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Steve Jobs, tech pundit (annotated version)

The words "interesting" and "earnings call" rarely appear next to each other. When corporate executives take to conference calls to spin their employers' quarterly earnings reports, listeners are usually rewarded with a heaping plateful of word salad.

That was not the case with Apple's earnings yesterday. As Cecilia Kang noted last night, Chief Executive Steve Jobs made a rare appearance, speaking at length about what he thinks of Google's Android software and other competitors. Today I finally had the time to listen to the hour-long call myself.

Jobs's nearly 11-minute soliloquy starts 15 minutes in; he surfaces repeatedly later on while answering questions. Here are some choice bits, taken from Macworld's transcript, with my comments after each:

[BlackBerry vendor Research In Motion] must move beyond their area of strength and comfort, into the unfamiliar territory of trying to become a software platform company. I think it's going to be a challenge for them.

If this makes RIM feel any better, at least Jobs talked about the company! Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 7 and Palm's webOS (developed by some Apple veterans) didn't even get a mention.

Google loves to characterize Android as "open," and iOS and iPhone as "closed" [....] Android is very fragmented. Many Android OEMs, including the two largest, HTC and Motorola, install proprietary user interfaces to differentiate themselves from the commodity Android experience. The user's left to figure it all out.

By "figure it all out," I can only assume that Jobs meant "learn the quirks of a different keyboard" -- something Mac users have to deal with when they switch from a desktop iMac to a laptop MacBook. There aren't any other confusion-inducing differences in the Android user interfaces I've seen, although I have noted grotesque alterations to the software bundle on Android phones and an occasional dumb placement of buttons.

Twitter client TwitterDeck recently launched their app for Android. They reported that they had to contend with more than a hundred different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets. The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge.

That's TweetDeck, not TwitterDeck -- as chief executive Iain Dodsworth quickly commented on Twitter. He followed up by noting that his two Android developers had no problem writing that app: "Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android? Errr nope, no we didn't. It wasn't." (The post on the company's blog that Jobs seems to reference concluded "it's pretty cool to have our app work on such a wide variety of devices and Android OS variations.")

In addition to Google's own app marketplace, Amazon, Verizon and Vodafone have all announced that they are creating their own app stores for Android. So there will be at least four app stores on Android, which customers must search among to find the app they want, and developers will need to work with to distribute their apps and get paid.

Well, since Verizon doesn't sell in Europe and Vodafone doesn't operate here, it's really only three app stores. The real concern, though, is not having multiple choices -- Mac OS X does not seem to have been held back by the lack of a single app store -- but having some apps only available on one app store or one carrier. You'd never want to limit your customers to the same wireless carrier just to use some cool new release ... wait, I think I've drifted off-topic here.

You know, even if Google were right, and the real issue is "closed" versus "open," it is worthwhile to remember that open systems don't always win. Take Microsoft's "Plays For Sure" music strategy, which used the PC model -- which Android uses as well -- of separating the software components from the hardware components. Even Microsoft finally abandoned this "open" strategy in favor of copying Apple's integrated approach with their Zune player, unfortunately leaving their OEMs empty-handed in the process.

"Plays For Sure" was not about software and hardware separation; it was Microsoft's attempt to get its proprietary digital-rights-management controls for downloaded music built into as many different players as possible. It was, in a word, "closed" -- and it lost to open, DRM-free downloads from the iTunes Store, Amazon and other online sources

Apple has done extensive user testing on user interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff. There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touchscreen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.

I'm not actually sure how to read Jobs's extended denunciation of seven-inch tablet displays, which he sees as a fatal flaw of upcoming, Android-based tablets. But one thing seems clear: If Apple ever does introduce an iPad with a 7-inch display--which I now have to think won't be this year -- Apple will explain at length how only it could get a display that small to work, because it really understands this stuff.

There's a lot more to read in the transcript (for an overview, see the "word cloud" one observer helpfully assembled, showing how often Jobs mentioned some topics). I'll leave it to you all to listen to or read the whole thing, then answer this question: Do you think Steve Jobs is a little nervous about Android?

(9:30 p.m. Joe Wilcox at BetaNews and the Houston Chronicle's Dwight Silverman ask the same question, just with a little less sarcasm. And RIM co-chief executive Jim Balsillie has posted his own, somewhat snippy retort to Jobs' trash-talking.)

By Rob Pegoraro  | October 19, 2010; 4:32 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets, Mac, Mobile, The business we have chosen  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: HP plays its Palm cards: WebOS 2.0, Pre 2
Next: Apple to get a new iLife, MacBook Air and... one other thing


Steve is a lot nervous about Android. It has to have echos of Windows/Mac of the 80's. Steve likes to think he knows exactly what the best experience for everyone is. He is often right, but sometimes terribly wrong (hockey puck mouse, USB ports in the back of iMacs).

Reminds me also of AOL who was dominant, but chose an all things to all people strategy. As markets mature, segments form of different users with different needs. Jobs doesn't get that and will find that his one size fits all iPhone solution will get beat by solutions that are tailored to users' distinct needs.

Posted by: dcborn61 | October 19, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Let's just say there is are reasons Rob Pegoraro is a so-so personal technology writer and Steve Jobs is the king of the personal technology universe. These nipping at his heels remarks demonstrate them.

The most blatant poor analysis is Rob's take on the seven-inch tablet issue. Jobs emphasized that the seven-inch screen is only 45% of the viewing area of the iPad. Therefore, a user is losing more than half of available space despite the illusion that less than a third is being lost. Jobs said that, for now, the iPad's viewable area seems to be the minimum for a functional tablet.

He could have used a better format for making these observations - perhaps question and answer. By just expressing himself without solicitation, Jobs came across as bossy. But, a bossy person can provide good insights.

Posted by: query0 | October 19, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Steve oughta be nervous about Android. The only thing holding me back from buying a DroidX is that I want one that is ready for LTE on Verizon.

Posted by: wiredog | October 20, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

I have to admit, while I love my new Kindle 3 WiFi, I don't love the small screen, especially when I'm reading a PDF. I can have Amazon convert PDFs to Kindle format, but it loses something in the translation. A tablet I would love more would be closer to IPad size. That almost says Kindle DX, but like the IPad, that is too expensive. Competition brought down E-book reader prices. Let's see what it does to tablets.

Posted by: jcflack1 | October 20, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

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