Why The iPhone Is Falling Behind

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Apple haters, Android geeks and misinformed Wall Street analysts will tell you that Apple’s iPhone is falling behind because Apple can’t innovate anymore.

I don’t buy the Apple-doesn’t-innovate BS. Apple is super innovative, and their innovation is focused, disciplined and ultimately results in industry-dominating revenue and profits.

But iPhones are still lacking some of the best innovations out there. This isn’t because Apple can’t innovate. It’s because Apple can’t share. Apple can’t play nice with others. Apple wants to control the user experience, even at the expense of the user.

Apple isn’t open.

This quality used to be a benefit because it prevented the platform from becoming an ugly, confusing, fragmented mess.

But in the past month, Apple’s lack of openness has become a serious problem.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

Android phones have a reputation for customizability. And to a certain extent, they almost require tinkering to optimize the experience.

iPhones, on the other hand, are known for simplicity. Everything just works right out of the box. Apple does this by controlling every aspect of the user experience.

The company pays special attention to what resources apps are allowed to gain access to.

Apple’s aggressive controlling of the user experiences has three major effects:

1. Using an iPhone is the most bullet-proof, elegant and seamless experience in existence.

2. A huge movement to unlock iPhones has emerged in order to get around Apple’s controls.

3. iPhone users who don’t unlock are left behind as the industry innovates in ways that require access to Apple’s locked-down areas of the platform.

This third effect is becoming a serious problem. Instead of being unable to use obscure little apps, users are now being locked out of the major, sweeping, culture-changing trends in mobile computing.

Here are some examples.

Google Now

Google Now for iOS shipped Monday.

It’s no small irony that Google’s breathtakingly awesome Google Now service runs on more iPhones than Android phones — two and a half times as many, according to one estimate.

The Android version works only on Jelly Bean 4.1 or 4.2 plus all future versions of Android, but the majority of Android users are stuck with older versions.

Google could have decided to keep Google Now as an exclusive feature of Android, and thereby motivate millions of iPhone users to switch platforms just to get the service. Yes, it’s that good. Instead, they tried to duplicate the full Google Now feature set on iOS, but were hobbled by Apple’s policy of control.

Unlike on Android, where Google Now is a core part of the user interface, Google Now for iOS has been implemented as a sub-feature of the Google Search app. So Google Now doesn’t interrupt you to alert you with new cards unless you’ve launched the Google Search app.

This corralling of Google Now into an app defeats part of its purpose because interruption is a core benefit.

Another major, one might say magical, quality of Google Now is the ability to read your email and calendar and figure out who you’re interacting with, where you’re going and what you’re doing.

But these work only with Gmail and Google Calendar. Without working with Apple’s alternatives, Google Now is practically useless for people who use those alternatives.

Google Now on Android sees on your calendar that you’re meeting with someone and will actually tell you that you must leave now if you want to be on time. It just jumps out and tells you without you asking. This doesn’t happen on the iOS version.

If you’re going to be late, a button below the map lets you notify that person instantly that you’ll be late. This feature doesn’t exist on the iOS version.

The Android version of Google Now can be used hands-free. You use a “wake command,” and say: “Google!” The app wakes up, ready for another voice command. On the iOS version, you have to launch the app and press the microphone button.

Each of these limitations on the iOS version is by itself a small thing, but they add up to iPhone users missing out on the magic of Google Now.

iPhone users are missing out on the Google Now revolution not because Apple isn’t innovative. It’s because Apple isn’t open.

Facebook Home

Facebook Home is a user interface layer for Android phones that puts Facebook social interaction and content on top of other things on the platform. For example, the lock screen is taken over by fullscreen pictures posted by your Facebook friends. Circular “chat heads” appear on top of whatever Android app you’re using, and persist even as you use the app.

I’m not interested in using Facebook Home and you may not, either. But the point is that a social layer that sits on top of a smartphone OS is a thing, a trend, a paradigm shift in how millions of people will use their phones.

I’m sure Facebook would love to offer Home for iOS for those users who choose it. But Apple would never allow that.

As a result, Facebook has added Chat Heads to their iOS app, but like the iOS version of Google now, this limited feature set is corralled inside the app.

iPhone users are missing out on the Facebook Home revolution not because Apple doesn’t innovate but because Apple isn’t open.

Google Glass

Google Glass is Google’s main wearable computing project. It sits on the right side of your face and head, and beams a screen into your right eye. A touchpad built into the side enables control. And voice commands and even eye blinking is another way to control Glass.

Google Glass will be intimately integrated with Google Now, Google+, YouTube and other Google Services.

We learned this week that Glass will will get an iOS app to facilitate messaging and other features via iPhones. However, unlike the tight integration Glass will likely have with Android phones, the iOS app will mainly just give Glass access to the iPhone’s GPS data and Internet connection.

The real magic will occur when companies design Android apps to work with cloud-based Glass apps to do a bazillion currently unpredictable things — and iPhone users will almost certainly be left out of all of that.

These are just three examples of huge, culture-shifting developments in technology that iPhone users will be left out of.

It’s not about Now, Home and Glass. It’s about proactive and knowing artificial intelligence assistants, social media smartphone layers and wearable technology. These are the giant shifts that Apple users will be watching from the sidelines.

Sure, Apple will continue to work on Siri, integration with other social networks and probably an iWatch as alternatives. But these will always be second-rate alternatives.

And for you Apple fanboys who say that Google Now, Facebook Home and Google Glass are lame technologies for suckers, airheads and dorks, respectively, — and for those of you who believe that jailbreaking will solve all these problems — your argument is invalid. It’s not about you. It’s about what real people really want to do in real life.

Apple is falling behind. And it’s not because Apple isn’t innovative. In fact, even if Apple is more innovative than any other company, they cannot be more innovative than every other company.

That wasn’t a problem when obscure apps and features popped up here and there on other platforms. But now huge technologies are leaving the station, and Apple isn’t on board.