On Monday Steve Jobs had a conference call with a bunch of analysts and Macworld were kind enough to publish the transcript.

It gives a good insight into where Apple thinks the smartphone and tablet market is right now.

I found this part particularly interesting:

Twitter client [TweetDeck] recently launched their app for Android. They reported that they had to contend with more than a hundred different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets. The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge. Many Android apps work only on selected Android handsets, running selected Android versions. And this is for handsets that have been shipped less than 12 months ago! Compare this with iPhone, where there are two versions of the software, the current and the most recent predecessor, to test against.

Anyone who has spent enough time around Linux will know that this was inevitable. Yes I know Android strictly speaking isn’t a linux distribution, but merely based on it yet, the lack of control over its implementation allows it to fragment the way it has. Anyone can create a linux distro and a handset maker can use any version of Android.

However, on the desktop you can often use it to your advantage by swapping and changing between distributions to get the features you want, but you are usually tied into a contract with a new phone unless you had the cash to spend on a “pay as you go” deal. You are essentially limited to what the carriers and manufacturers will let you do. There are still a lot of phones running version 1.6 when 2.2 is out. It may not sound like a big deal but when you consider the improvements made between a brand new linux distribution and one released a year ago, that’s a lot of development time users are not benefiting from.

Consider the changes list for 2.2:

  • General Android OS speed, memory, and performance optimizations[48]
  • Additional application speed improvements courtesy of JIT implementation[49]
  • Integration of Chrome‘s V8 JavaScript engine into the Browser application
  • Increased Microsoft Exchange support (security policies, auto-discovery, GAL look-up, calendar synchronization, remote wipe)
  • Improved application launcher with shortcuts to Phone and Browser applications
  • USB tethering and Wi-Fi hotspot functionality
  • Added an option to disable data access over mobile network
  • Updated Market application with batch and automatic update features[48]
  • Quick switching between multiple keyboard languages and their dictionaries
  • Voice dialing and contact sharing over Bluetooth
  • Support for numeric and alphanumeric passwords
  • Support for file upload fields in the Browser application[50]
  • Browser can now display animated GIFs (instead of just the first frame)
  • Support for installing applications to the expandable memory[51]
  • Adobe Flash 10.1 support[52]

I suppose it is like being stuck on Ubuntu 9.10 when 10.10 came out.

Since Mr Jobs made these comments, the Tweetdeck CEO came out in defence of Android, stating:

Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android? Errr nope, no we didn’t. It wasn’t.

Fair enough, but it doesn’t change the fact that users are getting left out by the continuous improvements made to most well-funded open systems.  Ars Technica has a good article on the fragmentation situation here.  There is also a pie-chart showing the situation back in August here.  The situation seems to be improving slowly, which is good news.

He also went on to talk about the wave of 7″ tablets that are coming onto the market:

One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70 percent of the benefits of a 10-inch screen. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The screen measurements are diagonal, so that a seven-inch screen is only 45 percent as large as iPad’s 10-inch screen. You heard me right: just 45 percent as large.

If you take an iPad and hold it upright in portrait view, and draw an imaginary horizontal line halfway down the screen, the screens on these seven-inch tablets are a bit smaller than the bottom half of the iPad’s display. This size isn’t sufficient to create great tablet apps, in our opinion.

I’m inclined to agree here. There just isn’t enough of a difference between a typical smartphone screen and a 7″ tablet screen. You’re going to have to compromise on the size of the text to make it readable and as Jobs point out further on, it needs to be big enough to work with a chubby set of fingers.

The full transcript is here and makes for interesting reading.