's something many have saying recently. And more marketshare will only make the carriers clamp down harder. Be careful what you wish for android fans. I prefer apple as a high profit niche player catering to the end users.

Scooby,
If as u say, at&t has issues with their network, whcih I can agree with (coming from NYC), then they should never have allowed UNLIMITED data. They should not have imposed restrictions on Apple, they should say, ok, u wnt to watch TV on your iPhone, PAYUP!! Like now, it'll cost u per GB after a 2GB cap. Maybe back int he day, they could have said, 1 GB ot less, if their network was so bad. No need to tie the handles of Apple. Or for Apple to LET at&t tie their hands. Apple should have said to at&t, hey, if you can't handle the bandwidth, YOU limit it, leave us out of it.
But Apple bent over backwards to appease at&t.
Sorry, dem the facts..... Like it or not.

I think what we're all missing with Apple is that we don't completely know what concessions Apple was able to get from AT&T, and that these were just the beginning. Now, with Android, what motivation do carriers have to be more consumer friendly? Instead of seeing the iPhone as the cash cow, they campaign hard against it for it's shortcomings - and rightly so, milk their crippled Android platform phones - built upon the reputation of previous, good android phones - and know that they won't have to spend on their network as much as they might with iPhone. And with the Verizon app store, they are trying to undo what has long been the staple of the Android platform, locking the consumer to one carrier. Also, they know that it's not Apples style to go after Android, because when you're on top, you don't go after number 2. On AT&T side, they won't go after other carriers, pointing out their flawed Android phones like Verzion does with the iPhone, because they do it with their Android phones too. Our only hope as comsumers is that Google start their own carrier company or Apple does.

@Mike
Apple cares about the user experience, and anything that improves the user experience. They want us to have those features you talk about, but not at the cost of a poor experience.
Apple wouldn't care? They do care, and that is why they comply with AT&T's network limitations. I'm not praising AT&T, and do wish they had a stronger network, but they don't, so we need to just deal with it until Apple switches to another carrier. Allowing things like tethering, downloading of apps over 20MB, Facetime over 3G, etc. would kill the AT&T network, and in return kill the user experience. Apple isn't just going to give those features because they can, but they will give them when they know that their users will be able to enjoy those features without a bad experience. These features won't come until AT&T gives the go-ahead because they are the one's who know their network best, and can tell when best to implement these features.
Good article. I completely agree that people are fighting about the wrong things. I truly hope in the short term we'll see some serious changes with the current carries. Once the iPhone heads to a different carrier in the U.S. I'm hoping we'll see some price drops and competition in data plans.

@iwebberryetc. Rene actually uses an Android device (N1), so pleez lay off the attacks. Great article, and right on.

@Josh
"They do care, and that is why they comply with AT&T’s network limitations."
Then why are they still EXCLUSIVE to AT&T? That contract agreement they had with the original iPhone has to have ended by now. There are 3 other major carriers and they still don't have devices on any of those networks. Plus there are all the local carriers that Apple could easily push around if they wanted to have them bent to their requirements. But they haven't done any of that. They are still on AT&T only and they are still being strongly influanced by AT&T's interests.

All that matters here is that Apple is on the right path and the Android OS is just going to end up as another Windows Mobile mess.
Perhaps Apple will leapfrog the carriers altogether pretty soon...

This post isn't trying to knock on iphone or android.. This is letting us know that carriers are trying to change phones that could be great but instead mess it up.. Like for example the new samsung fascinate for vzw.. They switched the search to bing instead of trying to give an option.. And then now vzw is trying to replace the android market to their own market app store.. Which I think is horrible.. Just cause its of highquality doesn't mean its going to be great cause we all know most of the fun games are games that was just fun and not fancy.. So if they start changing what is suppose to be a great phone and put their own stuff and not let us have what we want then they will lose my business

As an Apple & Android Fan I cannot tell you how much I agree with this Editorial. Everything you said was 100% Correct.

You're soooooooo right! The Verizon iPhone would have been a big hit. Because it's an iPhone! But what would it have been exactly? What software would have been on it? How much vcrap would have been stuck (forever) on the main screen? Blackberry is definitely not listening to anybody other than carriers! What end user would ask them to keep using the same is they had in the beginning. It's hardly made any progress! It looks like a working pocket museum! The resolution of the screens wouldn't pass or be accepted on any other device costing what they cost! Why have they kept front facing cameras off of all American phones for so long? Even Apple let's AT&T push them around to a small degree. We just got video calling and it's wifi only because AT&T's network eats donkey ass!! They even took Netshare out of the iTunes app store because AT&T was crying about it. Other than that small thing Apple is the lone rebel. They've made a phone that changed all future phones. One that saved a carrier and allowed it to sale a phone with 3G in the name to millions of people in areas not in those 3 cities with 3G coverage! LOL! The Android Market will never be what iTunes is. The interface of android will never look as good an the iPhone. But we should really start submitting designs to carriers and a list of features that we must have! Peoe in Japan have been buying things by swiping barcodes on posters for years. There are so many thugs that we deserve as part of the price that we pay monthly! So many features. We should have been on LTE years ago! Screw the Carriers!! All of them!

"like every manufacturer besides Apple is letting carriers dictate the phones"-- yeah right. the iphone fan has spoken.. what about facetime?

I can definitely agree with this article. I myself struggled with Android vs. iPhone. The iPhone won only because I'm a Mac user and all my data syncs so nicely. Ultimately, the real indicator of the iPhone's success is that it can be locked into what has been perceived as a "crappy" network (AT&T) and cause other networks to scramble as they see their users switch over to AT&T for the iPhone.

That article was well written. I actually agreed with majority (very rare with you Rene).
But, correct me if I'm wrong, Google does have a small step back, not allowing the "with Google" logo on devices not up to their standards. (I don't remember seeing it on any Galaxy S devices or Droids).
And also, even at the risk of dooming my loved Android, if customers REALLY have that big of a problem, they should show it with their wallets, not their mouths. And if Apple REALLY wanted to help be there for the consumers, they'd at LEAST allow a way to get an iPhone on every carrier so the consumer COULD in fact show with their wallet. Don't like the bloated phones...go to the Apple store, get an iPhone, activate it on the carrier. A carrier can not deny an unlocked phone from being activated.
But alas, it's all a dream for every single point of that. So until Apple gets on all carriers...Google finally mandates some things...we're stuck with this. Eh...

@iDavey: The 'with google' logo can be found on the back of the Galaxy S, right in the middle, and on the bottom right corner of the back on the Droid X. Can't speak for any other droids, but they are there.
All of the problems Rene is saying droid has as a platform is easily fixed, not by hand-wringing but by getting yourself some root and deleting carrier crap and switching yourself onto the android standards. You forget that if you want to change something on android, you can actually change it. Not every platform makes forces you to stay with things as they are out of the box.
Aren't you guys SO lucky to have Apple as your eternal big brother looking over your shoulder and saving you from having to pick which carrier you want and or which apps you want.
Apple does ALL the things you are saying android is failing at by itself by being carrier locked. There is one iPhone and one network per nation that carries it, which lets them dictate pricing and force their customers to either pay what they want and only use it the way they are told, or to get off the train.
Comparing that to specific versions of the Galaxy S having a keyboard or a front facing camera... Well its not the same ballpark...

Most users of Android look at me stupid when I ask them what root is. Lost, you think that everyone on Android wants to void their warranties. Same mistake all the Freetards make. Most people don't want to deal with that level of hassle. Hardly representative of all smartphone users.

@Josh,
"Apple cares about the user experience, and anything that improves the user experience. They want us to have those features you talk about, but not at the cost of a poor experience."
haha really sounds like fanboy talk. Why is it when Apple caves into a carrier's pressure, it is user expierence that is important, but when another manufacturer does it, it is accused of being "in bed" with the carrier.
If is walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck .....
Really sounds like fanboy talk.
But I can respect your view.

@Bizzshow
Same here. I was excited when I opened the box and saw a Droid 2. After using it for a few days I realized that I HATED the skin Motorola added to the phone.
I sold it on eBay, paid my ETF, and got an iPhone 4. Very happy with the switch.

@JasonI have to agree with you. I absolutely hated what Motorola did with the Droid X interface. Butt-ugly widgets, IMO. But Rene is right. I just got my Sprint Epic (a.k.a. Galaxy S). I absolutely love it - except for one thing. The international version has an FM radio that I was really looking forward to using. But alas, not one of the U.S. carriers retained the radio. Sure Sprint demanded a keyboard (don't use it 'cause Swype is SOOO much better). A flash that the intl version doesn't have (don't need it 98% of the time). But it doesn't change the fact that Sprint screwed with the device.For that matter, all 4 carriers have the Galaxy S under different names. And each one of them did something the other didn't: be it a big think like Verizon swapping Google for Bing or Sprint removing the color icons used in Setting in favor of white icons.That's why this blog rips into them like it does: http://androidsfuture.blogspot.com/2010/08/editorial-dont-get-played-by-...

Why blame the carriers. In Us everybody wants a cheap phone(at the time of buying) with lots of features. They are ready to pay the cost several hundred dollars later(like credit card debt). This model is only prevalent in US. In Asia people have to pay upfront for the handset and then choose the service. Naturally they can decide what they want.

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