In his charming Wozniakian way, Apple (AAPL) co-founder Steve Wozniak floated a strange proposal in a recent interview with Wired: the idea that Apple could begin making phones that run on the Android operating system.
“There’s nothing that would keep Apple out of the Android market as a secondary phone market,” Wozniak said in an article posted on Wired.com Thursday. “We could compete very well. People like the precious looks of stylings and manufacturing that we do in our product compared to the other Android offerings. We could play in two arenas at the same time.”
Wozniak has a history of developing weird ideas that are actually genius ones, such as computers that can be owned and operated by individuals. This isn’t one of those, though. It’s just silly. We have a few minutes here, so let’s lay out the reasons why.
Google (GOOG) allows any phonemaker to use its software, so Wozniak is correct in saying that this is a possibility. And Android is outpacing Apple in the cheaper markets that are gaining importance, so there’s a sort of intuitive sense in the move, if you’re willing to twist the logic into uncomfortable directions. But an iAndroid phone would have all the drawbacks of a cheaper iPhone with few of the benefits.
First off, Android does better in cheaper markets because it runs on cheaper phones. But an iAndroid phone wouldn’t be cheaper to make than a real iPhone. Apple would still have to build the device, and iOS already exists, so there’s not much marginal cost in letting new devices use it. In theory there’s the cost of supporting the data to Apple’s servers, but there’s also the revenue that comes from that. Apple would be forgoing the money it makes through the iTunes store, whose revenue has more than tripled over the past three years. In addition to sending that money to Google, Apple would be providing a key rival with valuable data about its users.
Meanwhile, Apple would be messing with a major part of its appeal: its exclusive brand. Seeding some of its products with Android’s operating system—whose messiness is anathema to Apple’s philosophy of keeping super-tight control over everything—would essentially be making knock-off versions of its own products. Increasingly, iPhones distinguish themselves not by any physical means but by the connection to Apple’s software. The status that comes with carrying around an Apple product would be corrupted by the chance that your machine was actually running lowly Android.
If Apple was going to split its hardware and software, it would probably make more sense to start making versions of iOS for products manufactured by other companies. These wouldn’t be phones but maybe cars (which it has already started working on) and other connected devices. Apple is unlikely ever to make its own refrigerator, but maybe a fleet of iOS-enabled appliances would drive more iPhone and iPad sales. We’re really floating into bizarro-land here now, and the further we go down this road, the less connection to reality there will be. Then again, that can be a fun place to go for a few minutes. Thanks, Woz.