Context is the new battleground between Android and iOS

Contextual apps arrived at Techcrunch Disrupt. It’s not just Google Now that shows you information about your next meeting, either. I saw a bunch of cool apps that are using context and I kept hearing that iOS is behind.

Here, listen in as I talk with the team behind Maluuba, which is a new way to search, organize, and connect on your phone. Think of a new Siri.

Maluuba isn’t the only company that has told me that iOS is behind. Glympse‘s CEO, Bryan Trussel, told me his team develops its contextual mapping app on Android first, then moves it to iPhone.

Why is this?

A few reasons:

1. Android lets developers have access to the dialer so that app developers can watch who calls you and who you call.
2. Android lets developers look at the wifi and bluetooth radios on the phone so app developers can build better systems to track where you are, who you are near, and whether you are near things like your car.
3. Android lets developers ship and test without waiting up to three weeks to have their apps approved.

That said, there’s a counter point of view, which you’ll hear in my interview with Path’s CEO, Dave Morin (he is working on adding more contextual features to his app, which is a personal journal that’s quite popular).

What is this pro-iPhone point of view? Well, Path ships on both iPhone and Android. If you look at the market share numbers you know that for every iPhone sold Android sells about three devices. So, Path should be wildly more popular on Android than it is on iPhone. It’s not. In fact only about 30% of its customers are on Android. The rest are using iPhones. You might explain this away by some other factor but I’ve heard this from many many developers, including Starbucks and eBay. iPhone users use more apps. The ecosystem of apps is better on iOS. The profitability of app developers is better on iOS than on Android. On and on.

The dirty little secret is that users aren’t the same. My son’s friend showed me why. iOS users tend to be ones that really care about being online all the time. They also tend to be willing to pay for that. You might say they are richer users, which is partially true. My son’s friend shows me that she doesn’t have an unlimited data plan so she turns off her data on her phone and that she isn’t very app centric because she can’t afford the high availability data plans. She isn’t as good a user for app developers as, say, my son is, who keeps his phone’s data online all the time thanks to Verizon’s flat rate pricing on the iPhone.

At Techcrunch Disrupt I interviewed about 30 companies over three days. Most of them showed me that their apps are being developed on iOS first and they back up Dave Morin’s reasons why they go iOS first.

Some other things I saw at Techcrunch Disrupt, or didn’t see.

1. It’s clearly an Android vs. iOS world. It was extremely rare to see a Windows Phone, a RIM device, or anything that wasn’t running Android or iOS. There are even toys coming out that run iOS.
2. Nearly every developer is paying attention to the Age of Context and looking to build personalized features into their mobile apps.
3. Lots of people came up to me showing me apps on iPhones but they admit that they are really building prototypes of things that will ship on Google’s Project Glass next year. I saw two face detection companies, a slew of Siri competitors, and more that would be awesome on the Project Glass wearable computers that Google is working on.
4. While the new iPhone wasn’t all that exciting nearly everyone I asked admitted they were going to buy one. Even the Android fanboys said they are going to buy one for development reasons. I did meet a few people who hate Apple and still won’t buy one, but they were a rarity on the floor of Techcrunch Disrupt.
5. Most people aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in the contextual world, even though Qualcomm’s Gimbal team was one of the sponsors.
6. There are a LOT of concerns about two things amongst developers: 1. the freaky line. 2. Battery life. The freaky line is a concern because these technologies basically learn, and stalk, you. Already some of the apps, like Alohar’s Placeme, knows what gas stations you like, whether or not you attend church or strip clubs, and what routes you take to work. That freaks people out. The battery life is an issue because any of these developers who needs to turn on the GPS sensors in the phone increases the power consumption of the phone. Highlight is a good example of this. Turn it on and you’ll get about 20% fewer minutes out of your battery. For many that’s a killer.

When I was talking to Maluuba’s developers I noted that we’re in the Apple I days of contextual apps. The apps are ugly, don’t do much, and take too much battery life for the utility they provide. The team agreed and said to watch as user experiences with these apps get better and devices build in better software and hardware that won’t hit the battery as much. For instance, developers are already learning to be smarter about figuring out you’ve moved without turning on GPS.

Early adopters and developers are going to want to get Android devices to play around with this new contextual world. As Google’s Project Glass comes out next year the difference in ecosystems between iOS and Android will become more stark. Even Dave Morin admitted that his team will use Android more as R&D and as a proving ground for new, contextual features.

Is this dangerous for Apple?

I don’t think it is. Apple, at its best, isn’t a technology leader. Did anyone really use the Newton? No. The iPad, though, was very popular. Why? It took what the industry had been working on for a decade and simplified it.

So, watch for Apple to learn what works in terms of context and watch for Apple to be a fast follower that will bring a mass market product that my dad will use. For now my dad doesn’t care about context and I don’t have any reason to bring him the latest apps. They are too geeky, use too much power for what they deliver, and aren’t reliable enough. I can see that changing big time over the next two years, though, which is why Shel Israel and I are working on a book about the contextual age. It’s clear that we’re moving into a new age, it just will take a while to get out of the Apple I stage, where only a few hundred geeks are playing with it, to the Apple II stage where the mass market starts to show up.

Ignore it at your peril, though. It is the new mobile battlefield.


17 thoughts on “Context is the new battleground between Android and iOS

  1. The old saw about taking a long time, Scobe’s claims 13 days, for Apple’s AppStore approval is worn-out. Those days are long gone for most, save those doing something wonky, like a friend’s app that allowed one to edit executable code.

    I have personally, or as part of a team, submitted 5 apps to Apple’s AppStore. 2 were small entertainment apps, 3 educational, of which 2 were very large. On average, it has taken less than 8 calendar days to get those apps approved for the first time. Updates approvals have in some cases taken as little as a day. On our last app, submitted last week, Apple’s quick review process of 4 days really caught us off-guard.


  2. Android & iOS users are different. And it’s not a dirty little secret. I think it’s fairly obvious. Just travel to India or Poland or Russia and easily see why.

    It’s true that Android signs ups about 3 new users for every new iPhone user. Its also important to remember that 2.7 times out of that 3, it’s a very basic Android smart phone.

    Let’s call this new Android user Joe. And Joe picked up the Android be…cause:
    1. Everybody around Joe is buying a smart phone (who would want to be remain un-smart?)
    2. The phone shop guy/ sales girl on the phone sang paeans about a smartphone and how it would change your life
    3. The Android smart phone was a fairly affordable choice or it cost Joe the same on contract as a non-smart phone

    Joe did NOT buy the Android phone because he wanted to use apps, get social or stay connected. He may eventually do so just because he has a smartphone now. But that would be, most likely, be limited to a lil FB’ing, a Skye video chat and email.

    Now over to iPhone. When you invest the kind of money that you have to in an Phone, it’s a conscious investment decision made on the basis of a lifestyle you maintain.

    If every Android phone cost as much as an iOS device, the users would most likely be the same. There’s nothing more socially equalizing than affluence. The rich are the same, world over. It’s the poor who ad diversity & make the world an interesting place.


  3. Freaky or not, 5 years from now, people won’t debate on this question any more, just as we are not debating whether Internet email intrudes on privacy any more.
    BTW, Alohar’s Placeme ( uses a new adaptive sampling algorithm that allows it to detect POIs accurately with much less battery drain.


  4. Reasons 1 or 2 are one of many reasons that I use an iPhone. I don’t want third party apps logging my calls, or to build “better tracking systems.”


  5. “Android lets developers have access to the dialer so that app developers can watch who calls you and who you call.”


    “Android lets developers look at the wifi and bluetooth radios on the phone so app developers can build better systems to track where you are”


    Thank god I’m on iOS and malware like that is not permitted.

    Phew… I really lucked out by moving over to iOS from Blackberry and not moving to Android. Google is just plain evil.


  6. Ouch! My calls are private and third party apps should not know who I call or who calls me.

    Number 2 really makes no sense, location is provided by the IOS interfaces. Those interface will use whichever ‘radio’ will give the most accurate location. Isn’t that good enough, why would a developer have to specify what location device to use?


  7. > did anybody really use the Newton?

    Did anybody really use the Apple II, the Mac, the iPod, Mac OS X, or iPhone? Did anybody use the PowerBook G4? (2001, 1-inch thick, high-speed serial, 5 hour battery, built-in Wi-Fi, giant trackpad, gigabit Ethernet, Mac OS X, iTunes.) Every 21st century notebook is a clone of PowerBook G4. Every 90’s notebook cloned PowerBook 190.

    Saying Apple “is not a technology leader” is Nerd Blindness. You mean that Apple doesn’t ship unfinished nerd tech like NFC. You mean Apple is not a leader in screwing around with tech. As far as the actual sociological course of technology, Apple seems to be the only leader. That is actually or of our biggest problems.

    These “context” apps will most likely go mainstream via a ContextKit subsystem of OS X that draws a non-creepy creepy line that defends the user’s privacy, security, and battery from the 3rd party app. That is almost certainly necessary and Apple is the only one users can trust to provide it. They have the only malware-free phone and the only secure app platform. The more intimate and insecure a tech is, the more likely it will only work through Apple.


  8. Also, the ARM mobile chip that is driving the smartphone, iPod, PDA mobile computing revolution was co-developed by ARM and Apple for … the Newton. At the top of the family tree of your smartphone or PDA is a Newton. Your Samsung Galaxy phone has an iPhone parent, an iPod grandparent, a Palm great-grandparent, and a Newton great-great-grandparent who came here from the old country. Palm was one of the first Newton decelopers and later made their own device.

    So using Newton as an example of technology leadership is more appropriate than lack of tech leadership.

    Check out Newton features: full-face touch screen, virtual keyboard, apps, Mac/PC sync, flash storage, giant battery, mobile ARM SoC, modem, contacts, calendars, notes, mail. Sounds familiar, huh?


  9. “It’s clearly an Android vs. iOS world. It was extremely rare to see a Windows Phone, a RIM device, or anything that wasn’t running Android or iOS. There are even toys coming out that run iOS.”

    Ah… toys running on iOS? I assume you meant Android.


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