Steve Jobs talks trash about Google's Android, knocks tiny tablets

'Apple's playing hardball,' says analyst of Jobs' remarks during earnings call

Apple CEO Steve Jobs yesterday took shots at Google and dismissed iPad wannabes as "dead on arrival" during his company's earnings call with Wall Street analysts.

In a rare appearance on the quarterly call, Jobs took the floor to boast of the iPhone's success, defend iOS' top-to-bottom integration and rebut claims that Google's Android was a better bet for smartphones and tablets.

Analysts took note of Jobs' combative comments. "Apple's playing hardball," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research. "I think he scored some points in making the case for a user experience that just works."

Jobs was blunt when he talked about Google, still a partner in some endeavors but since Android's introduction, a fierce rival.

"Google loves to characterize Android as open, and iOS and iPhone as closed," Jobs said. "We find this a bit disingenuous and clouding the real difference between our two approaches."

Rather than worry about definitions, the focus should be on the end result. "We think the open versus closed argument is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue, which is, what's best for the customer, fragmented versus integrated?" Jobs asked. "We think Android is very, very fragmented and becoming more fragmented by the day."

Jobs cited a comment made last week by TweetDeck, developers of a popular Twitter client that runs on both iOS and Android, to back up his claim of Android fragmentation. "They reported that they had to contend with more than 100 different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets," said Jobs. "The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge."

Not so fast, said Ian Dodsworth, the CEO of TweetDeck. "Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android? Errr nope, no we didn't. It wasn't," Dodsworth said on Twitter early Tuesday.

Jobs also knocked Android for multiple app stores -- those hosted by Google as well as by various carriers -- and the different interfaces on the handsets running the operating system.

"We are very committed to the integrated approach, no matter how many times Google tries to characterize it as closed. And we are confident that it will triumph over Google's fragmented approach," Jobs said.

Jobs' take on Android isn't backed up by analysts and developers. In a survey published last month, the latter pegged Android as the better long-term bet over iOS by wide margins.

Gottheil saw a connection between Jobs' remarks and a story published Monday by the New York Times that contrasted Android's availability on multiple manufacturers' phones with Apple's tightly controlled ecosystem. From his chair, Jobs was making a preemptive strike.

"Apple doesn't want people to see Android as the thing that became the winner because it was 'open,'" said Gottheil. "They don't want any buyers to say, 'The iPhone is old, Android is the cutting edge now.'"

Besides taking on Google over smartphones, Jobs also struck at potential tablet competitors that will rely on Android, and along the way seemed to throw cold water on rumors of a smaller-sized iPad.

iPad's most immediate rivals will all feature a 7-in. screen, which provides less than half as much real estate as Apple's 10-in. tablet, Jobs said. "There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen," he claimed. "This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."

Dell is one firm that has said it will introduce a 7-in. Android-powered tablet.

Jobs suggested that OEMs include sandpaper with their smaller tablets, "so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size" to make them small enough to tap on-screen icons.

"We think the current crop of seven-inch tablets are going to be DOA, Dead on Arrival," said Jobs "Their manufacturers will learn the painful lesson that their tablets are too small and increase the size next year."

Brian Marshall, an analyst with Gleacher & Co., thought Jobs' time during the call did more harm than good. "It was counterproductive, and came across as very cocky, which he didn't need to do," said Marshall. "It was ego talking."

Gottheil, on the other hand, took Jobs' comments as integral to the companies' relationship. "They're the trash talkers of Silicon Valley," he said. "We'll see this back and forth forever, and frankly, it looks like both enjoy it."

Google declined to comment on Jobs' remarks. However, early Tuesday, Andy Rubin, Google's vice president of engineering and the head of Android development, tweeted a message that implied Android was open because its source code could be compiled by anyone.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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