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Apple iOS, Android, Windows 8 – How high do your flowers grow?

Freedom comes with a price, is it worth it?

As the debate heats up and the market wars rage over which mobile operating system to use, I am reminded of something I learned from an old college professor of mine. Though he was talking about socio/economic systems and political theory, they are just as relevant to the mobile OS debate. Do customers prefer the neat and highly ordered walled garden of Apple's iOS, the free market of Google's Android, or perhaps the hybrid of Microsoft's Windows 8? The answer is going to determine where billions of dollars of revenue flow.

Back in college I was a government and politics major. One of my political theory professors was a reformed socialist. Actually, truth be told, he was probably a reformed communist. Back in the 20's and 30's, it was not uncommon to find intelligentsia who were fans of pure socialistic, communistic ideals. Anyway, this particular professor, like a reformed smoker, was a virulent anti-socialist, anti-communist by the time he taught me back in the late 70's, early 80's. 

He taught us that up until about the 1800's all political theory was based on theology. However, with the industrial revolution, urbanization and other trends, the dominant political theory became economics-based. Both Capitalism and Communism were born during this period. My professor used to compare and contrast the two by telling us a story.

He would say that if you want to make sure everyone has flowers, communism can ensure that. Everyone will get the same types and amounts of flowers. All of the flowers will be the same height, the same colors and no one will have more than their fair share. There will be no people who get stuck with short flowers or flowers that don't match, or worse, no flowers at all. On the other hand, there will be no one who has flowers that are bigger or better or even much different than everyone else's flowers. If your flowers grow too tall they will be chopped down to the same size as everyone else's flowers. My professor said the beauty of the American system is we are free to grow our flowers as high and as different as we want.  We have systems in place to make sure everyone gets at least some flowers, but all of our flowers can be different.

Some people prefer the system where everyone gets the same flowers; some people like the system where all of the flowers are different. This is a great analogy for what we see in mobile operating systems today.

If you like what Apple serves up, that's great. Apple is very protective of its user experience and what it offers on its platform. While for most people they give you what you need, it is nevertheless a walled garden - a very nice and pretty walled garden - but a walled garden nonetheless. Sort of like the development I live in here in Florida. It is a gated community. There are only three or four different models of house in the 700+ house development. All of the homes are one shade of beige or another. Each house has the same palm trees, the same look. It is a very pretty neighborhood. But it can be a little too planned and a little too restrictive.

In the case of Apple, this also translates into a higher level of security and consistent UI features. You don't make that choic; Apple makes it for you.

Android represents the other end of the spectrum. You buy a lot in a neighborhood and you can build whatever you like, paint it any color you like. In other words, you can grow your flowers anyway you want to. Of course this comes with its own set of challenges. Sometimes things don't work the way they are supposed to. You can have security challenges. You can get some ugly flowers or ugly homes as neighbors. But you also get more experimentation, more diversity. Viva le difference!

Then, of course, there is the Microsoft plan. I think Steve Ballmer and crew are trying to play Goldilocks. They are trying to steer a course between Android and Apple. They don't want Windows 8 to be plagued with the security issues that plagued Windows for so many years. However, they don't want to be as locked down as Apple. After all, Microsoft embraces open source and diversity, right? Also, Microsoft frankly can't afford to be too restrictive in terms of letting developers build apps for their ecosystem. So they are trying to enforce Windows 8 guidelines, but let app developers have the freedom to bring new and different ideas to the platform.

What about you? How do you like to live? Are you in a cookie-cutter neighborhood? Do you like all of your flowers neat and pretty, but the same? Are you a wild spirit who believes diversity is the spice of life? Has this translated into what kind of mobile OS you are using? Interested in your thoughts.

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