Windows is 'open' in Steve Jobs' world

Apple's CEO takes liberties with language and reality in making his case for iOS's supremacy over Android

Apple CEO Steve Jobs yesterday declared that when people hear the word "open," they think "Windows." And no, he didn't mean the pane-glass variety of windows on buildings that let in light; he was attempting to convince listeners at the company's quarterly earnings call that Microsoft's notoriously closed operating system is, in the view of the average observer, somehow open.

This remarkable display of double-speak came in the context of Jobs' diatribe against Android, arguably Apple's only true adversary in the smartphone universe. Rather than taking a clear approach of explaining why Apple's undeniably closed-code policy for it iOS is better than Android's open approach, Jobs opted to take liberties with language while engaging in a touch of fearmongering in an effort to reframe the Android vs. iOS battle as "fragmented" (bad!) vs. "integrated" (good!). (Seeking Alpha has a transcript of the call.)

Attempting to redefine "open," Jobs said the following: "Google loves to characterize Android as open and iOS and iPhone as closed. We find this a bit disingenuous and clouding the real difference between our two approaches. The first thing most of us think about when we hear the word 'open' is Windows which is available on a variety of devices. Unlike Windows, however, where most PCs have the same user interface and run the same app, Android is very fragmented."

So because Microsoft has different versions of desktop Windows (I presume he means Windows 7 Basic, Home Edition, Premium Edition, and so on, as opposed to the different versions of Windows for desktop, phone, and server), all of which look more or less the same on a PC, the platform is thus open. Don't try too hard to make sense of this argument; your brain might blue-screen.

Jobs' real point appears to be that iOS (and Windows) are integrated, meaning you'll only find one consistent version of the platform on your device of choice, be it iPhone or iPad. As such, you'll get the same user experience. All your apps will run the same. It's all streamlined and integrated and everything works.

By contrast, Jobs is making the case that Android is fragemented in that versions of the platform will vary from device to device, given that OEMs are able to tinker with the platform's code. (Note to Jobs: That's what "open" means when people talk about software.) Jobs goes on to argue that the fragmentation is bad because it results in inconsistency and means apps that work on a Motorola smartphone might not work on a Nokia smartphone, a Dell mini-tablet, or what have you.

While there may be some truth to Jobs' observation, two points warrant mentioning. First, the case that iOS is consistent in all iterations is a stretch: Apps do not easily port back and forth between iPad and iPhone.

Second, Jobs is fueling the growing rumor around the blogosphere that there are "hundreds of variants" of Android out there, which means developers simply can't code consistent, tested apps that will work on all Android devices. But according to InfoWorld's resident app dev expert Martin Heller, this argument is overblown: "Android market fragmentation is a nonproblem for software developers. From a programming viewpoint, if you are using the Android SDK, you basically stick to the Android and Google APIs for 99.7 percent of what you do, pick a minimum API level you want to target, and don't worry at all about the UI skinning that HTC, Samsung, and Motorola add."

One other notable nugget in Jobs' lecture: He evidently views the availability of Android apps from more than one source as a drawback: "In addition to Google's own app marketplace, Amazon, Horizon, and Vodafone have all announced that they are creating their own app stores for Android. So there will be at least four app stores on Android, which customers must search among to find the app they want and developers will need to work with to distribute their apps and get paid. This is going to be a mess for both users and developers."

If Jobs is so concerned about inundating customers and developers with so many choices, perhaps he should pull the plug on the iTunes Store. After all, it just further overwhelms music enthusiast and musicians alike with yet another storefront for buying and selling tunes.

This article, "Windows is 'open' in Steve Jobs' world," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.