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Android vs iPhone: Have the Laws of Software been Overturned?

A recent GigaOM post about iPhone’s momentum vs Android was interesting, because it suggests that the Laws of Software may have been overturned.

Since the early days of the PC, the software industry has operated according to a pattern described in Michael Cusumano’s classic The Business of Software: The successful software companies are the ones which gathered the largest number of users.  The best practitioners were Microsoft and, later, Google.  Both followed similar strategies: lower costs, add distribution partners, add users, and branch into related products.

Apple was the oddball.  Its dogged attempt to make hardware and software together made it look like a throwback to the age of the minicomputer.  Its quaint insistence on user experience and quality made one want to grab Steve Jobs, shake him, and yell — “Can’t you see the user base is all that matters?”

So… what happened?  Could it be that

  1. Low switching costs (suggested in the GigaOM) article made it important for software companies to keep the users happy?
  2. Computing has become so inexpensive that users can and will pay for a product that made them happy?
  3. The emergence of consumer computing over corporate computing made the user’s happiness important?

Are software companies finally in the user-happiness business?