Apple's mobile OS has been facing stiff competition from Google's Android in the smartphone world for quite some time, but a few recent moves from Cupertino suggest that it's feeling the heat more than ever.
First is the company's increasingly litigious attitude toward its competitors, fueling a hiring frenzy to beef up its legal team.
This week Apple is taking on Nokia in court, and battles with Motorola and HTC are still to come. To bolster its offensive and defensive capabilities, the company has been recruiting some of the nation's top patent lawyers, Bloomberg Businessweek reports, including individuals who have battled for and against the likes of Microsoft, Intel and Broadcom.
Apple also added an in-house attorney this year to focus on intellectual property litigation, Businessweek reported.
'We Can't Have That'
Then there's the fact that Apple recently decided to ban an Android-focused magazine app from its App Store.
As one might guess, Android Magasinet--a brand-new, bimonthly magazine app from Danish publisher Mediaprovider--focuses on Android and the devices that run it. When Mediaprovider managing director Brian Dixen asked an executive from Apple Worldwide Developer Relations why the app was banned, he was told explicitly that it was the magazine's Android-focused content, according to a report on Mediawatch.
"You know... your magazine...it's just about Android.... we can't have that in our App Store," the Apple executive reportedly told Dixen.
Apple is notorious for the iron-fisted control it exerts over the apps in its App Store, but typically rejections are made on the grounds of nudity or other potentially offensive content--not competitive considerations.
"We have to get not only our apps but every single copy of our magazines approved," Dixen told Mediawatch. "I wonder what will happen if we choose to make the next issue of our magazine about mobile phones in general a theme issue about Android."
Ironically, Mediaprovider also publishes iPhone Magasinet, which focuses on Apple's platform.
Falling Market Share
Put it all together, and it's clear Apple is more worried than ever about Android's growing popularity.
Of course, that fear is understandable. Android accounted for 25.5 percent of worldwide smartphone sales in the third quarter of 2010, according to a recent Gartner report, making it the No. 2 operating system (OS) on the planet. That's particularly impressive given the measly 3.5 percent of the market Google's platform held just a year ago--impressive, but terrifying, if you're on the iPhone team.
Apple's iOS, meanwhile, fell from a 17.1 percent market share a year ago to 16.7 percent in this year's third quarter, Gartner reported.
Settling into a Niche
I believe Apple's iPhone is rapidly becoming a niche device. Its restrictions are too numerous, its approach too condescending, and its choices too few to have the broad appeal it needs to succeed on a grander scale in the long run.
In short, Apple may always have its share of fans among consumers who don't mind living in its "walled garden," but there's no way it can compete in the market as a whole with the diverse, compelling and powerful platform that is Android.
Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.