Android Overtakes the iPhone

Some recent NPD data showing the Android platform overtaking the iPhone in the US has set theweb on fire. Apple apologists like John Gruber are working overtimeto try to spin it.

Remember back when Daring Fireball was actually an interestingsite Now it’s like I imagine Pravda was during the Cold War.

In any case, I was a little shocked to see the gains come thisquickly. Android was obviously making a dent, but I expectedanother generation of products to flow through the market – likethe Incredible and the EVO 4G, and eventually the long-anticipatedonslaught of Dell vapourware – before Android really took hold withmainstream consumers.

And of course iPhones are still selling. They’re selling likehotcakes, for that matter: Apple reported a more than doubling ofsales during the period in question (kind of undermining the notionthat it’s some sort of calm before the 4G storm).

At this point smartphones have a limited market saturation,which is why it’s a critical juncture and why there’s a bit of arace to perform a land grab. It remains anyone’s game.

In a year we might be looking at the emergent dominance ofWindows Mobile 7 phones. Or maybe the next iPhone model will stormthe market. Or WebOS will be reborn into a real contender. Or maybeBlackberry – the strangely unmentioned leader of the pack – willreally wow the market with their next cycle.

It is critically important that there is competition in thespace. Competition is great for everyone, including for iPhoneusers (see the upcoming multitasking that is a virtual clone of theimplementation in Android). The market can’t be dominated by onevendor, especially one with walled gardens.

Speaking of walled gardens, as much as HTML5 got talked upduring the Great Jobs-Adobe War of 2010, in reality HTML5performance on the iPhone and iPad is abysmal and is closeto unusable for rich content.

The real alternative to Flash on the iDevices has been native,single-platform, completely-proprietary apps. Which is arguably aperfectly fine approach (take full advantage of the platform andall), but it was incredibly frustrating seeing HTML5 used like sucha cheap sacrificial prop during the debacle when it really hadperilously little to do with the debate. It was so grosslydishonest.

Of course I’m speaking outside of videos. For videos Flash isalmost always a completely unnecessary wrapper around an h.264stream (which is what many Flash videos come encoded in thesedays). Separating the video from the container is a no-brainer.

Obviously HTML5 needs to keep improving. With Android 2.2 aroundthe corner there are wide expectations that they’ll introduce a JITcompiler for the Dalvik engine (“native” apps largely run in a VMruntime and are currently seriously hobbled by the lack ofoptimizations in the same), and it would be fantastic to seesomething like V8 for the browser as well. While the platform hasfar-and-away leading canvas and dynamic graphics support, it fallsbehind in scripting and that would be a nice gap to eliminate. Itwould be nice to see a decent dynamic HTML 5 capability built intoiPhone OS 4, as currently it is seriously deficient.