Android, Open Source, and the Free Market

Glyn Moody has a piece on why Android will beat the iPhone.
To summarize, the reason for this is twofold: Android is making its way onto more platforms than just smartphones (it is also making its way into TVs, set-top boxes, GPS devices, et cetera), and there are apps for the Android allowing for the creation of even more apps for oneself or for further distribution, so the app ecosystem can grow much larger.
The latter part reminds me of a quote (which I can't find verbatim at the moment) I read in the book The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford (which, incidentally, I will be reviewing in a future post) that describes how Soviet officials visiting the US observed the production and sales of cars (I think) and wondered who could possibly be planning it all. (The answer, of course, is no one (aside from the company with its production and sales targets, but ultimately, the customer decides).) Similarly, Apple's apps must all be evaluated by Apple and must be in the correct programming language and must be appropriate (according to Apple) to make it into the app store. It is a time-consuming process, as the app must be available to everyone. With Android, however, users can make apps for personal use without any evaluation process of any kind. No central authority determines which apps make it through and which don't. As long as the user has a good idea (for themselves) and some programming ability (though with the App Inventor, even this is not necessary anymore), an app can be born. Sure, there will be a lot of apps of poor quality, but let the consumers, not any company, decide which apps are worth downloading.
The former part reminds me of a discussion I was having with my relatives on when open source should be used as a business model. One of my relatives said that the reason why Sun was financially doing so badly before being bought by Oracle was because they open-sourced their flagship product (Solaris, which became OpenSolaris) despite not having anyone outside the company to make meaningful contributions to the project. The same was true of their SPARC processor line (which was an example of open source hardware) — it didn't really work well with any other existing hardware, so other developers couldn't really contribute to the project meaningfully. Android, on the other hand, is a good example of an (mostly) open source project because it is being ported to so many different kinds of hardware by so many different developers and companies.
Maybe the competition between the iPhone and Android isn't really fair because Android is present on so many more kinds of devices compared to the iPhone OS.
(UPDATE: TechCrunch agrees with me. Sort of. Yay!)

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What do you think about the Android vs. iPhone rivalry? Is it fair? Who will win? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

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