The hype around the upcoming iPhone 5 - which is rapidly approaching the hysterical peak that we've all come to expect every time Apple rolls out a new model - has already generated a number of possible reasons for Google and its Android partners to worry about the device's impact.
COUNTERPOINT: 5 reasons Android users will switch to the iPhone 5
But hang on - does the emperor really have any clothes? As impressive as the iPhone 5 is almost certain to be, it's possible that the Android world has already passed Apple by.
1 - Hardware
Apple hasn't been the top dog in this department for some time. Comparing the iPhone 4S to the Galaxy Nexus (which launched within about a month of each other) shows this pretty clearly -- The GNex has a significantly faster processor, twice the RAM, 4G/LTE connectivity and support for 5GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi.
The only areas where the iPhone wins out are in available storage - both devices have 16G and 32GB models, but 64GB iPhones are available - and display features. Those advantages are marginal at best, however - Apple's vaunted Retina Display technology only provides a minor difference in on-paper pixels per inch, and the GPU used doesn't substantially outclass that used in the Galaxy Nexus.
Naturally, the iPhone 5 is expected to make a number of improvements in this department, but will it be enough to catch up to an Android lineup that features technical heavyweights like the Samsung Galaxy S III?
2 - Jelly Bean
Even though there are relatively few devices running it, Android 4.1, or Jelly Bean, represents a turning point in the battle between the two operating systems. Google's addition of performance improvements, better notification data and a voice search feature that - depending on who you ask - is as good as or better than Siri trumps the improvements that Apple made with iOS 6.
Android's always provided a more variable user experience than iOS, and that problem is still there to a large extent - Jelly Bean isn't helping you much if you're stuck running Gingerbread with a crappy vendor overlay, thanks to slow updates from service providers and OEMs. Still, as the slick, powerful Android 4.1 becomes more common, Apple's reputation for delivering the best user experience out there - deserved or not - could take a big hit.
3 - Openness
With some exceptions - I'm looking at you, locked bootloaders - Android offers a more open ecosystem than iOS, which is one thing that's highly unlikely to change with the release of the iPhone 5.
This isn't just an advantage to serious geeks looking to tweak and tinker in their spare time - Android's open-source nature and more modern programming tools make it more fertile ground for developers looking to craft creative new applications. Given the critical importance of a healthy selection of third-party apps, this is not a trivial concern.
4 - Variety
Despite the gadget world's fascination with the latest and greatest (and really, who could blame it?), it's important to occasionally take a step back and look at the entire ecosystem of devices, rather than just the most powerful high-end gear.
Android offers a huge array of potential options for users on a budget or those that need non-standard features. Want a physical keyboard? There are plenty of Android choices out there for that. Don't want to pay $200 and up for the top of the line? Get the last generation's powerhouse for next to nothing.
5 - Perception
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there's invariably an enormous amount of hype surrounding every iPhone launch - Apple has a huge number of devoted, noisy fans, including a not-inconsiderable number of media types. In the early days of the iPhone, when it really was something qualitatively different from the rest of the market, this type of product launch helped create buzz and cement the iPhone in the public eye as the cool device to have.
The smartphone landscape is very different now, however. The iPhone just isn't the uniquely desirable device that it once was. It's still well-designed, slick-looking and expertly marketed, but it's now merely one entry among many in an increasingly competitive marketplace, and, in several ways, it has actually begun to lag behind the competition.
This means that the expectations for the iPhone 5 are sky-high. Should it fail to justify the hype in even minor ways, a lot of users might just decide to opt for an Android device instead.
Full disclosure - the author has been an Android user for three years. His current phone is a Nexus S 4G on Sprint, and he really wants an update to Jelly Bean.
Email Jon Gold at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.
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