Why Comparing Mobile Devices and Computers is Difficult and Probably Pointless 

Fellow Memphian and nerd Jen Simmons said this on Twitter last night:

I guess Android vs iPhone is the new Mac vs PC. Except iPhone is PC.

Which, of course, blew up the Memphis+Nerd Twitter conversation last night.

I think comparing computers and mobile devices is a fundamentally flawed activity. Smartphones and computers are similar devices, but at the same time, they are very different. Computers are usually long-term purchases, but without strings attached. Computers don’t come with cell phone carriers. Computers aren’t hopelessly out-dated in just 2–3 years like smartphones. Don’t like the Mac? Buy a PC. Don’t like Windows? Move to the Mac. Most people aren’t tied to a single platform in the age of webmail and online photo services anyways. Mark Sigal posted a whole long thing on is just a few months ago. Go read it.

That said, let’s talk about computers and mobile devices.

When the iPhone was launched in 2007, it was no doubt very Mac-like in the eyes of most consumers. It was well designed, easy to use, simple and sexy. It was expensive, but a certain group of users — mostly people concerned with things like design and usability — saw the extra money well-worth it.

Today, the iPhone is still like the Mac in many ways. The things that made it Mac-like in 2007 are still relevant.

However, the iPhone is also a lot like the PC, to Jen’s point. It has a dominant position in the market. It has way more apps than other mobile platform. You see them everywhere — even in the hands of people who have no idea how to use all of the features available.

Philosophically, Android is pretty close to Windows. The OS isn’t very polished. There are tons of hardware options, all powered by an OS built by a single company — just like Windows. The apps aren’t as pretty as iOS-based apps, and the whole thing can get unstable after a while.

Then there’s WebOS, which is a beautiful, slick OS on really crappy hardware. It’s like the Mac in many ways — most WebOS users are hardcore enthusiasts who love the platform. WebOS’ market share is so small, it is hard to argue that it is relevant anymore (if it ever was).

So is the iPhone the new PC? I don’t think so, because I don’t think it really matters. The smartphone arena is a very volatile, young market. Lots can change. Hell, the iPhone is only three years old. Comparing them to desktop computers is unfair to both categories of products.

But it is a lot of fun to debate about.