Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority
We all love Android, but come on … Apple killed it this year.
Cupertino hit the ground running with the updated iPhone SE earlier this year. It showed Android manufacturers how to blend groundbreaking performance, flagship features and an affordable price into a winning formula. It’s hard to name an Android equivalent that is equally good for all three. Not only did the phone go through very well, but it set the benchmark for incredible value this year.
The Apple iPad update, Watch Series 6 and iPhone 12 series are all predictably competent pieces of hardware as well. They have improved what we have expected from Apple products over the years. Cupertino certainly knows how to make and market advanced products, which helps keep Android tablets and smartwatches at arm’s length. The company also shook up its various subscription services, combining them under the more competitive Apple One bundle. It’s a slimmer, more competitive force in media-steaming races as a result, which certainly does not harm Apple’s wider ecosystem either.
Apple rounded off 2020 with its most radical change this year. Arm-based Macs with custom Apple silicon will eventually end the company’s reliance on Intel CPUs. This has ushered in a new era of hardware and ecosystem control, from processors to operating systems. The closer fusion of hardware and software will yield benefits for future products in terms of performance and features. The shift to arm-based PCs also unites the processor architecture with iPad and iPhone platforms and blurs the lines between PC and mobile. Apple now has sufficient control to drive performance, photography, gaming, security and other features across all of its platforms, no matter which way it deems appropriate.
The lightning-fast Apple M1 chip will definitely disrupt the MacBook and laptop markets as well as Intel. However, it is likely to be a headache for developers in the short term. Perhaps more importantly, the protracted “Wintel” paradigm is also under increasing pressure. Windows on Arm, which is currently powered by Qualcomm silicon, may see faster uptake from Microsoft’s hardware partners if Apple’s switch to Arm provides sufficient benefits for consumers.
Apple is definitely on the rise as 2020 draws to a close.
It was not all roses
iPhone 12 Pro Max
Credit: David Imel / Android Authority
However, it would be wrong to characterize this year as a flawless victory. Apple also generated its fair share of controversies throughout 2020.
The company teamed up with Fortnite publisher Epic Games earlier this year for over 30% revenue reduction and release terms. Apple ended up removing Fortnite from its App Store. It also moved to end Epic’s access to developer accounts and tools. This saga did not help dampen feelings that Apple is not very developer-friendly. The company’s argument with the email subscription service Hey also not over a similar subscription conflict. Damage Control has subsequently seen Apple drop its app for free to 15% for smaller developers.
Hardware has also not been a slam dunk this year. The AirPods Pro Max headphones have come in for some flak for their exorbitant $ 550 price. Especially since rivals like the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 come in much cheaper. If annoying players and audiophiles weren’t enough, Apple also managed to annoy pretty much all of its iPhone 12 customers by dropping in-box chargers.
Also see: The rechargeable iPhone 12 is not as environmentally friendly as Apple would have you think
While there are environmental waste arguments about in-box chargers that are worth considering, Apple does not earn any goodwill for its decision. Switching to a Lightning to USB-C cable means some customers will not be able to charge their new iPhone 12 with older iPhone chargers. Having to buy a new USB-C charger undermines the waste argument, just as the potential long-term move goes to the proprietary MagSafe standard. Still, I would encourage customers to consider downloading a single USB-C charger for their phone and laptop needs.
Apple has certainly not improved its rather gloomy reputation for unfriendly consumer and industry practices this year.
Android got a few wins, but the ecosystem battle is that Apple is losing
Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority
Despite a few PR setbacks, Apple’s hardware and ecosystem launches have left the company in a stronger position than at the beginning of the year and with a clear vision for 2021. It’s harder to say the same for the Android ecosystem.
In 2020, some very interesting Android phones arrived at more affordable price points. Cheap 5G handsets, such as Google Pixel 4a 5G and OnePlus Nord, have made the next generation of networks more affordable than ever. Android has nailed price and performance sweet spot this year. There has also been a well-known selection of powerful Android flagships that are as good as the latest iPhones, if not better. However, high-end products do not shake the industry alone.
Related: Does Google have an answer for Apple’s all-in-one ecosystem?
Apple is moving towards a unified platform for smartphones, wearables, TVs and now PCs. Cupertino is tightening up its ecosystem to ensure that all of its devices and services play nicely together in the future. Expansive ecosystems that meet all of your technology needs are where the premium market is heading. Android manufacturers do not have this luxury. They rely on Google, Microsoft and others to link and fight different devices together.
Samsung is perhaps the only Android brand with a broad product range to compete with Apple. Tizen-powered smartwatches come closer to competing with the Apple Watch than their Wear OS counterparts. The company also has a range of smart devices and audio products under its belt, though its tablet choice – particularly the iPad Pro-rival Galaxy Tab S7 Plus – is a case study in Google’s software that otherwise holds good hardware. By comparison, Apple’s iPad series reaps the benefits of a unified approach to premium hardware and software. All in all, Samsung still does not have a powerhouse PC platform or efforts in the streaming market like Apple. Meanwhile, Google also thinks of an Apple competitor, but barely registers in terms of product shipments.
Android manufacturers cannot exercise the same control and influence across their broader product lines as Apple.
While the long-awaited Google TV update for Android TV offered some much-needed ecosystem improvements on the streaming front, Chromebooks in their current form will not unite Google’s mobile and PC platforms. Not in the same way as Apple’s Arm Macs. Of course, Assistant and Google services are still good to use across multiple devices, especially in the automotive industry and the smart home market. But there is currently no vision to unify apps across these platforms and PCs. This is something that corporate customers will consider even more than us typical consumers. Likewise, Google’s TV, wearables, and gaming initiatives are still separate and underdeveloped.
So I personally assign this year to Apple. The company has a clear and exciting vision for the next few years. By comparison, 2020 has mostly been business as usual for Android and Google. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We have seen lots of good handsets this year. But Android and Google look less forward-looking than their biggest rival. For now at least.