For as long as I’ve worked in mobile, and some time beforehand, I would have called myself an Apple fanboy. From the very first iPhone, I’ve diligently upgraded through to the iPhone 6s plus. I’ve owned iMacs, Macbooks, iPads and the Apple Watch, because they all felt like the best in class devices. Indeed, Apple has said in the past that they are not always the first to do something, but they aim to be the best. Take for example the recently announced HomePod, the smart home speaker designed to compete with Amazon Echo, Google Home, and now, it seems, Samsung.
But it’s been a while now since I’ve been tempted by an Apple device. In fact, the last laptop/tablet I bought personally was a Surface from Microsoft, and the last phone I bought was the Pixel XL from Google. Yes, Apple’s power is indisputable — its plan to stop using graphics technology from Imagination Technologies on new products saw that company’s shares plunge around 70%. But the real question is, is Apple still the best?
For many years, Apple has set the standard for usability, primarily driven by its control over both the hardware and the software. When both components come from the same company, things just work better. But this has not gone unnoticed by competitors. Google has long struggled to keep its Android OS up to date thanks to the myriad of manufacturers and carriers who needed to tailor the latest updates of Android, which means consumers lose out on the latest and greatest features. In fact, the latest version of Android (7.1) sits on under 1% of devices, and only around 40% of devices are on version 6.0 and higher. Google’s response to this has been the launch of the Pixel, a device manufactured by HTC but to Google’s specs - and it’s the most Apple-like experience I’ve had on a non-Apple mobile. In fact, I’d argue that it’s pretty much the best mobile experience on the market.
Google is not alone here in terms of innovation when it comes to hardware. Microsoft recently announced the Surface Studio, a device which is designed to appeal to creatives and which innovates in many ways to an audience historically drawn to Apple products.
Apple meanwhile appear to have a somewhat muddled strategy recently, with inconsistencies in the use of headphone sockets (removed from iPhones but still on Macbooks), USB sockets (using lightning connectors on iPhones but USB-C on Macbooks), plus the removal of the SD card slot on Macbooks - something that will definitely hurt creative types. And the touchbar has been the only notable innovation recently, but one which has limited use and comes at a big premium.
So what does this all mean for advertisers? Historically, the iPhone has been the platform which has produced better advertising revenues for developers and better results for advertisers. I believe this is, at least in part, driven by the demographics of iPhone users who have paid more for the premium product, and who perhaps have more disposable income which they spend some of through their phone. Additionally, the tighter connection between hardware and software enables a richer experience, not just from an app perspective but also from an advertising perspective. Whilst it’s still early days for the Pixel, this device is both premium plus also benefits from the latest version of Android - in other words the gap between the quality of the experience on Android (at least on Pixel) and iOS has shrunk.
This competition is great for everyone as it provides more choice, and will push Apple in a way that it’s not experienced since it launched the iPhone 10 years ago. Rumour has it that the new design will be the most transformative to date, and may include a 3D face scanner to replace the fingerprint sensor. For now, the question is whether Apple takes the opportunity with the launch of iPhone 8 to resume the coveted spot of being the best. I’ll be interested to see whether I’m back on an iPhone at the end of this year, or will have stuck with my trusted Pixel.
Gavin Stirrat is the managing director at Voluum