If Not for Android, Where Would the iPhone Be?

Ben Thompson imagines an alternate 2013 in which Android did not exist:

Google today announced via their blog that they are filing a complaint with the Justice Department and EU regarding Apple’s recent rejection of Google Now for iOS. […]

The iPhone, which was launched in 2007, is on 70% of the world’s smartphones, and 35% of all phones worldwide. Microsoft is in a distant second place, with less than 10% of the smartphone market.

I’ve been greatly enjoying Thompson’s writing at Stratechery; it’s easily one of my favorite new sites of the year, and you could do worse than devote the next hour or two to reading the whole thing back to last month, when he began. Among several standouts, I recommend “Two Bears” (dissecting the two bear arguments against Apple’s future success, and how only one makes sense, but the other might in fact apply to Samsung) and “Apple the Black Swan”.

But with today’s piece, we have a first: one where I disagree with Thompson’s conclusions.

First, I don’t think the iPhone’s market share or sales numbers would be all that different in a world without Android; other mobile OSes simply would have picked up the slack. Windows Phone, for one. WebOS/Palm for another. The key is that the carriers have never liked the iPhone because of the control Apple has over every aspect of it. (To this day, (almost) no other phone gets software updates directly from the phone maker.) They would have pushed something else instead of Android, and others would have filled the obvious need for an iPhone-like touchscreen mobile OS. It might have set them back an extra year, but knowing what we now know about Samsung’s strategy and culture, can there be any doubt that they’d be fielding a line-up of iPhone-esque smartphones today, with or without Android?

Would the iPhone have higher sales and larger market share in a world without Android? Almost certainly. I just don’t think that much higher than what we see today. The difference between the iPhone and iPod (which has maintained roughly 70 percent market share in the media player market) is not the existence of Android, but rather the necessity and influence of mobile carriers.

Second, even in the scenario Thompson outlines, in which the iPhone wields a majority market share in smartphones in a no-Android world, I would be quite surprised if Apple abused that position to do something like reject Google Now from the App Store. If anything, in a no-Android world (or in a world where Android existed but Google had never acquired it), I would expect Apple and Google to have an alliance. Remember, in 2007, Eric Schmidt was on Apple’s board, and Steve Jobs invited him on stage during the iPhone introduction to sing a version of “Kumbaya” about how Apple made great devices, Google made great online services, and how amazingly well the two companies’ strengths fit together into a cohesive whole for their shared customers.

Take three minutes and watch this video of Jobs and Schmidt on stage. Sure seems like a long time ago. Schmidt, we now know, wasn’t exactly being honest about how he saw things playing out — but I do think he was accurately describing how Apple saw things playing out. In a world where Android didn’t exist, I don’t think Apple would be forbidding Google from competing with Siri on the iPhone. Rather, I think Google would be providing much of the data for Siri.