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EETimes Says Apple Must Clone the iPhone

You can make statistics say anything you want, or so the saying goes, and the same is apparently true of history, at least judging by a curious column from Rick Merritt of EETimes. Mr. Merritt posits that Apple is going to end up being forced to clone the iPhone in order to compete with Google’s Android platform, or wind up being an also-ran in the cell phone industry. What makes his arguments amusing is that he draws upon Mac vs. PC competition and history to make his case.

"Should Apple Inc. open up its iPhone software? It’s easy enough to argue it should, given the history of the personal computer," wrote Mr. Merritt.

My question is how any rational observer could argue that this is the lesson of the computing industry of the last 30 years? If you want to analyze that industry using only selective -- highly selective -- bits, I suppose one might.

Here, I’ll try: It’s clear that in the early 1980s, the release of the far cheaper, though far less capable, IBM PC crushed Apple’s ground-breaking Apple II product line, ripping away market share in a market that Apple had heretofore dominated. The subsequent IBM PC clone market further marginalized Apple, and we’ll ignore the fact that Apple made money hand over fist for some time to come with said marginalized Apple II line.

Lemme take another stab: In the early 1990s, Windows 3.1 was good enough that when combined with the tidal wave of those same cheap PCs from the clone market, it was able to unseat the vastly superior, and much more expensive Mac product line, further and steadily eroding Apple’s market share in the PC business.

One more: Starting in 1995, Windows 95 had finally reached a quality point that Apple’s Mac sales went into the kind of nosedive not seen since the Battle for the Pacific in WWII. Apple almost became a footnote in the annals of computing history, and never mind that this had as much to do with missteps of Apple’s management at the time as it did with so-called flaws in the closed/proprietary-system business model the company stubbornly held onto.

Oh wait, Apple tried cloning then (for which this author earned an entry into his own Apple Death Knell Counter for defending), but it didn’t really help the Mac platform.

These are all good arguments, some of which Mr. Merritt alludes to in his piece, but it requires a willful disregard of the last three or four years to hold it up as some sort of evidence that a closed system can’t succeed in the market place.

Three or four years ago is when Apple’s Mac market share quietly reversed course and started trending steadily higher again. Ten years ago is when all those cheap PC vendors churning out the computing-equivalent of toasters found that they had managed to marginalize their own profits so much that there weren’t any left. Today, even Dell’s profits -- the king of toasters -- have taken a hit.

Today, Apple is once again making money hand over fist with the Macintosh, and it’s still a closed system. Market share continues to trend higher, and people dig that whole "Hey, this thing actually works" aspect of using a Mac.

Which is the same case as the iPhone, the device Mr. Merritt said Apple will simply have to clone in order to stand up to the juggernaut that Android will eventually become.

That’s balderdash.

Balderdash, I say!

There is plenty of room for Android in the cell phone or smartphone market, and I expect Google to do quite well with its platform. There is also plenty of room for a closed, proprietary system where people who want more than "good enough" will shell out a few extra bucks, Euros, Yen, Renminbi, and Pesos for the experience of using something that "just works."

Mr. Merritt argues, "Scroll ahead to say 2012. Apple will be struggling to roll out a broad product portfolio that matches the wealth of Android and Windows Mobile systems on the market. Once again they will lack the breadth of the backing of the open alternative, in this case Google’s Android."

"More importantly," he added, "this market too will mature. Eventually, Apple will be fighting the Google hoards [sic] by rolling out a cool new feature here and there, but they will have nothing as compelling as the lower prices and greater diversity of the Android platform."

Lower prices and diversity have done wonders for making the Windows platform suck. The backing of an open alternative hasn’t done much for Linux in the mainstream, either.

While I think that Google is going to be able to do a better job than the Linux community at leveraging and developing an open platform, not to mention be able to make a product more compelling than the swill known as Windows Mobile, Apple will no doubt continue to see success for whatever the iPhone evolves into.

And, they’ll do it, they’ll see all that success, without cloning the iPhone or the Mac, at least as long as Steve Jobs is at the helm. That is the conclusion that should be drawn from the history of the platform wars.

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