Where is the Android John Gruber?

by Linus Edwards

Amongst all the tech companies, I think it’s safe to say that Apple has the biggest, most fervent, and most loyal following. There are literally thousands of Apple related blogs, rumor sites, podcasts, etc. Anything Apple does gets magnitudes of attention, because there are so many people out there that want to hear about Apple. In a recent episode of the podcast The Prompt, the hosts had an interesting discussion about why this fervent Apple following exists and why it doesn’t exist for Android. The part that stood out to me was Myke Hurley, who also hosts an Android focused podcast, stated that there was no John Gruber of the Android scene. He was basically saying there was no writer out there who focusses on Android in the way Gruber focusses on Apple. To me, that was illuminating.

For the few who are unfamiliar with John Gruber, he is a writer at the blog Daring Fireball. He is very influential in the Apple community, has hundreds of thousands of readers, and has helped inspire the proliferation of Apple blogs in recent years.1 He has a distinct viewpoint about technology and design that meshes extremely well with Apple’s philosophy. Robinson Meyer wrote a great article celebrating Gruber's 10th anniversary writing for Daring Fireball last year which helps explain Gruber's appeal:

Gruber’s best when he’s writing about perfection, excellence and what it takes to achieve either. He can describe eight iPhone Twitter clients, or the software limitations of the iPad, and evince a common sense of aesthetic. His voice can be muscular and rigorous. The man’s clearly animated by a hatred of everything he knows to be BS.

Gruber is a writer who cherishes excellence above mediocrity, who champions thoughtful design over sloppiness, and who promotes the pursuit of perfection in technology above simply making a buck.

Yet, there is no Android John Gruber.2 There is no one on the Android side promoting these values and looking at the Android platform with an eye towards something besides simply parroting the feature set of the new HTC Milky Way Swipe Omega Machine IV Redux.


I think the reason for this is the simple fact Apple stands for a specific philosophy and Android does not. I recently wrote about Apple’s overall philosophy and distilled it to, "Revolution, Great Products, Delight." Basically, they are one of the few corporations where money is second to the greater purpose of creating revolutionary products, that are exceptionally great, and which ultimately delight consumers. This philosophy speaks to people, and has created this massive and loyal (some say cult) following over the years. Steve Jobs’ extremely engaging personality obviously was the main impetus, but the idea of Apple as standing for something greater has persisted even after his death.

John Gruber plays into this by being the reflection of Apple's philosophy in the public sphere. He represents the prototypical follower of Apple, someone who’s philosophy and taste lines up perfectly with Apple’s - simplicity, excellence, quality. It was inevitable Gruber would emerge as a figure in the Apple community, and if Gruber was never born, others like him would have naturally emerged, because the philosophy of Apple attracts people with those sensibilities.3

But what does Android stand for? They don’t seem to have any coherent philosophy or aesthetic. Maybe you could argue that Android stands for “openness.” However, open is by its very nature is fractured and decentralized, which doesn't help grow a deep and loyal following that revolves around a single ideal. It’s also hard for Android to fully promote openness when so many different companies make Android products, many which are locked down with proprietary software. To me, the only thing Android stands for is a Wild West free-for-all, in which anything you can slap onto silicon goes.

That is the very reason Android has no Gruber-like figure - they have no central philosophy that would allow such a figure to emerge. What would the Android Gruber write about? There are of course Android writers out there, but they mostly cover the latest greatest phone or compare feature sets. They never really put things into context with the overall philosophy of the platform like Gruber does with Apple, because there is no overall philosophy.

If Android ever significantly changes and begins to gravitate towards a core principle and becomes a more coherent whole, maybe then a Gruber-like figure will appear on the scene. Until that happens, Apple retains the monopoly on Grubers, and in turn the attention of hundreds of thousands of loyal followers.

1. Sites such as The Loop, Marco.org, Shawnblanc.net, 512Pixels, and even my own site are all influenced by Gruber.

2. I have no info on whether there exists an android (with a lower case a) John Gruber. If so, I'm sure it is gray, runs on bourbon, and is programed to speak lines from Kubrick films.

3. Despite the fact is would be amusing to imagine a nightmarish Potterville-like tech world where Gruber had never existed.