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Why Mountain Lion could blunt Android’s momentum

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As we learned last week, Apple’s next version of OS X software for laptops and desktops is called Mountain Lion. I have been running it on my MacBook Air (s aapl) for the past two days, and it has already impacted my mobile device usage. How could a desktop platform impact usage of Google Android (s goog) mobile devices? Don’t those mobile devices compete with iOS and not OS X? They do, but with Mountain Lion, Apple is bringing more of the iOS experience into OS X. And that’s bad for Android, which started losing U.S. market share to iOS last quarter.

A unified experience on desktop and mobile

Before getting to my own experiences, let me share a thoughtful piece that hones in on what Apple is doing, from Jean-Louis Gassée’s point of view. Here is a key excerpt from his most recent Monday post:

For a company that prides itself on simplicity and elegance, it only makes sense that Apple would offer a consistent UX across all its devices, a GUUX, a Grand Unified User Experience. Apple customers should be able to move easily and naturally from one device to another, selecting the best tool for the task at hand. Add another unification, iCloud storage services, and Apple can offer more reasons to buy more of its products.

In typical fashion, Gassée nails the concept with a descriptive term, a “grand unified user experience.” I had a similar epiphany over the past weekend as I kicked the tires of Apple’s Mountain Lion software, but Gassée penned it perfectly. And even before I read his post, I noticed something that I hadn’t been doing for ages. I started reaching for my iPhone 4S instead of my Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Does this mean I will no longer be a daily Android user? No, I will keep using Android alongside iOS and even Windows Phone(s MSFT). Of course, I am an outlier: I try to use all platforms to see which is best for the different tasks and use cases people have. However, it is telling that my Galaxy Nexus — and even my Galaxy Tab 7.7 slate — have not been used much since I installed Mountain Lion.

How these two platforms work together

Take a look at the feature set in Mountain Lion and you can see the integration between desktop and mobile. Use Mountain Lion, however, and you will start to experience something new; at least, that’s how I’m feeling. It begins to matter less if you are on a desktop, laptop, phone or a tablet: You can use similar apps and interfaces to get things done.

The new Notifications in OS X works and looks just like its counterpart on iPhones and iPads running iOS 5. And reading an email on my iPhone, for example, removes the notification for that message on my desktop. That is huge, as people don’t need to see the same email or notification for it multiple times as they move across devices.

The new Messages in OS X, which you can actually download now, is another example. It looks and acts similar to iMessages in iOS 5. Plus the conversation follows you whether you are on a Mac, iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. Over the weekend, I had a long chat with my son and was able to seamlessly carry on the conversation regardless of which Apple product I had in hand. Of course, FaceTime is supported on both OS X and iOS, so with a single tap we were video chatting without worrying which devices we were using.

Reminders and Notes in Mountain Lion are also lifted from iOS, where they are simple and effective. But the killer feature of both is the ability to sync data across iCloud between the desktop and mobile devices. Again, it doesn’t matter which device you are using at a given time: You will still see your notes or get your reminder alarm at the appropriate time. These are just a few of the new iOS tie-ins. Here is a complete list.

So what does this have to do with Android?

Simply put, Android doesn’t have native integration with a true desktop platform. Instead, it is cloud-focused from a data perspective while leaning heavily on third-party apps, browser extensions and its own Chrome browser to offer a “use anywhere” experience. It works, but based on what I have seen from Mountain Lion so far, it is looking more disjointed.

Perhaps Google’s ChromeOS, used in ChromeBooks, will eventually bring this type of integration for Android users, but today it doesn’t exist in a Google platform, with the exception of the Chrome browser and the web in general. For example, there is no true Google Tasks apps, unless you consider the applet that is part of Gmail in the web. And there is no mobile Tasks app from Google. Instead, there are several third-party apps that synchronize with Google Tasks.

The new Chrome browser for Android is a step in the right direction, as it can show you open tabs from Chrome on a desktop. Safari can’t do that yet, but it does support bookmark synchronization through iCloud, which is good enough for most people now. The odd thing is that I have used Chrome as my go-to browser for the past three years or so. But again, with Mountain Lion, I flipped over to Safari 5.2, which I find faster than the current version of Chrome, and it supports a synchronized reading list between my iPhone and my MacBook Air.

I smell a trend

Clearly, Apple is unifying the experience across all of its devices, based on the examples here. Google is doing it to a lesser degree between Android and the Chrome browser. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see it attempt to do the same with its ChromeOS, possibly at this year’s Google I/O developer event. But even Microsoft is working the same angle with Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

Both will use the Metro user interface, presumably to provide a seamless experience. It is for this reason among others that I made the prediction of Microsoft handsets outselling BlackBerrys (s RIMM) by the end of this year. In December I suggested that “Windows 8 will actually help create demand for Windows Phone in the second half of the year as desktop upgraders will want the Metro user interface on their phones for a unified experience.”

How much could this interaction between Mountain Lion and iOS hurt Android sales? That is hard to say. Those who prefer a greater range of control over their mobile devices will still likely choose an Android device in the near term. But people looking for a “grand user interface unification” may give up some control in order to gain a seamless experience across devices and choose iOS, especially if they are current or new Mac OS X users when Mountain Lion arrives this summer.

I will still continue to rotate through my gadgets based on my needs so that I am always using the best tool for my tasks. Plus I enjoy customizing my Android devices and using my phone to wirelessly pay for goods. However, there is something to be said for Apple’s core integration competency, and I think I said it best in a tweet last week:

40 Responses to “Why Mountain Lion could blunt Android’s momentum”

  1. “started losing U.S. market share to iOS last quarter” – the link you provide says iPhone was 44.5% to Android’s 46.9% ** IN DECEMBER **. That’s not market share, that’s recent sales. So all your link is really saying is that the iPhone is not losing share as fast as it had been in previous months. Unless you have a different interpretation, Android has not lost any share to iPhone at all.

  2. The killer feature would be “unified notification centers”

    Why do I need to reach for my iPhone if I recurve an SMS (not iMessage)?. I should be able to see the SMS on my Mac OS and reply directly from there.

    If I get a call on my iPhone when setting at my desk I should be able to take the call from my Mac OS.

  3. Pedro Castellanos

    Well when I started using Android I was surprised of how everything was on the clouth… switching form one Android device to another was a very sweet experience. But then I think google is not exploding the potential of these because much of their cloud apps sucks in terms of user experience and computer continum… that is the case of gmail contacts, tasks, calendar, docs, picasa, etc. They had it… they blow it!

  4. I do like every of these Apple apps on their own and they are beautiful, however, I have to admit that I actually find the split between reminders, iCal, notes and email incredibly cluttered. It makes sense on the phone but on the desktop it is a very “un Apple” experience. I am no fan of the Redmond guys but there is no better solution then Exchange Service hooked up to an iPhone with Outlook on the desktop for these type of apps… Does Reminder actually sync with Tasks?

  5. Peter Deep

    I think many commenters have deconstructed this concept, and with that are missing the point. I don’t think the author was saying anything is better than anything else. I think he was making the point that one company, in this case Apple, is creating an amazing user experience, right out of the box, no effort required. It is simple and elegant at the same time. That in itself is worth noting and writing about. Yes, it’s only on Apple computers and devices, but – for right now anyway – it’s the only place you’re going to enjoy such elegance. He’s not trying to make it anything more than it is, but that hasn’t stopped people here from trying to make it less than it is.

    • Well said, Peter. I don’t tell people which is better or best, because I don’t know what their specific requirements are. And you hit the nail on the head: Apple is bringing seamless UX integration across their desktop and mobile platforms, in my opinion. Thx!

  6. Nico Pretorius

    The desktop is moving into the cloud, with html5 as the front-end. So even though a unified look-and-feel is important now, in about 2 years from now it will matter a lot less, the focus is already busy moving.

    • John Molloy

      2 years says you will be proven wrong.

      The thing is not really about accessing the data, any geek can do that, it’s about how anyone can do it. This is where Apple is winning hands down. I know of several older people who have bought iPads as their first computer and they are simply amazed at what it can do.

  7. Actually, what matters is not that the OS looks the same on all platforms, but that the data is available and synchronized.
    So it’s not the OS, it’s the data!
    Why does all this look magical on iOS and OSX? Because the iMessages data is cloud synced, my contacts are in gmail and exchange, and synch to my phone and tablet. My mail and calendar are the same. There is the 90% of my data I need everywhere. Then add Dropbox. Now I get 2.5GB for free, synced EVERYWHERE, not jus my macs. I can get to it from work, from home, on Linux, windows and OS X, and mobile on IOS. Kindle synchs my books, and I use calibre with a forwarded port running at home to let me get any book in my collection not on kindle. Now if only all my Xbox data synced between my two xboxes 8)

  8. To Karen K.

    I could be wrong but I would say 95% of people that own a mac would have an iPhone so it makes sense to unify the ecosystem. This may actually generate more sales of mac hardware as people will see how good it is to be consistent. In my opinion apples iPhone is the weaker product between Apples macbooks and iMacs(I have a 4S and love it btw) But the macbook range and OSX are amazing.

    As long as OSX doesnt go to stupid and become iOS then i will be happy. having the same apps over my phone and mac seamlessly syncing is great, mountain lion should of been what lion was though!

    • Danny Kralemann

      This is where I’m sort of screwed. I own a Macbook Pro, but don’t care for the iphone. I have a Galaxy Note.

      I prefer the Android mobile experience and the Mac PC experience.

      I am… a mutt.

  9. Idon't Know

    Androids success is due to low cost through BOGO and other offerings. That and until recently the iPhone was only on AT&T. now that they are on other carriers they are eating Androids lunch.

  10. It’s interesting how google and apple while reaching for the same thing are doing it in such different manners. Apple’s closed system I think will eventually backfire on them, that is if they do keep a desktop/laptop operating system presence. Who knows, they may be planning world domination thru smartphones and ipads, I wouldn’t blame them. I like Google’s open approach much better, and my primary phone is an iphone and I use an ipad, I also run Win7 on my Macbook Air so I’m far from a stranger from Apple’s ecosystem.

    I’m also quite surprised at all the positive reviews for Mountain Lion. I found it to be just more of what’s in Lion, that is teenie bopper junk like text messaging. I didn’t see much of substance, OSx overall is a pretty crappy OS in terms of basic UI and functionality. Apple should consider putting in its energy towards improving god awful designs like the taskbar, allowing larger DPI fonts for their rumored retina display laptops, fixing their god awful file system, etc etc. It just irks the heck out of me to see these iOS like changes when all I want is a nice solid OS to run my “computer” like functions on.

  11. ormy underhill

    Kevin I am afraid the effects of Mountain Lion, Chrome and the like are lost on 95% of Android users. They are ordinary folk who use their phones for texting, Twitter, browsing and the like. Things that float the boat for the 5% are largely overstated. As they say…simple is good.

  12. I keep in touch with my sons using Google Chat and Hangouts. We can all chat by text, voice, or video, using any combination of our Android phones, Ubuntu laptops, and Windows desktops. That blows away any limited Apple offering.

    • beenyweenies

      …as long as you only need to communicate with other OSX/iOS users. That is to say, unless all of your family and friends also have mac desktops and iOS devices, you won’t be using these new communication features much at all.

  13. Peeyush Rai

    Kevin google’s ecosystem does not depend on the “Desktop” as such, since they dont really have any. And as you pointed out, Chrome is closest. However, the examples you gave on email, notifications, messaging etc. have been there in the google ecosystem from the beginning and work well and seamlessly interoperate between different devices. Same applies to Documents. I think the question really is how much is going to move to the cloud. If the desktop’s future is going to be an access device, then Google’s strategy and execution is ahead. Given Mac has minority share in the PC market, will a grand unified experience make people buy more macs or more iphones/ipads? Hard to say.

    • Peeyush, you’re spot on. The difference I see that Google’s services work well across devices through the web, not through the desktop platform itself. That may not matter in the long run. Like you, I’m very interested in seeing what happens to Mac and iOS device sales based on this unification. Thanks!

      • beenyweenies

        Expanding on the points made by Peeyush, the Google ecosystem is (for the most part) not tied to any particular OS or individual computer. Windows, OSX, iOS or Android, your home computer or a machine at an internet cafe, you can access and use virtually all of Google’s services.

        Taking that point one step further, this article fails to touch on the near certainty that these new features will only work with OSX/iOS devices, meaning that users of these services cannot even use them to communicate with Windows/Android users.

        All told, I don’t understand the rationale behind this article. Google’s platform agnostic array of services are infinitely more accessible, and therefore useful, than Mountain Lion.

        • Understood, but I think you’re missing a key point: this isn’t only about accessing your data across devices (an old concept), it’s about a unified interface across devices (a new concept). I agree about some of the limitations such a system has: Facetime is a perfect example. But not everything is closed to Apple devices only: Messages works with standard text messaging and at no cost.

      • Peeyush is spot on… Lets put this differently will you rather store your files on iCloud which works only on the mac ecosystem (and which does not really store files) or on skydrive which works only on the windows ecosystem or on dropbox which works everywhere, and has a reasonably unified UI.
        The whole point of the cloud is device agnosticism and universal access. When the cloud gets siloed, it loses the script somewhat.

        Case in point is Apples photo stream, I love the “wow – magic”‘ness of the feature as much as I love google+’s background uploader. The difference is that I can access the google+ photos from the web on my office computer (which is windows) and do what I want with it. My wife who has the iPhone needs to come home to the mac to do something with the photos as there is no web ui.

        The bigger picture with mountain lion is the magic of iCoud not the unified UI. The good thing about the cloud is that it can be made to work from any os . Apples approach with the cloud is to put a moat around it. It is more of a business decision rather than an experience or technical decision. (Dropbox is an example of how this could have been done differently)

        By the way we own 1 iphone 1 ipad 1 android and 2 macs. Its majority mac but we cannot always control the office it ecosystem.

      • “Understood, but I think you’re missing a key point: this isn’t only about accessing your data across devices (an old concept), it’s about a unified interface across devices (a new concept).”

        Doesn’t the web browser already provide a unified interface across different devices? I mean, it’s not exactly a new thing.

        “And that’s bad for Android, which started losing U.S. market share to iOS last quarter.”

        “Started” implies a trend. And one quarter (especially one featuring a delayed launch of a new iPhone) doesn’t make a trend. I don’t know, it seems like every time Apple releases a new product or a new version of whatever, it “spells trouble for Android”. It just smacks of pandering. Some new features on an operating system with less than 10% market share is not going to have a huge impact on the mobile market. It might keep some iOS users from switching, but that’s about it.

        And do people really use standalone desktop applications for messaging anymore?
        Is there a Facebook for Windows?

        • Definitely see your points. The web really doesn’t provide a unified interface though, does it? Data, yes. UI, not as much. Why? Browsers look different between desktops, tablets and smartphones. Safari on iOS is pretty similar and Chrome is getting there now that Chrome for Android is available in beta for a very limited sub-set of all Android devices.

          I agree with you in that one quarter doesn’t make a trend. But looking at the link where I said that in the post is a graph of revenue and profit share losses for most Android makers, meaning if they don’t turn things around they won’t be able to stay in the business of Android handset sales. If that happens, they likely turn to Windows Phone. Granted, this is an extreme or long term POV, but I wanted to illustrate why I wrote that point; I’m not looking at one quarter alone. Thanks!

    • Idon't Know

      Minority share? Have you seen the numbers lately? Sales of Macs and iOS devices are eating everyone else alive.
      Sales of Macs and iOS devices are through the roof.
      You answered your own question but your are confusing numbers of Windows boxes with profit.