Gigaom

Why Mountain Lion Could Blunt Android's Momentum


As we learned last week, Apple’s next version of OS X software for laptops and desktops is called Mountain Lion. I have been running it on my MacBook Air for the past two days, and it has already impacted my mobile device usage. How could a desktop platform impact usage of Google Android mobile devices? Don’t those mobile devices compete with iOS and not OS X? They do, but with Mountain Lion, Apple (AAPL) is bringing more of the iOS experience into OS X. And that’s bad for Android, which started losing U.S. market share to iOS last quarter.

A Unified Experience on Desktop and Mobile

Before getting to my own experiences, let me share a thoughtful piece that homes in on what Apple is doing, from Jean-Louis Gassée’s point of view. Here is a key excerpt from his most recent Monday post:

For a company that prides itself on simplicity and elegance, it only makes sense that Apple would offer a consistent UX across all its devices, a GUUX, a Grand Unified User Experience. Apple customers should be able to move easily and naturally from one device to another, selecting the best tool for the task at hand. Add another unification, iCloud storage services, and Apple can offer more reasons to buy more of its products.

In typical fashion, Gassée nails the concept with a descriptive term, a “grand unified user experience.” I had a similar epiphany over the past weekend as I kicked the tires of Apple’s Mountain Lion software, but Gassée penned it perfectly. And even before I read his post, I noticed something that I hadn’t been doing for ages. I started reaching for my iPhone 4S instead of my Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Does this mean I will no longer be a daily Android user? No, I will keep using Android alongside iOS and even Windows Phone. Of course, I am an outlier: I try to use all platforms to see which is best for the different tasks and use cases people have. However, it is telling that my Galaxy Nexus—and even my Galaxy Tab 7.7 slate—have not been used much since I installed Mountain Lion.

How These Two Platforms Work Together

Take a look at the feature set in Mountain Lion and you can see the integration between desktop and mobile. Use Mountain Lion, however, and you will start to experience something new; at least, that’s how I’m feeling. It begins to matter less if you are on a desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet: You can use similar apps and interfaces to get things done.

The new Notifications in OS X works and looks just like its counterpart on iPhones and iPads running iOS 5. And reading an e-mail on my iPhone, for example, removes the notification for that message on my desktop. That is huge, as people don’t need to see the same e-mail or notification for it multiple times as they move across devices.

The new Messages in OS X, which you can actually download now, is another example. It looks and acts similar to iMessages in iOS 5. Plus the conversation follows you whether you are on a Mac, iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. Over the weekend, I had a long chat with my son and was able to seamlessly carry on the conversation regardless of which Apple product I had in hand. Of course, FaceTime is supported on both OS X and iOS, so with a single tap we were video chatting without worrying which devices we were using.

Reminders and Notes in Mountain Lion are also lifted from iOS, where they are simple and effective. But the killer feature of both is the ability to sync data across iCloud between the desktop and mobile devices. Again, it doesn’t matter which device you are using at a given time: You will still see your notes or get your reminder alarm at the appropriate time. These are just a few of the new iOS tie-ins. Here is a complete list.

So What Does This Have to Do with Android?

Simply put, Android doesn’t have native integration with a true desktop platform. Instead, it is cloud-focused from a data perspective while leaning heavily on third-party apps, browser extensions, and its own Chrome browser to offer a “use anywhere” experience. It works, but based on what I have seen from Mountain Lion so far, it is looking more disjointed.

Perhaps Google’s (GOOG) ChromeOS, used in ChromeBooks, will eventually bring this type of integration for Android users, but today it doesn’t exist in a Google platform, with the exception of the Chrome browser and the Web in general. For example, there is no true Google Tasks apps, unless you consider the applet that is part of Gmail on the Web. And there is no mobile Tasks app from Google. Instead, there are several third-party apps that synchronize with Google Tasks.

The new Chrome browser for Android is a step in the right direction, as it can show you open tabs from Chrome on a desktop. Safari can’t do that yet, but it does support bookmark synchronization through iCloud, which is good enough for most people now. The odd thing is that I have used Chrome as my go-to browser for the past three years or so. But again, with Mountain Lion, I flipped over to Safari 5.2, which I find faster than the current version of Chrome, and it supports a synchronized reading list between my iPhone and my MacBook Air.

I Smell a Trend

Clearly, Apple is unifying the experience across all of its devices, based on the examples here. Google is doing it to a lesser degree between Android and the Chrome browser. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see it attempt to do the same with its ChromeOS, possibly at this year’s Google I/O developer event. But even Microsoft (MSFT) is working the same angle with Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

Both will use the Metro user interface, presumably to provide a seamless experience. It is for this reason among others that I made the prediction of Microsoft handsets outselling BlackBerrys (RIMM) by the end of this year. In December I suggested that “Windows 8 will actually help create demand for Windows Phone in the second half of the year as desktop upgraders will want the Metro user interface on their phones for a unified experience.”

How much could this interaction between Mountain Lion and iOS hurt Android sales? That is hard to say. Those who prefer a greater range of control over their mobile devices will still likely choose an Android device in the near term. But people looking for a “grand user interface unification” may give up some control in order to gain a seamless experience across devices and choose iOS, especially if they are current or new Mac OS X users when Mountain Lion arrives this summer.

I will still continue to rotate through my gadgets based on my needs so that I am always using the best tool for my tasks. Plus, I enjoy customizing my Android devices and using my phone to wirelessly pay for goods. However, there is something to be said for Apple’s core integration competency, and I think I said it best in a tweet last week:

It’s easy to whine about what a closed system can’t do, but if done right, it’s hard to whine about what it can do.

Also from GigaOM:

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Comcast Gives Subscribers One More Reason to Quit Netflix

Huddle Goes All Dropbox on Users with New Sync Service

Tofel is a writer for the GigaOm Network.

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