Android Product Life Cycles Should Be More Like Apple’s

by C.G. on August 11, 2011

Reading this latest ‘claim chowder’ post on Daring Fireball got me thinking. What if the cell phone industry did exactly what Apple does — release iOS hardware on a (somewhat) yearly basis? Wouldn’t that help adoption and their bottom line? Consider this:

Yearly product cycles mean more time can be investing in getting things right. The OS development team doesn’t have to worry about three deadlines in a year. By focusing on the one, they can add or throughly test new features that could set them apart from the normally crowded and confusing pack.

That leads me to my next thought. Android phones, while different in many ways, are still a dime a dozen. What makes them different from one another are things like keyboard/touch screen, form factor, etc. I think if, say Samsung, could set a yearly release, they could brand the experience in a new way that helps make them more distinguished. By having a consistent product for a year, you can invest in the brand just like Apple does — run the right educational (i.e. commercial campaign) and build the buzz.

A yearly cycle also might let Apple’s competitors consolidate engineering teams into one (probably smaller) unit. Apple may share OS X developers with iOS and vice versa and they probably only have one set of hardware engineers for iPhone/iPod Touch. Sure, there are differences and there are experts for each type of device but you don’t have to have such a diverse team — especially if you’re focused on one product per year. By having three month release cycles, you have hardware and software engineers rotating projects rather often and some continuity is lost in the transitions. Also, shorter life cycles can can increase the cost to develop the products.

Which leads me to margins. Perhaps, it’s why Apple has such a high margin. Sure, their devices can cost more. But I’m not really sure that’s the case and other, more professional analysts, seem to agree; Apple is winning on cost and margins. And by reducing the overhead on a given device and increasing the yields of said devices, you increase your margins at a competitive price or undercut Apple by maintaining your margin at a reduced price to the consumer.

This isn’t an iOS vs Android discussion and there are some challenges with Android hardware vendors limiting themselves to one device. But gradually introducing one device — one brand — as Apple did and retiring devices that compete with one another, Motorola, Samsung, HTC, and others should be able to earn themselves a position more on par with Apple. Or, at the least, they won’t be at such great war with one another.

This also benefits Google by making the Android brand less diverse — something that people have called fragmentation which isn’t a good thing. Yes, everyone gets to say it’s an Android device. But with each hardware maker using different versions of Android, it can get challenging to stand out or have a consistent brand. Part of that makes Android so special is its diverse (and deliberately so) design. But from a carrier’s point of view and from a manufacturer’s point of view, that’s not a good thing as it introduces confusion to the consumer. By having a less diverse ecosystem, Google can help promote the Android brand even more so than done today.

In the end, Apple’s model of control and limited and predictable releases have helped it grow to the company it is today. The rest of the mobile space would do well to follow in their footsteps even as they differentiate their devices. Otherwise, they’re never going to be as successful as Apple no matter how popular Android gets.

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