Google & Microsoft: Their Place in the iOS Ecosystem

The battle for dominance between iOS and Android is not diminishing. Since the iPhone was introduced in 2007, and Android the year following, a back and forth struggle between the two operating systems continues to endure, with Android clearly winning the numbers game with a 75% worldwide market share. While not a very big threat at the moment, Microsoft has thrown their proverbial hat into the ring with the recent release of Windows Phone 8 and the Surface.

With all three mobile operating systems striving to become the clear choice for would-be smartphone buyers, I find it rather interesting that Google and Microsoft continue to build their presence on iOS, while Apple seems content to playing in their own backyard (so to speak). Why is this important? Hit the jump to find out.

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Google Apps on iOS

If there’s one statistic that should fascinate everyone reading this article, it’s that Google makes four times more money on iOS than on Android. This number may no longer be as accurate with the recent removal of Google Maps from iOS devices, but it still strikes a telling chord. The first Google app to appear on iOS was none other than Google Search (arriving in the App Store in July 2008), which is an geared specifically towards using Google’s search engine (even though Google still remains the default search option in Safari). Since the release of Google Search, Google has expanded its iOS app catalogue quite rapidly, now offering over 20 apps.

Check out our <a href="">review</a> of the recently updated Google Search app.

Check out our review of the recently updated Google Search app.

What’s intriguing about the volume of Google apps is not necessarily how many are available, but what Google is trying to do with them. For nearly every app or service Apple makes available to iOS users, Google counters with their own. Don’t like Safari? Check out Chrome. Not a fan of iBooks? Google Play Books at your service (though most users will probably venture over to the Kindle app). Even better, now that YouTube and Google Maps are no longer first-party iOS apps, Google is able to provide a superior experience with their own YouTube app (though not available now, Google’s third-party Google Maps app is sure to be a hit).

Check out our <a href="">review</a> of Chrome.

Check out our review of Chrome.

Microsoft Apps on iOS

Unlike Google, Microsoft was much slower releasing their first serious iOS app, Bing, which was made available in December 2009. Since then, Microsoft has released over a dozen iOS apps. Microsoft’s attitude towards releasing apps for iOS is in stark contrast to Google as well. Instead of making apps for all their major services, Microsoft opted to keeping their prized possessions for their own ecosystem. But in 2011, a change in the tide appeared, as Microsoft began releasing numerous iOS apps including OneNote, My Xbox LIVE (now Xbox SmartGlass), SkyDrive and even Kinectimals.

Check out our <a href="">review</a> of the recently updated Xbox SmartGlass app.

Check out our review of the recently updated Xbox SmartGlass app.

The recent update to My Xbox LIVE that brought the much touted Xbox SmartGlass to iOS users, really signified that Microsoft is ready to bring their best services to users that don’t own one of their devices. This notion is further supported by the fact that Xbox Music will soon make its way to the App Store, and even Office (Microsoft’s crown jewel) is set to be released on iOS in early 2013.

Xbox Music will be released "soon" on iOS.

Xbox Music will be released “soon” on iOS.

Why Build a Presence on iOS Anyway?

As Google and Microsoft continue to build their presence on iOS, they do so from two perspectives. Google is essentially building it’s own sub-ecosystem for iOS, knowing that there are iPhone and iPad users that love their devices but love Google’s services as well. So if Google is trying to make Android the go-to mobile OS, why does it have such a large presence on Apple devices? The same reason why Google made Android in the first place. Advertising. Google is smart enough to recognize that having their biggest money making services available on multiple platforms leads to more revenue.

Microsoft took a long time to learn that restricting services for their own OS doesn’t necessarily translate to more sales of hardware devices running said OS. Windows Phone 8 devices, like the Lumia 920, as well as the Surface, will probably sell fairly well; but, not well enough to make Microsoft an immediate threat to Apple or Google. And after all, Microsoft is a software company, so it only makes sense that the way to one-up their rivals is to provide their best services to cross-platform users and let them decide which service they really want to use.

What Does This Mean for Apple?

As Google and Microsoft continue to build a bigger presence on iOS, Apple is more than happy to let them do so (though they can be a bit stingy at times, holding up apps like Google Voice and the recent Google Search app update before allowing them to be released), as long as their guidelines are being followed. It’s obvious that Apple would prefer users buy their apps over the competition (e.g. Pages, Keynote and Numbers over Google Drive or Office), but as more third-party services become available on iOS, it only brings more value to iPhones and iPads.

When you look at the three mobile operating systems, only iOS can tout an app catalog that includes high quality apps from Apple, Google and Microsoft. I can only speak for myself, but I find this to be a very good reason to stick with the iOS ecosystem. While I appreciate some of the apps and services Apple provides, I use Google’s competing services like Gmail (versus iCloud email) and Google Drive (versus Pages, Keynote and Numbers) all the time. When Google Maps is released, I may find little use for Apple Maps.

All three companies want you to invest exclusively into their ecosystem, but for all the hardcore fans that are willing to do so, there are far more people that use services from multiple companies and are unwilling to switch. If I was forced to choose one mobile OS and their first-party apps/services, I don’t think I could choose Apple. Luckily, with Google and Microsoft continuing to bring their services to the iOS devices, that’s a choice I’ll never have to make.