Mobile OS Wars, Part 1 of 3 – iPhone vs. Android

Slalom Consultant Jeff Barber

Jeff Barber is a Seattle-based leader in Slalom Consulting’s mobility solutions practice. He's a mobile technology expert with deep experience helping clients “operationalize” mobile technologies.

Greg Martin’s post about the state of Android as a development platform offers valuable insights into why the iPhone and iTunes are the leading mobile media distribution platform in the U.S. today. Over three posts, I’d like to distill and update some market research I conducted last year to offer a big picture point of view as to why global companies that employ mobility solutions should consider developing on Android in 2010 (if they haven’t already) to prepare for the market realization of Google’s broad-based mobile cloud (a.k.a. “Web meets phone”) strategy.

A quick Google search on “iPhone vs. Android” will reveal more online articles, blog entries, and investment advisories that you can possibly read, all referencing the raging “war” of the mobile operating systems. If you don’t care to spend the time sifting through Google search results, here are a few pieces to give you a quick overview of the “battleground.”

All this hoopla reminds me of the personal computer OS wars. That war was—and is—as much about philosophy as technology. Despite being a closed system, Microsoft built a set of strong business applications and tools, aggressively offered to support a vast world of features and functionality, 3rd party applications, computing hardware, and add-on devices, and they successfully appealed to the left-brained segment of the market as well as IT decision makers, thus making Windows the winner in terms of market share. Apple, also a closed system and with a more limited application and device ecosystem, carved a small but healthy niche by appealing to the right-brain segment of the population, people who prefer style and ease-of-use to range of options, outperforming Windows in most aspects of the digital media realm and in all-around cool factor. This on-going rivalry has driven innovation and continuing improvements that benefit businesses and consumers. Aside from Linux, which has a small but loyal market share due to its open source philosophy, other operating systems have faded into oblivion in the eyes of consumer media and the OS-X vs. Windows 7 battle rages on while Linux users quietly go on about their business.

In the mobile OS wars, the Apple iPhone OS is the established leader in the U.S. and Google Android seems to be quickly establishing itself as the runner-up. The question is, will Google Android evolve to become the Windows of mobile OS platforms, or will it settle into a small but happy niche as the go-to choice for those who embrace open source? To answer that question, let’s consider two points of view that have been well covered on the Web:

  1. Gartner Research predicts that Android will overtake iPhone in market share by 2012.
  2. There are numerous reports of 50 or more Android phones scheduled to ship worldwide in 2010.

Apple has built their business for iPhone OS devices primarily with consumers, based on these strengths:

  • A first-to-market, elegant, and disruptive experience for high quality Web browsing, audio, video, games, and apps on one very usable touch screen mobile device.
  • Easy-to-use iTunes Store for Mac and Windows.
  • Relationships with major entertainment companies and media distributors.
  • Closed system for digital media purchases.
  • A first-to-market, open-to-(almost)-all App Store.
  • Unmatched design savvy and cool factor (so far).

I believe Google has a greater potential to build the user base for the Android OS with a broader base of consumers and businesses than the iPhone–and is destined to become the Windows of mobile OSes–based on these strengths:

  • Advertising – Google’s primary business is online advertising. This is the Trojan horse that enables them to infiltrate carriers with the promise of advertising revenue shares and even up-front financial incentives.
  • Device variety – Carriers love to offer lots of different choices, and of course device manufacturers exist to build them.
  • Open platform – The Android OS and architecture are open source, enabling carriers and developers to create carrier-specific and localized device user experiences, as well as enabling interactions between Android Market apps that are not possible on other platforms.
  • Geo-navigation – As Greg mentioned in his post, with Android users have the ability to tie into Google Maps and carry a GPS-on-the-go.
  • Google cloud app integration – For those who haven’t noticed, Google is quietly going after Microsoft’s core business application market by offering cloud-based Google Apps that will continue to be integrated with Android over time.

Let’s face it, both Apple and Google are going to continue growing their mobile markets, so it really doesn’t matter who wins, because their war benefits us in terms of more options to chose from.

In the next post, I’ll provide some data on the state of the market for these two players, and offer some more perspectives on how we will benefit from the mobile OS wars.

– Jeff

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jbarber_slalom

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About Jeff Barber
Jeff is a senior Business Analyst and Product / Program Manager, a leader in Slalom Consulting's Mobility Solutions practice with deep experience helping clients “productize” new technologies.

5 Responses to Mobile OS Wars, Part 1 of 3 – iPhone vs. Android

  1. James Young says:

    Great articles guys. It is great to see this site spreading its wings.

    Regarding the mobile ‘war’… (I don’t have much time to write this, so there will be gaps in this story)

    Personally I think it will be very interesting to see who will win the war, and I too believe the Google will plant its flag and become the dominant platform.

    Nonetheless, what I am more interested to see is when (I’m hesitating from using the word ‘if’) we will achieve mobile standards for publishing and delivering content and/or standards for technical features (touch-screen, trackball, etc.). If we think back to the internet emergence, had there not been an HTML standard for delivering content across the WWW, we can probably say that it would not have existed…

    Until we achieve those standards, third-party developers will typically be forced to either choose from an OS to develop within, or devote additional resources to deploying across multiple platforms – and nonetheless, with different technical features the user experience would be very different across the devices. Therefore, making it more difficult to have full-scale mobile proliferation of content and again forcing users to choose which device offers the best user experience.

  2. Jeff Barber says:

    Thanks for the comments, James, you bring up several interesting points. From a media perspective, the market appears to be moving in the direction of H.264 video format as the de facto standard, but there’s still a good deal of divergence in audio formats. From a platform perspective, it looks like there will be at least six or seven different OSes used worldwide for some years to come so there’s no easy way out there. There is also a diverse ecosystem of companies that have solved the related problems with lack of standards, and moving towards standards isn’t necessarily good for their investors. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next few years…

  3. Jenn Bierman says:

    Great article! I am a huge Droid fan. We have both the Motorola and Eris phones in my household. The topic I don’t see discussed much on iPhone vs. Droid is carrier. iPhone is only available by AT&T. I was with AT&T for a long time and was going to get the iPhone, but I became fed up with my call service…dropped calls, bad sound quality, etc. So I switched to Verizon and got the Droid. How do you think limited carriers of these phones will contribute to the war? Thanks.

  4. Pingback: mobile os wars, part 3 of 3 – And the winner is… « SlalomWorks

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