Not will, but should Android ICS beat the iPhone 5 to market?

Not will, but should Android ICS beat the iPhone 5 to market?
Android's next iteration, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), has been popping up in the news more recently, but we haven't slowed things down in order to really examine what we've been seeing. First, we heard a rumor that Google is trying to rush out ICS in order to compete head to head with the iPhone 5, which is expected to be announced in September and released in October. Then, we saw pictures that were reported to be early screenshots of ICS running on a Nexus S. Ice Cream Sandwich looks to be one of the biggest Android releases, because with it comes the big task of reconciling the two separate development paths that Android has taken, and merge the Gingerbread phone OS (2.3.x) with the Honeycomb tablet OS (3.0/3.1). 

Rushing software means rushing hardware

Much like with the iPhone, we have to keep in mind that Google rushing Ice Cream Sandwich has impacts both on hardware and software. To rush Ice Cream Sandwich, also means to rush the Nexus Prime, and the Android ecosystem has already seen what rushing out an OS can look like, twice actually. First, while Gingerbread wasn't rushed out, it certainly felt like the Nexus S was rushed in order to launch in time for the holidays last year. This meant, that unlike the Nexus One, which drove improvements around the Android ecosystem, the Nexus S was actually a generation behind within a few months of release, because of the coming of Tegra 2 phones with qHD screens. So, instead of the Google Experience phone being the pace car for users, manufacturers and developers, the Nexus S quickly became an afterthought. 

Then, we saw Honeycomb was rushed out in order to compete head to head with the iPad 2, and because Honeycomb was rushed, so was the Motorola Xoom. As a result there, the Xoom was a little too heavy, too bland in design, and too expensive, while Honeycomb was buggy and lacking in natively designed 3rd party apps. Imagine that instead of pushing the Xoom so hard, Google had simply seeded the developer community with Honeycomb, and tested longer. The, start the Honeycomb party a few months later with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Android 3.1 at Google I/O? Imagine erasing the Xoom from the board all together, and having the Android tablet charge begin in May with the $400 Asus Transformer, and the sleek and sexy Galaxy Tab 10.1. The three month head start for Apple seems like a reasonable trade-off for having better developer support and more consumer interest that would have come with not having an $800 beast be the first impression of Honeycomb.

That brings us to Ice Cream Sandwich and the Nexus Prime. We know that NVIDIA has already pushed back the expected release of the quad-core Tegra 3 chipsets, so if we're hoping for that to power the Prime, we'd have to wait until early 2012. Of course, the newly teased relationship between Google and Texas Instruments could mean that the Tegra 3 has already been removed from the equation. If it has, will we see the same fate for the Prime as for the Nexus S? A dual-core TI CPU would have to be really good to stand up against the first quad-core offerings that would come a few months afterwards. And, that's not even taking into account the 768x1280 screens from Samsung that we're already hoping to see grace the Nexus Prime. There's no guarantee that Samsung could bring that screen to market in time for October.

Head-to-head doesn't necessarily mean competition

As we've already seen with the Motorola Xoom, releasing head-to-head doesn't mean competition, and even less so with the Nexus device which we all know will launch Ice Cream Sandwich into the market. The Motorola Xoom had more advertising behind it than any Nexus device, and probably more consumer excitement as well, but it still fell flat when compared to the iPad, mostly due to low developer support. The story will be a bit different for the Nexus Prime, but not markedly so.

Keep in mind that Nexus devices have always been niche devices. They are designed for developers, early adopters, and a generally more geeky crowd. No Nexus device has ever officially been sold by either of the two biggest carriers in America - Verizon and AT&T. Nexus devices have been offered through Google that run on AT&T, but that's a far cry from seeing it sold in the official stores across the country. The Nexus S, which had far better marketing and availability than the Web Store-only Nexus One, only sold approximately 500,000 units in its first two months in the market (based on Gingerbread OS share in February, when the Nexus S was the only phone running Gingerbread.) If the iPhone 5 sells less than 500,000 just in pre-orders, let alone half of launch day, every analyst in existence would call it a failure. 

And, that's the real point, even if Google rushes out Ice Cream Sandwich to launch in October, it'll still only be running on the Nexus Prime. The Nexus S and Gingerbread launched at the beginning of December last year, and even the Nexus One had to wait until the middle of February 2011 for the official update. Even today, a full 8 months after its release, Gingerbread is still less than 25% of the Android ecosystem. Even if Google pushed out ICS in time for October, the upgrade turnaround for manufacturers kills any illusion that ICS will ever really compete with iOS 5 at any point in its life cycle. The only possible incentive for Google to push out a product that may not be ready is the hope that other manufacturers could then have ICS devices available for the Christmas season, but that is a pretty big reach.

Use Matias Duarte

If the leaked images we saw of Ice Cream Sandwich do turn out to be real, ICS will be a huge disappointment. We have our reasons for being highly skeptical of the images we saw based on version number labels, and the kernel version listed. But, the biggest reason that many of us are skeptical of those pictures is that the UI changes aren't that impressive. When we first saw what Matias Duarte had created with the Honeycomb UI, we were all blown away, because for once an Android device looked amazing without the need for a custom overlay. The first time seeing Honeycomb had that wow-factor that most Android devices only achieve with a custom UI like HTC Sense. The leaked pictures we saw would make it seem like Google isn't using Matias's immense design skills and is simply trying to converge the two Android paths in the background.

Google has been building better tools to allow developers to manage apps across Android versions with the fragments system, and the Android Market being able to handle multiple APKs. But, rather than leave developers to manage multiple APKs, the promise of Ice Cream Sandwich was write once, and it would scale itself to run anywhere. This is a major goal for the next iteration of Android, but the phone UI needs a major overhaul as well, and we aren't seeing that in the leaked shots. Matias Duarte was one of the main forces behind the beautiful, but doomed WebOS, and even with the rush on Honeycomb, he helped make the UI shine. Google doesn't have much of a history of design, but with Mathias in house, Google has no excuses if ICS turns out to be a minor UI iteration like Froyo and Gingerbread have been.

Google needs to do Google

It may be impossible in our world of tech news to stop ourselves, but at the very least we hope Google is smart enough to realize that trying to go head-to-head with Apple will do nothing but hurt the ecosystem. Android needs to develop at its own pace, and trust that the product will carry the day (and remember that so far, seeing as Apple fell behind a long time ago in market share, Android is winning the day.) We've mentioned before that Apple and Google are playing two different games: Apple is striving for the biggest margins and revenue, while Google is aiming for market ubiquity. And, through that lens, both companies are winning. Apple keeps its revenues his gh by pushing out updates on a strict schedule and making old hardware obsolete on just as strict a schedule. Google is already on its way to winning the market share battle, and so doesn't need to react to anything that Apple does. Google just needs to keep its own house in order.

Assuming Google keeps running Android as it has, we should never expect to see a unified UI across all devices. Google wants to leave the system open and give manufacturers the option to differentiate through custom UIs. Until now, that has lead to OS fragmentation because the custom UIs delay OS updates. Google could help to fix this by creating an official theme system withing Android that manufacturers could then fit their custom UIs into, thus making updates faster. The only trouble with this is that if Google standardizes the system, there's a good chance that the custom UIs would end up ripped out and shared around the Android ecosystem so users can install whatever they please, meaning HTC Sense on Motorola devices, and TouchWiz on LG phones. Even if there is a fairly minimal proportion of users that do this, it does hurt brand differentiation.

Manufacturers need to be able to differentiate, because otherwise they have to start looking to other ways to compete within the Android ecosystem. We've already heard about Motorola possibly going after Android royalties, and this could serve as a terrible precedent. Apple and RIM don't need to worry about manufacturer in-fighting because they make the software and hardware. Even Microsoft doesn't have to worry as much, because the OS restrictions don't allow for much differentiation for manufacturers. Android, as always, is the wild west, and Google is the reluctant town Sheriff.


Google would rather guide manufacturers with a carrot in the form of a Nexus device, than lead with a strong hand. Google didn't want to mandate better screens, faster processors, bigger internal storage or NFC, but building those features into the Nexus One and Nexus S gave manufacturers a template from which to draw. The same standards apply to the Nexus Prime, but rushing it out for a futile head-to-head with the iPhone does nothing but hurt the effectiveness of that guiding hand. Unlike Apple, which has the relative luxury of taking a year off and pushing a minor update like the iPhone 3Gs, Google needs to keep pushing every year. Apple is the only car in the iOS race, but Nexus devices are meant to be the pace car for the entire ecosystem. If the Nexus devices can't stay out in front, Google loses influence in guiding where it believes Android should go, and will be left reacting to the changes made by manufacturers who are ultimately in competition with each other.

The Nexus Prime needs to push Android hardware forward, and Ice Cream Sandwich needs to push forward the Android software platform. Nexus devices are not commercial devices, they are early adopter/developer devices. Even if the Nexus Prime launched at the same time or before the iPhone 5, to say that the two devices would be competing in any way is absurd. The iPhone 5 will be competing against the entirety of the Android ecosystem, all devices from Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, and others. The Nexus Prime and Ice Cream Sandwich should be designed to guide those manufacturers in making Android the best it can be. There is no competition, and no need for a rush. Just make it good, Google.

images courtesy: Nitty Gritty, Cell Phone Tech School, Trends Updates, Fortune Brainstorm Tech

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1. bobdongface unregistered

i agree 100% great article

55. cheetah2k

Posts: 2290; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

I think there are a lot of points in this article that just don't make sense. 1. To say Google didnt want to mandate bigger screens, etc, is simply not true. Google sets the minimum specs for handsets running specific versions of Android. If the manufacturer wants to exceed these specs its a win-win for the end user, simple as that. Examples of manufacturers exceeding the specs include the Atrix and Sensation with qHD screens. 2. Is the iPhone 5 really competing with Android ICS? I mean, has the iPhone 5 changed iOS in such a way that people will be bludgening each other to death to get their hands on one? I don't think so. The people lining up to get one will mostly constitute new users IMO. 3. ICS won't be a revalation, and neither will the iPhone 5 with iOS. So this article is pretty irrevalent...

70. E.N.

Posts: 2610; Member since: Jan 25, 2009

I wouldn't go as far as saying it is irrelevant. Google is planning on speeding up its process to meet up with the iPhone 5. Some people think its a really good idea, some really don't. Good place to discuss. Speeding up the process could be potentially beneficial and harmful to Google and that's basically the whole point.

89. Dark4o90

Posts: 205; Member since: Feb 20, 2011

I don't like iOS so no matter what i'm with Android

144. NeXoS

Posts: 292; Member since: May 03, 2011

The Samsung Galaxy S II can already out compete the iPhone 5. Apple staggers its CPU release cycle so that they can stretch the life of the CPU and make more profit. Their newest CPU is the A5 chip in the iPad 2. Since this chip was not in the iPhone 4, you can bet that it will be in the iPhone 5. However, lots of benchmarks already show Samsung's Exynos chip wiping the floor with the iPhone 4 *AND* the iPad 2! Like this one: Is it possible that Apple will NOT put the A5 in the iPhone 5? Yes, but highly unlikely. The A6 chip most likely be saved for the iPad 3 and iPhone 6.

146. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

as far as I remember, the A6 chip is just starting testing.. its definately not going to be in the i5 if thats true. apple.. always behind.. magically!

149. Dingo Egret unregistered

I am not an apple fan boy, but I don't think you know what you're talking about. Iphone O/S is optimized with work efficiently with the hardware. There is too much fragmentation with Andriod for it to work effieciently, hense the need for more powerful CPU's. The Iphone has the smoothest and quickest moving interfaces for any phone on the market. The real test come when you benchmark accessing email, applications, which of the same appliactions on both platforms start up quicker and without lag, etc. A faster CPU doesn't gurantee you faster performance if the software is not optimized.

2. irvinkeith

Posts: 58; Member since: Jan 27, 2010

Best article I've read on this site, Great job and I Totally agree with what was said

28. asfaafa unregistered

What's to agree? It was a question, not a comment or statement. I bet you two didn't even read the article.

33. dandirk

Posts: 187; Member since: Aug 04, 2011

Did you read it? The title is a question, the content is an editorial. They express their opinions, giving an answer to their own question (As they see it).

63. ayephoner

Posts: 858; Member since: Jun 09, 2009

and, as i understand it, iphone 5 will hit the market in september, ICS in november. so why even ask this question? all in all nothing is that critical in iOS v android. they are both well established OSs. much, much more critical questions can be asked of the happenings of RIM, HP and windows. they make release mistakes, they die.

104. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Word is that the iPhone 5 will be announced early September, and released anywhere from then until late October. ICS has been scheduled for November, but there have been rumors that Google would try to rush it out in order to beat the iPhone to market.

3. The Gator unregistered

You keep knocking the Moto Xoom, I am quite happy with it.

10. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

nothing wrong with the xoom. its just a lesson in "how not to launch a new OS/device". There were a dozen little things that if done better would have made the xoom a huge sale success. That doesnt mean its not a great tablet, that just means moto flopped when it should have flipped.

29. asfaafa unregistered

tablets are a waste of f**king money anyway, just spend half the money and get an i3 dual-core laptop.

37. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

i said the same thing until one was placed in my hands.. i use it all the time now the things that it kills laptops in -battery.. omg battery is so much better on a tablet. i get 8 hours of movie playback and multiple days on standby. Try that on a laptop. - quick access to apps and games -everything is integrated better for a seamless experience when compared to a computer - multimedia use in general, camera, music, games, ect. Whats better on a laptop? -a real keyboard. (of course the Asus Transformer took care of that notch, eh? :) ) - real productivity apps. -high quality computer games in the end its preference. But for 90% of what peeps generally use their laptops for tablets can do as well and even sometimes better. And with tablets getting ever cheaper, the "laptop is cheaper" arguement is slowly eroding away. Give me civ5, diablo, starcraft, and portal2 on my tablet and ill be a super duper happy camper though. :)

90. Dark4o90

Posts: 205; Member since: Feb 20, 2011

Agree, they are not smartphones, don't fit in your pocket, can't easy carry around, not enough powerful and with smaller screens so if i carry a bag for my device i prefer to be a laptop and are at the same price.

4. sprint4life

Posts: 11; Member since: Mar 05, 2011

great article

5. IEatApples

Posts: 66; Member since: Jul 06, 2011

My question is how is iphone still competition at all when its going to be stuck on 3g when everything else is at least hspa+ . Especially for Verizon I mean who the f**k can stand verizons 3g speeds 500k on a good day? I guess connection speed doesn't matter if your an isheep.

13. superguy

Posts: 469; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

500k consistently is better than 3mb 1 minute and nothing the next. My speeds were sucking badly on AT&T before I switched recently, so I can't say I notice that much of a difference anyway. I traveled with my Verizon phone all over the country this past week, thru places I historically didn't have AT&T data service (ironically, in some of the nation's largest airports). Data wasn't the fastest, but it was reliable and I didn't have to worry about it not working. Can blame it on my old AT&T phone (a Captivate) if you want, but I must say my Captivate worked flawlessly in Europe - much better than it ever did on AT&T. And I'm on an Incredible on VZW until the DC LTE phones come out.

6. florian unregistered

I agree completely with you. Great article

7. gallitoking

Posts: 4721; Member since: May 17, 2011

I have always said the rush things..

8. bauer lives unregistered

Just a note from an extremely loyal Verizon customer: WE WANT NEXUS PHONES!!!! I like having timely software updates very much, and have sacrificed them as well as a pure Google experience with my Droid Incredible. While I wanted the Nexus One and the Nexus S, I am not willing to leave the carrier with which I have only dropped two calls in the 5 years I have been a customer. If Verizon releases the Nexus Prime, it will sell. I like Sense UI, but I have had my fair share of issues and would prefer a pure google experience. Also, Verizon needs to keep pushing 4G. While I would prefer the Nexus Prime or SGS II, I will have to get the Droid Bionic if it comes down to it because LTE is so much faster than Verizon's CMDA 3G network. In regard to ICS, I think that Apple will dominate the news for at least a month after they announce the iPhone 5, so Google should work to make ICS as perfect as they can, and release it after the iPhone 5 so it can receive some fair media attention.

15. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Unfortunately, there is almost no chance of Verizon launching a Nexus device, because Nexus is pure, and Verizon would insist on removing the tethering and WiFi hotspot options.

20. bauer lives unregistered

I know it is a long shot, which is why it's such a bummer. They probably have the best network because of the restrictions but I am pretty sure it could handle it. Isn't there some precedent for it though because if I remember it correctly, the Palm Pre Plus had free tethering enabled on Verizon's network. They could even charge a little more for the phone if they included the tethering and I would be fine with that (or even make it optional and make people pay [note: even if that is "evil" according to google, I'm willing to accept it to get the best software experience as well as superior hardware]).

9. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

Many good points in the article. But I have a few differences with it - Custom UIs - The ideal that google could create a base android and manufacturers could just skin the UI over it could never work. If it were simply a skin like Launcher Pro, that would be one thing. But skins like Sense and especially MotoBlur are more than just skins. Motoblur fundamentally alters many of android's underlying codes to bring its services as well as add new ones like its advanced Exchange server functionality. I love the ideal of manufacturers getting a base google and having to overlay on top of that so we get timely updates, but that would also mean we end up with the same phone (as that skinning would easily be undone by XDA) If that is good or bad... is up to the buyer. - 500k sales for the nexus S is great for its launch. Dont forget, it only launched on Tmobile initially AND it was only available at Best Buy. You cant get them in store. So for a 3rd party launch on the smallest of the big 4 carriers.. 500k aint too shabby. If it had launched in store, it would have broken 1 million. If it had launched on VZW it would probably be a sales monster (as the only non VZW bloated android -we all know that image was fake of ICS.. lol.. no worries there. -also, pace cars set the lap, but the dont actually race. nexus devices have their purpose, being a sales monster is not one of them. thats up to team samsung, Moto, LG, and HTC to try to win the sales race. -The GalaxyS-2 is the direct competitor at the moment for iPhone5. Android doesn't need a new OS to compete with iOS5. To say it does would mean that iOS5 has some new stand out features that Gingerbread does not have. Which we all know is not true. If anything its APPLE that needs the new OS to compete with what has been out for a year now on android.. IE Gingerbread. iOS5 is a heavy copy of Android 2.0.. it doesn't even contain all the features of 2.2 much less gingerbread or ICS. Apple has fallen far behind in the features department. iOS5 is and admittance of this as it blatantly copies android 2.0 in an attempt to catch up. But as far as I know, it doesn't offer anything so new or revolutionary that Google and Gingerbread need to worry. So in closing, no Google needs to take its time with ICS and do it right. It already has every tool it needs to continue dominance over Apple. It has the ideas, the features, the services, the multiple teams all striving to not only outdo each other but other OS's as well, and the broad appeal of devices at every price point. Apple has dedicated iFanatics, a copied OS5, and... lawyers to scare the competition.

39. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

actually, I had a neat braindrizzle just a second ago that could help fragmentation a bit (like manufacturers actually read Google makes money on every android sold that has google apps on it (which is nearly all of them). One thing google could try is to cut its per phone cost to the manufacturers down by saaay.. half if they promise not to skin the phone and just run it with vanilla android. Or give them a bulk discount if they keep a certain % of their phone sales as "vanilla" instead of a custom UI. This would keep more vanilla phones on the market, which means more would get updated much faster, which would reduce initial and over all fragmentation with each OS release. This could force google to "spruce up" the OS a bit more and make the base version a little more flashy as more people would have it. This would also let manufacturers know if buyers like the brand for the build quality or for the custom UI. For example, HTC can release a Sensation with Sense 3.0 in it, and an alternate version with vanilla android and see how well each sell. (personally, i think that could only help motorola as there are very few that seem excited about MotoBlur but like motorola's build quality) Just an odd idea that popped into my head. :)

53. E.N.

Posts: 2610; Member since: Jan 25, 2009

wow, now iOS 5 is a heavy copier of Android because of the notification shade or whatever you guys call it. iPhone may have a copied OS5 but Android has a copied OS, Samsung being the best example. And you're basically using Apple as an excuse for ICS and the its sucky features and its lack of innovation.Your main point towards the end sounded like "Oh Apple is so behind so its okay that ICS is bringing absolutely nothing." Now that's the kind of mentality to makes a company #1! Why not always hope for the best and expect the best? And many users like you are so seriously blind. Apple continuously breaks its sales/predictions, makes the most profit/revenue than any other smartphone manufacturer, has overtaken or will overtake Nokia as the #1 smartphone manufacturer, has attracted the most developers since the app store in 2008, and yet Google "continues dominance over Apple". What an overstatement. Google's Android is in no way at all a slouch, but dominance is a heavy word. You have to take a clear lead before you're able to dominate. Market share is a good indicator but its definitely not the most conclusive. We all know that its not only because of the great Android devices out there, but its also because of the free phones, promotions, and BOGO deals. iPhone and iOS5 brings a lot of features that ICS won't have. And even if you're not a fan of many of those features, iPhone still has the app store which (in my opinion at least) is better and more important than any amount of personalization/customization. The best new feature I've seen come to Android in a while (and the only feature that I envy now that iPhone has the notification center) is flash capability. But like almost every other developer, they offered it to iPhone first and "politely" moved on to Android months later when declined. Sucks being second place. And hey, just in case anyone is looking for a new phone, get a haircut from Supercuts and get a free Android smartphone. Now that's how to dominate the market. Way to go google, you're totally killing the competition.

65. p0rkguy

Posts: 685; Member since: Nov 23, 2010

You're clearly not understanding this article and your fanboyism kicked in once you saw Google is dominating.. "iPhone may have a copied OS5 but Android has a copied OS, Samsung being the best example." Shows that you've never even used an Android device, or you're just not savy when it comes technology. Samsung being the best example of a copied OS? What? Samsung's TouchWiz is a UI, not an OS. Android phones can be made to look like any OS. I have the HTC Evo running on CM7 and an iPod Touch 4th gen JB'd. The apps are the only thing the iPod Touch has to offer.

67. E.N.

Posts: 2610; Member since: Jan 25, 2009

I definitely was not planning on commenting at all in this thread (since it's mainly about ICS and Android) but I think iPhone has been brought up enough times for it to be okay. Did you read remixfa's entire comment? It was BEGGING for a reply from an iPhone user. If people addressed the article I would have just been a reader, but people are using this opportunity to draw comparisons so hey, why not participate. If you weren't biased yourself, maybe you should have replied to remixfa too and address his fanboyism? But you didn't so you're no better. And please you're more tech savy than I'll ever be. iPod Touch? Really? If you have to purchase a separate device just for applications then that's bad news for Android. But I do feel like Google should take their time for whatever features (lame or not) that they have planned for Ice Cream Sandwich. But just not for the Apple-related reasons that remixfa believes.

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