Pros: Apple still maintains many of the advantages that have sustained its growth during the past few years. Despite pressure from Android, iOS is still the platform application developers care about the most. This then feeds into a positive feedback loop for Apple, which maintains the largest app library via its App Store, with over 550,000 apps. Apple also leads the market in apps specifically designed for tablets, and its iPad continues to dominate the global tablet market, despite growing enthusiasm for Android-based tablets. NPD Connected Intelligence analyst Ross Rubin said part of what continues to make iOS so attractive to developers is "not only to the popularity of the platform but the vertical integration and consistency among models that the platform provides."
Furthermore, once customers jump on the iOS bandwagon, they tend to stick with it, said ABI research analyst Michael Morgan. This is means that as new iterations of the iPhone are released, users of older models are likely to stick with the platform and jump on the newest model--iPhone 3Gs users upgrading to the iPhone 4S in 2011, for example. If Apple rolls out a new model as expected this summer, that effect will only increase. And if the trend continues, it could stem Android's rise: Apple's 37 million iPhone shipments in the fourth quarter pushed down Android's global market share for the first quarter ever, down to 47 percent from 52.5 percent in the third quarter, according to ABI.
Cons: iOS is not without its negative aspects, and the platform trails some of the others in key features. One is in mapping. Android offers spoken-turn-by-turn navigation as a native component and iOS doesn't (Nokia's Drive application for Windows Phone offers a similar experience). Furthermore, Android's mapping is much more extensive, and late last year Google added airports, shopping malls, retail locations and other indoors destinations to its core Maps app. Though Apple uses Google's mapping service for its own maps application, Apple hasn't stayed on top of Google's upgrades to the offering.
According to Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart, one of iOS' key deficiencies is that even with iOS 5's Notification Center (cribbed from Android), it still does not provide a great deal of "glanceable information" the way that Windows Phone does with its constantly updating live tiles. In other words, it's still takes some effort to get access to the most relevant information via applications in iOS. Perhaps most glaringly, unlike Android (and soon Windows Phone), iOS does not yet support LTE connections, though that soon may change with the introduction of the next iPad.
Challenges ahead: Besides catching up in terms of features that it lacks, one of the key challenges Apple faces is expanding the platform's reach to the low end of the smartphone market, where Android has staked out a strong position. So far Apple has seemed content to maintain its position as a premium smartphone provider, raking in 75 percent of all mobile phone profits in the fourth quarter. However, the low end of the smartphone market presents a fertile opportunity for Apple, which CEO Tim Cook has acknowledged in the past is a missing piece of the company's strategy.
"They really don't have the answer to the low end," ABI's Morgan said, noting that in many markets, the iPhone isn't subsidized by carriers the way it is in the United States. There are inklings that Apple is willing to move in this direction, though: AT&T essentially sells the iPhone 3GS for free with a two-year contract, and there is a growing trend of retrofitting the iPhone with prepaid services, as América Móvil's TracFone MVNO has recently been doing. "We will only make products that we're proud of, that are the best in the world, and if we can do that and the price is lower then we're great with that," Cook has stated. Whether Apple can or will expand its brand to the low end of the market is a key question for 2012.