By Joe Levi | November 20, 2012 12:19 PM
We recently let you know about an interview Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn) had with Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft), in which Ballmer went on record about Microsoft’s competition: Apple and Android. To preface Ballmer’s statement, he’s talking about Android apps, not necessarily the Android platform.
“The ecosystem of Android is a little bit wild, relative, that is, from an app compatibility perspective, malware perspective is, maybe, in a way that’s not always in the consumer’s best interest. Uncontrolled. (SIC)”
Android has 72.4% of the market compared to Windows Phone’s 3%. With numbers like that, Android has to be doing something right. Putting aside the fact that Android has been in the game longer than Windows Phone (but not longer than Microsoft, or even smartphones from Microsoft), is Android really “wild” and “uncontrolled” and suffering from “app compatibility” and “malware” problems like Ballmer suggests? Yes and no.
Google takes a different approach to app submissions into their Play Store. Unlike Apple and Microsoft that require apps to be approved before being listed, apps submitted to Google are automatically accepted. Some argue that this “lack of control” puts consumers at risk from malicious apps and apps that collect too much information about their users. To be frank, Android has had its fair share of malware problems. However, for Microsoft to call Android out on this is somewhat ridiculous. Windows (for desktop and laptop computers) has had a very similar approach for installing apps and is notorious for its lack of security and letting applications run “wild” on computers. Infected PCs can be used as zombies which can be remotely controlled to do all sorts of bad things. But we’re not talking about desktop computers, so let’s get back on point.
Both Apple and Microsoft pre-approve apps before listing them in their respective stores. Neither has been able to catch 100% of malware from getting past the screening process — nor do they claim that they do.
Google hasn’t sat idly by and let malware consume their Play Store. Quite the opposite. Google has implemented regular app scanning to look for code that mimics undesirable behavior. Google can not only pull such apps from the store, but they can remotely remove the apps from Android-powered tablets and smartphones — and have done so in the past. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a fair amount of “control” to me.
Some might argue that apps can be installed on Android-powered devices without going through the Play Store and thereby circumvent Google’s “control” which could let smartphones and tablets be targeted by evildoers around the planet! To start with, installing apps from “Unknown sources” is disabled by default. Users who want to assume the risk have to break out of the installation process to change a setting before any apps can be sideloaded.
Yes, after telling Android that you want to be able to, and having been made aware of the risks associated with doing so, users can “sideload” apps on most Androids, but like apps that are installed through the Play Store, users are warned about what permissions the app is requesting and are given the opportunity to cancel the installation. Of course that assumes that users are actually reading the permissions screen and wondering why any given app is asking for those particular permissions. Unfortunately, many users don’t do that.
For those who have assumed the risk, Google has addressed that as well, and has turned on a new feature in Android Jelly Bean 4.2 called “Verify apps”. This feature, which is enabled by default, will either disallow or warn users before allowing apps to be installed that may cause harm.
While the “Verify apps” feature isn’t available on older versions of Android, all the other protections and warnings are.
Why does “Wild” and “Uncontrolled” work?
A significant portion of users want to be able to do whatever they wish with their smartphones and tablets. OEMs want to be able to configure the devices they’ll sell to users so they’re different than their competition — something marketers call “differentiation”.
If you want an Apple product you have to buy an Apple product. It looks just like every other Apple product.
If you want to buy a Microsoft Phone you can buy one from any of several OEMs, but Microsoft doesn’t let the OEMs do much as far as differentiating their phones from their competitors — not with software anyway. Hardware is a different story.
Android, on the other hand, is open for OEMs as well as end-users to customize, modify, personalize, and more.
Given these three approaches, Android offers the greatest amount of flexibility and options in hardware and software configuration as well as application selection.
Android is not so much “wild” and “uncontrolled” as it is “free” and “flexible”, and gives users “choices” and “options”. That’s why you’ll find an Android in nearly three out of four pockets today. That’s what’s gotten Android in a position where it dominates the market.