**As published in RCR Wireless News** SANTA MONICA, CALIF. – For all the momentum Google’s Android operating system is enjoying of late, there are some key areas that many executives believe Apple has it beat on with the iPhone OS. These differentiating features – billing, user interface, development ease and scale (for at least the time being) – are nothing to scoff at either. Now, with the iPad already surpassing 1 million units sold in as many months, there’s a reinvigorated sense of interest and easy-to-understand business reasons for placing more focus and investment in Apple’s mobile flavor. A crowded panel of eight representing big media and publishers at Digital Hollywood yesterday spent considerable time heaping praise and wonder on Apple’s latest gadget. Later on, the OS offerings from BlackBerry, Google, Microsoft and HP-Palm got their fair shake, but Apple kept cropping up as the main draw.
“From a developer’s perspective, it’s really tough to pick up a new platform … based on testing liability alone,” said Walker Fenton, GM of NewsGator Media & Data Services. With various screen resolutions to take into account on other platforms alone, “all of a sudden your testing liability goes through the roof,” he added. “Apple is just making it too easy to get into the iPhone and iPod Touch massive audience.” Jim Garrett, founder and CEO of Kudzu Interactive, the company behind Snapfinger , said Apple is so far ahead it’s not even a race anymore. “Frankly the Android user interface looks like two generations prior on the iPhone,” he added. “I think everybody is playing catch up right now.” Of all the mobile device players in the field today, Apple is the only one that’s really a consumer marketing company, Garrett said. All the others are purely engineering companies and it shows, he added. “No slight on engineers – love them – but you’re not consumer marketing people,” he said. “I just don’t see anybody catching (Apple) in the next couple of years. I just don’t. I wish they would because the marketplace needs it.” But the most prized feather in Apple’s mobile cap is turning out to be billing. Jim Eadie, VP of digital distribution at MTV Networks, said no other company comes close to the number of billing relationships Apple has through its iTunes storefront. After adding up around 100 million U.S.-based iTunes billing accounts and as many as 40 million devices (counting iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads), it doesn’t take much arithmetic to see the massive scale Apple has achieved on mobile in less than three years, Eadie said. That’s not to say other platforms are being completely written off. Shravan Goli, president of Dictionary.com, offered some download numbers to help frame where the market is shaking out. Dictionary.com’s mobile app has been downloaded more than 6.5 million times on the iPhone platform, 1 million times on Android and 2.5 million times on BlackBerry devices, he said. “There is enough energy and attention from consumers on all of these devices,” Goli added. Surely, he and others on the panel were quick to offer caveats in the form of Android, BlackBerry, Microsoft and webOS, but it’s difficult to see any of them achieve even a fraction of that many billing relationships anytime soon. Worse yet, are the development hurdles that lie in the path well before billing comes into the picture. Fandango’s director of business development, Darren Cross, said developing for each and every mobile platform is nothing short of misery. “I’m looking forward to the day, hopefully two years out, where it’s not about apps,” he said, reminiscing for a return to the mobile Web. But for now, apps are the name of the game. Moreover, the majority of publishers appear to be eyeing the iPad as their next platform of choice for the foreseeable future. For Flixster’s president and COO, Steve Polsky, the question is whether Apple’s new device will eventually jettison notebooks or settle down as a new device category. “It’s pretty interesting from a media consumption perspective,” he said.