The biggest difference between iOS and Android has always been simple: Apple makes its own phones, operating system and cloud back-end, and sells essentially a single model of phone and a single model of tablet. By contrast, Google drives an open-source mobile platform, which is supported by a rich network of competing hardware makers who innovate on features and form factors.
Expect that difference to narrow - not because Apple is becoming more open (it's not), but because Google is learning the benefits of designing and selling its own hardware in lockstep with its own operating system and its own cloud services.
This was abundantly clear at Google I/O, a huge developer conference running this week (June 27-29, 2012) in San Francisco - especially when you looked back at previous Google events.
At the 2011 Google I/O, I spent a lot of time meeting with technical representatives of nearly every hardware maker: HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung and many others. The second-floor foyer contained a huge display of devices from dozens of makers. There were phone handsets. There were tablets. While Google offered its own handset, the Nexus One, it was clearly described as a niche technology demonstrator.
In fact, when you saw the traditional hardware giveaways (a big part of many vendor-specific tech conferences), every attendee walked away with a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet. At the 2010 conference, the goody was an HTC Evo 4G handset.
Between the 2011 and 2012 Google I/O conferences, something big happened: Google purchased Motorola Mobility. Suddenly the cloud company offered both an operating system and its own handset/tablet devices. Just like Apple.
What about the 2012 Google I/O conference? Sorry, no wall of third-party devices. No significant presence - at all - for the other hardware makers. I couldn't find a single representative of those companies. All the talk was about Google's latest handset, the Galaxy Nexus phone, and its first tablet, the Nexus 7 - which appears squarely designed to compete against the Amazon Kindle Fire, by the way. Nothing in support of the rich handset and tablet infrastructure that had been growing up around Android.
And of course, attendees went home from the conference with both the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7 devices - not with anything from any of the other Google "partners."
If you look at the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7, what do you see? Google Play, the company's online store for music, apps, movies and books.
iOS + iPhone/iPad + iCloud/iTunes = Apple
Android + Galaxy Nexus/Nexus 7 + Google Play = Google
Google has seen the future, and it is Apple.