Rory Cellan-Jones

Game-changers - Google or Apple?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 16 Feb 09, 16:18 GMT

Two years ago all the talk at the Mobile World Congress was of the imminent arrival of the Apple iPhone, and how it was going to change the industry. One year ago, all the talk was of Google's open-source Android operating system, and what a radical impact that might have. In each case, the big established players blew a collective raspberry at the thought that these upstarts would rock their world - so how much has changed?

However often it is pointed out that the iPhone has only a tiny fraction of world handset sales, a walk around the halls here provides plenty of evidence of its influence. Touchscreen phones are everywhere - and although early versions appeared pale imitations, some of them now look as good as the original, and have a lot more firepower.

Anssi VanjokiA case in point is Nokia's N97, a touchscreen phone with a very neat slide-out keyboard. When I went to interview Nokia's Anssi Vanjoki, we had a photographic face-off - his N97 versus my iPhone (I have brought a Nokia N95 and a Blackberry with me too, by the way). He was the clear winner, and the phone, which hits the shops in the summer, looks pretty good, as you can see here in my picture of him taken with my iPhone. Just below, is his photo of me with the iPhone. What I couldn't tell was just how much Nokia has improved the software on the phone to make it more intuitive.


And it's on software that Apple has really made a big impact. Ever tried to get onto the web with an N95? I found it too much of a struggle to bother, with this or other phones, and the statistics show that it was only the arrival of the iPhone which encouraged many users to see their phones as surfing devices.

Would we have seen the launch of phone application stores by both Nokia and Microsoft today if Apple's Apps Store hadn't shown there was a latent demand for useful, wacky or even totally pointless things to do on your mobile?

But what about Google? This show got underway with just one Android device - T-Mobile's G1 - on the market. As I arrived this morning, I saw a picture on the front of the show magazine of a new Android handset made by Huawei. I rushed to the firm's stand - and was turned away. But returning a couple of hours later I found the new Android behind a glass screen - it appeared to be a non-working prototype looking rather similar to, you've guessed it, the iPhone.

When I caught up with Google's mobile chief Hugo Barra, I asked him whether he was disappointed that Android hadn't yet taken over the world. He insisted that the hundreds of applications now being built for the new operating system proved that it was going to be very popular with all sorts of manufacturers - but pointed out that as it was an open-source system, he'd be the last to know what was in the pipeline because nobody needed to tell Google.

I am hearing rumours that a major operator will unveil its own Android handset on Tuesday - but it does seem that it's still too early to judge whether Google really has changed the rules of the game for this industry. Whereas Apple, with its very far from open operating system, seems to have everyone dancing to its tune.


  • Comment number 1.

    What's the big struggle with trying to get on the web on an N95? All you do is click the "Web" button. How odd...

  • Comment number 2.

    Darren, has *that* Sony PS3 game been revealed yet?

    Sorry to go off-topic but it's been a long time since you posted the original article and lots of us gamers are still eager to find out what it was.

  • Comment number 3.

    It would be nice if one of these other firms actually innovated something newrather than copying Apple all the time. There's flickers of innovation of course, but most of it is just copy, adapt, clone, look-alike.

  • Comment number 4.

    You mean like Apple copied the icon driven capacitive touchscreen from LG's Prada?

    As for copying, why not? If it's a good idea then you copy and do it better.

  • Comment number 5.

    looking at the pictures I would say the iPhone is the clear winner; the MP # is just sand in the eyes, as much as long features lists that all phones have today ...

  • Comment number 6.

    Nope - the PS3 game has STILL not been announced. Believe me - I'm as bored now as you are about this!

  • Comment number 7.

    I would say its just as easy to get on the net with an N95 as it is with an iPhone, but the bigger screen and the touch functions makes it easier to navigate on the iPhone.
    However in terms of compliance with internet standards the iPhone is no winner (neither is the N series). The browsers on Windows Mobile have always been better for this and the larger screens on WinMo make viewing the net much nicer.
    Apple didnt really change the game as such, all they did was market it better. Windows mobiles have done very little to keep ahead in overall terms. They basically started making prettier phones and now Microsoft has an app store, that was all that was needed really.
    I will say now that i reject the notion that the iPhone interface is superior, or that the stylus is outdated. Both have very large advantages over Apples offering.

  • Comment number 8.

    The Guardian seems to be doing a better job of reporting from the congress.

    It's not just about "shiny new phones". It's also imporant to report on the business perspective that affect the mobile industry. For example, Ericsson's JV with NXP. These are two hardware giants that will have an impact on mobile development in this area. There should be more reporting on LTE and other new technology that could have impact on the markets. Explain to the public what it is and what it means for the US. Rumour has it that Ericsson is talking to operators in the US.

    If you're talking about phones, can you please differentiate between top-end and mass market phones. If it was only about smart phones then one has to ask how Samsung has overtaken Nokia in the UK market.

    Hugo Barro is a senior product manager at Google, not the chief. I think it's important that we get our facts right and we start reporting technology. This congress is about business, so please stop dumbing down the reporting and start asking the right questions.

  • Comment number 9.

    Google's innovation will come in the way Android's technology works behind the scenes rather than design or user interface - apple will always lead the way there!

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm sorry Rory, but I agree with 'sporran'. Just how difficult can you make the action of holding down a button?

    Surfing with any Nokia phone is so easy that even my dog can do it......

    I'm at a loss to understand how anybody can claim otherwise.

  • Comment number 11.

    Apple Iphone uses a stripped down OSX as the os, this is great for security. Closed it may be, but I like the fact that my data is safe, these devices are every bit as important as your laptop and share the same sensitive information. Apple does portable very well and seems to running a very sound business model. The fact that Google does not know what is being developed because the os is "open" is a bit worrying.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm sorry, I have to take issue with the comment that the iPhone copied LG's Prada!

    LG Prada - introduced in a press release 18 Jan 07.
    Apple iPhone - introduced in a press release 9 Jan 07.

    Whether you like it or not, the iPhone was clearly a game changer and since its release, everyone else has been trying to catch up.

    Can't wait for the next iPhone - this June?

  • Comment number 13.

    It should be pointed out wonky360 that the only truely secure mobiles run windows CE, on which windows mobile is based.

  • Comment number 14.

    Actually the Prada was announced on 12 December 2006 and in production well before the iPhone.

    Point is everyone copies everyone else.

  • Comment number 15.

    Looks a bit like a Qtek 2020i (Xda2i) to me?

  • Comment number 16.

    It always gets my goat that Apple are constantly described as this shining light in thinking outside of the box. True their techs might have done a good job in producing their touch screens - not so good on their batteries - but aside from the "touch ability" there isn't anything much in the iPhone that isn't obvious to anyone who's ever had to produce a good GUI. I think they could have done much better.

    For one, they had the benefit of hindsight - looking at other manufacturers out there - and for two, they had the benefit of starting from scratch - no previous customers, versions or contracts to keep happy. With these advantages I would have expected more, but instead there seemed to be less. There was a lot of very obvious stuff missing from iPhone v1 and I can only surmise they were rushing production for /some/ reason or another...

    Google on the other hand, now they actually do think for themselves. They keep creating things of actual worth and in a number of different fields beyond their station. And where ever they go they cause global change. They keep their ideas open to the developer community and they know that power comes from diversity.

    Basically what I'm saying is that if Google moves in to your field of expertise you have a right to be worried, if Apple do, just make sure your product is nice and shiny, can be operated by trained mammals and is marketed with as much money as you can throw at it... then you'll be fine.

    @markbriton: All companies copy from each other, time and again, and press release dates hardly confirm which corporation designed a product first?? unless you believe you can construct one of these devices in a week...? I'd find it hard to believe that Apple didn't copy it's ideas from somewhere, just look at their OS for instance, it's basically Linux.

    @wonky360: There is no argument for a "closed system" such as Apple's, as the benefits pale in comparison to that which can be achieved by the greater open community. Mainly because the open community is driven by the want for good software, not money. The problems with security evaporate if you use a voting or rating system for plugins and apps. Then all you have to do is only download trusted or well rated items to stay safe... This method has worked fine for a great number of open systems and applications, for example. Mozilla FireFox.

  • Comment number 17.

    I find it amusing that people are copying Apple with the touchscreen.
    Despite the fact that HTC had released touch screen handsets before Apple and consistently produce better handsets. If only they adopted Android on the Touch HD and gave up with Windows Mobile 6 then they already have an iPhone beater.

    The only thing going for the iPhone is the OS, the phone itself is poor, very poor indeed.

  • Comment number 18.

    Touchscreens were around before the Iphone. Just because Apple used a new up-and-coming technology obviously doesn't mean that if they hadn't, no one else would be using it!

    And web browsing has been around for *years* on phones - even ordinary cheap phones, let alone "smart" phones. The statistics you refer to were flawed, because they only counted single models - Apple only have one phone, where as other manufacturers' many models all get counted separately.

    If newer phones are supposedly copying Apple, why aren't Apple accused of copying features such as web browsing, touchscreen and 3G? But this is silly: the entire industry is about using existing features, and trying to improve them. That's how progress is made. Perhaps the Iphone introduced some new feature, or improved on an existing feature - but so do all the other phone companies. Apple were a late-comer to the market, and in doing so, copied features that have been around for years - yet we have people praising them for doing so.

    There's a curious double standard here: the Google phone is mocked for not taking over the world - but the Iphone is great despite being a minor player, because it's similar to other phones, and therefore we absurdly claim that other phones now copy the Iphone (how ever did the billion dollar phone industry cope before Apple came along?)

    The only difference between Apple and other companies is the hype given to the former - and it's sad to see than the licence-funded BBC gives so much free advertising to Apple.

    "Whereas Apple, with its very far from open operating system, seems to have everyone dancing to its tune."

    Everyone? Let's look at those sales figures again.

  • Comment number 19.

    Echoing the comments of a few others, none of these companies are necessarily 'game changers' as they all essentially copy and improve each others designs. As has already been stated, Apple's iPhone was hardly the first to use touchscreen technology (about 5 years earlier my brother had a sony ericsson with one).

    There's little point in debating who was first with what feature as it's always the consumer who will benefit from these companies trying to do one better than each other and I for one am happy with this situation. Long live competition in technology industries, it's for the good of us all.

  • Comment number 20.

    Surely it's all about the user experience. I have had a Smartphone from all the big players and they nearly all did the job as intended, some features ran better some did not. Currently I have an iPhone. NOT because of the hype (why some consider the BBC as an extension of Apple's marketing team is ludicrous, misinformed and boring) but because it is very, very good. My N95 was very good - my iPhone is better because it is more suited to me, my work, my computers (though it has to be said the camera is shocking). I could not give a monkeys who had the 1st touch-screen or this or that. Apple have a great device that works well, is intuitive and above all gets the things I need done quickly and efficiently (apart from good pictures).

  • Comment number 21.

    User experience'' depends very much on the user. I find the iPhone experience frustrating and limited. I much prefer the experience Symbian, WinMo and Android give me.
    iPhone is pretty useless for genuine enterprise business use as well, only Winmo can be viewed as a truly business OS, even over blackberry and lets not forget it is still the best selling Touchscreen OS.
    Im disappointed (if not exactly surprised) at the lack of WinMo coverage on the BBC. Microsoft and HTC have announced all manor of things at this weeks WMC. Other companies such as Acer, ZTE, LG, Samsung, ASUS and Gigabyte have also announced Windows mobile devices. Apple has been absent, yet still the BBC technology Blog is about that insidious Apple device.

  • Comment number 22.

    Not sure I've seen a new smartphone yet that can make Apple and BlackBerry crumble.

  • Comment number 23.

    I guess these gadgets are all just little toys and whatever we choose to buy will become our favourites in some way, at least for the foreseeable future.

    Personally I see the Android OS as the most exciting and adventurous development being that it is an open-source platform with a wealth of potentially not confined to any one particular hardware manufacturer and designer. I know that are many fanatical developers who cherish the open-source community.

    I salute Google for developing the platform and 'gifting' it to the public.

  • Comment number 24.

    Jezzymorezzi.. Not sure ive seen one that doesnt!

  • Comment number 25.

    I'm stunned...

    You are the BBC's Tech correspondant and you can't get on the internet on a Nokia N95??

  • Comment number 26.

    I will also add, the biggest influence on the mobile market (as a manufacturer) over the last two decades is clearly Nokia.

    They are giants of the industry and constantly lead the way in new technologies and features.

    The mobile phone industry is like any other, the consumers get what they want. If the consumer wants a touch screen that does whatever the iPhone does that others can't, then others will encoporate that into their phones.

    It's like saying Firefox shouldn't have implemented tabbed browsing because the idea had already been done.

    If people are so passionate about not copying other ideas, then ask apple to remove the web browser (already done on a phone), a camera (same again), a way to store contacts (as before)... Oh, and of course the ability to make a phone call. How unoriginal of Apple to not come up with their own ideas! Hell, to me it seems like these mobile phones seemed to have copied the primary function of landline phones!

  • Comment number 27.

    Some interesting comments here. But I wonder how many of the iPhone detractors have actually used one.
    Or is it just like the Windows users who decry Macs and OS X and yet, oddly, have never, ever used one?
    And OS X is not a Linux copy, it is based on Unix (as is Linux!). OS X is far more user friendly than any other OS I've ever used or seen (and I've been using them since 1978).
    Even my technophobic partner can use an iPhone (and a Mac).
    Touch screens may have been around before, but none did it quite like an iPhone.
    I've had a mobile phone since the first Motorola Bricks (the massive one's with a carry handle) and not a single one has ever satisfied me - until I got an iPhone - which just works (ok, it isn't perfect, yet).
    And as for cameras, it's a phone, right? I have an SLR digital camera for taking pictures and if I just need a quick snap of something when I am out and about (very rare) the iPhone will do.

  • Comment number 28.

    Why are we comparing chalk and cheese here? The iPhone OS (which I'm using right now I hasten to add) is a closed platform, and is used on 4 devices, all with virtually identical hardware. By comparison the open Android platform has to work on a multitude of different devices. You can't compare the two, they have merely different models of working. Android has come much further in a shorter amount of time than the more comparable Windows Mobile.

    Android is still very young, and the device makers are obviously waiting on some more development time to get their devices right. However from what I've seen it's already quite accomplished, and far better for me than the S60 software, which I think held the N95 back.

    The most interesting software for me though, is the new Palm OS. The Pre has impressed me a great deal, and if Microsoft and Nokia aren't careful they could easily get left behind by Apple, The Open Handset Alliance and Palm. It's an open and exciting Market between 5 developers, we should celebrate the choices we get.

    As for people copying each other, I find the idea of a software patent abhorrent. They stifle innovation by limiting peoples concepts. The technology behind multi touch on the iPhone might be patentable, but the concept itself? Never.

  • Comment number 29.

    I forgot Blackberry in my previous comment. They are in a prediciment ironically because others support push sync now, such as ActiveSync by Microsoft, which Google have licensed to allow sync of calendars and contacts to devices and in particular the iPhone.

    It's not so difficult to see Apple, Google and Microsoft are doing this cross licensing to each get a piece of RIMs pie.

    It's a great sector mobile devices, and far more exciting than the desktop and laptop world at the moment. It's fresh innovative and fun. This is because unlike the desktop where Microsoft are dominant, this sector of tech has no one dominant vendor.

  • Comment number 30.


    And I wonder how many of those hyping the Iphone have used every other phone on the market?

    No, I haven't used an Iphone. But I bet you haven't used a Motorola V980 - does that mean that I can claim it's the best phone ever, and the BBC should run articles hyping it? The Iphone is just another phone. I don't need to have used an Iphone, just like you haven't used every phone on the market either.

    As for your technophobic partner - for about the last 8 years, just about everyone has had a mobile phone. We are long past the time when they were only considered a technogeek product!

    My phone just works too - and does a lot more besides.

  • Comment number 31.


    Actually, yes, I have suffered a V980, and like all the other Motorola phones I have owned it proved difficult to navigate and unreliable.

    This is the point you've missed, because everyone now 'needs' a mobile they MUST be very easy to use.

    Every phone I have tried has an un-intuitive and impenetrable OS. And yes, I've had Nokias and Blackberries and Sonys...all of them awful in comparison.

    This is where the iPhone scores, everything is laid out so well, it really is child's play.

    And Windows Mobile? I don't think Apple will be the least bit worried by anything built on the rickety an totally INSECURE Win OS.

    Frankly, Apple set the benchmark way ahead of the field, and now the rest are all playing catch up.

  • Comment number 32.

    Why are the IT elite so afraid of Apple? Is it down to purist geeks whom feel threatened that a company wants to produce goods that work and an IT degree is not needed to operate and set up?
    In this current climate IT jobs are being lost wholesale due to over capacity and out sourcing because the sector has priced itself out of competitiveness.
    Companies and consumers want straightforward, elegant solutions to the new digital arena. The likes of Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, IBM AND due to the success of the iPhone mobile phone vendors all realise this as the way forward AND yet again are following Apples lead. Apple are in no way perfect but to reject Apples products simply due to the brand lacks imagination and counts as rather dim....

  • Comment number 33.

    I totally agree with the writer jaamit, who posted "Google's innovation will come in the way Android's technology works behind the scenes rather than design or user interface - apple will always lead the way there!".

    The ultimate goal of Goole Android is not to make the best smartphone but to create the best mobile platform. In this regard, there'll be the growing competition between Google and Nokia: Android vs. Symbian.

    The US market, though lagging behind EU and some Asian ones so far, will lead a major 4G war to be fought.

    The name of the game for now is who is going to grab a bigger slice of mobile platform or OS to accommodate more mobile contents, rather than who makes the best smartphones.

    In a year or two, there'll be over two dozen smartphone makers who will eventually contribute to shortening product cycles and reducing prices.

    This fast-growing competition among phone makers will encourage consumers to exert an "any device, any software" option, whereas mobile operators may feel pressed to dump their subsidy policy in the end.

  • Comment number 34.

    I am a simple minded fool and my must have application is hand written texts via handwriting recognition software along with hand drawn drawings and notes via a touchscreen.

    I can do all this with my 5year old Sony Ericsson.

    Apple are hardly cutting edge technology with their phone but what they do have is design skills in both the hardware and the GUI. The iphone is very nice to use and looks good. .

  • Comment number 35.

    It is easy to browse the web with the N95!!! However it has been out for some time now, what about comparing the N96 or N85?

  • Comment number 36.

    Can anyone name a successful touchscreen phone before the iphone?

    The iphone started what has been a touchscreen phone boom - this is why it is said that everyone is copying them.

    Sure, Apple improved upon existing functions and technologies, but should they be penalised for making better what was already out there?

    They raised the bar - now everyone is trying to play catch up.

    Google copied Yahoo, Google just did it a hell of a lot better and now they are leaders in the industry, just like Apple are leaders now in the touchscreen phone industry.

  • Comment number 37.


    Yes, the LG Prada which sold over a million.

  • Comment number 38.

    Wow a whole million! And let me guess the 'Prada' wasn't an act of blatant branding? Apple took 2½ years to develop the iPhone LG took what? 2½ months?

    On the subject of web browsing, apparently the iPhone was the first to achieve it. Net Applications stats show it now has 66% of mobile web browser activity WinMO & Symbian struggle with 6%. I love stats based on real outcomes as opposed to plausible speculation!


  • Comment number 39.

    The iPhones contract helped it out no end with regard to traffic volume. The user experience didnt. As said before Apple did nothing new with the iPhone, it just advertised it better.
    By the way its hard to get a true measure of how much traffic WinMo phone genuinely create, since many run custom userIDs making the server think its a desktop PC. Mine does this, it doesn't identify itself as a mobile device let alone a Windows Mobile device.


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