Mobile OS Wars, Part 3 of 3 – And the winner is…

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.

The third and final post of this series will discuss mobile media, the mobile app phenomenon, and the capabilities and direction of the other mobile OS platforms compared to iPhone and Android. I will also offer my opinion of who will win the mobile OS wars and why.

In the fast-moving world of mobile technology, mobile media is nothing new.  What started early in the new century as ringtone mania has evolved from ringtones, wallpapers, and simple games as the only mobile content options to a vast selection of media that includes high quality music, video, games, applications, mobile television, and mobile advertising.

The big four carriers discussed in part 2 of this series have offered branded mobile web and content portals for years:

Note for Slalom readers: Over the last five years, Slalom Consulting teams have played instrumental roles in implementing and improving a number of these products.

Once again, Apple changed the game by offering an Apple branded content store on the iPhone. iTunes started by offering a catalog of popular Hollywood entertainment content along with the predecessor of the app phenomenon, the podcast. By enabling consumers and businesses to self-produce and self-publish podcasts, not only to iPhones but to iPods as well, they changed the paradigm for mobile content. The only company in the mobile space that offered a competitive response to this new paradigm was Google, with its acquisition of YouTube (Google has launched an audio podcast service, Listen, however it has come nowhere close to the popularity of iTunes podcasts or YouTube).

Podcasts and YouTube are still around but from the mobile perspective, they seem to have been eclipsed by mobile applications. And unlike podcasts, the Apple-pioneered App Store has spawned competition from non-carrier players such Google, Research In Motion, Palm, and other mobile device / OS manufacturers.

Mobile applications change a mobile phone from a phone + media player into what I like to call a “digital pocketknife”—a utilitarian device that enables all modes of communication and enables you to find your way, pay your bills, record and share your thoughts and experiences, as well as search the web, read, learn, and entertain yourself. Here are some stats to put the magnitude of the app phenomenon into perspective.

Since the iPhone debuted in the summer of 2007, Apple had achieved these milestones:

  • Over 42 million iPhones sold worldwide
  • Over 150,000 apps available in the iTunes App Store
  • Over 2 billion apps downloaded (iPhone and iPod devices)

By comparison, since the introduction of Android in the fall of 2008, Google had achieved these milestones:

  • Over 8 million devices sold (all device manufacturers)
  • Over 20,000 apps available on Android Market
  • Number of apps downloaded is not published

While other device platforms sell more devices, none of them are keeping up with Apple and Google on app availability, according to the findings from Dutch app store analytics firm Distimo presented recently at the Mobile World Congress 2010. Other app stores currently offered by players in the mobile device and OS space include:

  • Blackberry App World
  • Microsoft Windows phone marketplace
  • Nokia Ovi Store (primarily international; however, built using technology and licensing acquired by Nokia from Loudeye, a Seattle-based company and former Slalom client)
  • Palm webOS applications

If Apple and Google are setting the pace, and mobile applications are the new defining factor for mobile user experience, how will that impact the future mobile OS wars and the fates of these companies?

Research in Motion currently owns the largest market share and has a loyal following of enterprise users. However, as cited in part 1 of this series, Gartner forecasts that the Blackberry could lose 7.4% of its market share by 2012.

Microsoft has lost ground and market credibility by not continuing to evolve Windows Mobile. However, recent announcements suggest that Microsoft is introducing a potentially game-changing new paradigm with Windows Mobile 7, which will hit the market later this year.

Nokia is the largest mobile device provider in the world and all indications are that they will retain that title for some time to come. But they don’t have much market penetration in the United States and Gartner forecasts the Symbian OS could lose 10.3% of its market share by 2012.

Palm’s webOS is clean and interesting; a key feature of Palm Pre design is the ability to organize the user experience and data objects around the people you know. This will appeal to a small market segment of people-centered users that may be sufficient to justify Palm’s ongoing investment in the platform; however, Gartner does not see webOS holding a significant market share by 2012.

From where I sit, none of these players currently has the market momentum to overtake Apple iPhone or Google Android as the two predominant smartphone platforms in the U.S. market. While mobile apps are still growing rapidly, I believe that mobile advertising is the next driving force in mobile content. Rich mobile media is now widely supported on 3G networks and a growing variety of devices, making the mobile device the next frontier for advertisers. When I talk about advertising, I’m not just referring to the typical banner links and pre-roll videos inserted in front of premium videos; I am also referring to branded applications. From Google’s core advertising business and recent acquisition of AdMob, to an exponential increase in branded apps from household name companies in many lines of business, the race is on to garner your mindshare via your mobile device.

I began this series with the premise that global companies that employ mobility solutions should consider developing on Android in 2010 to prepare for the market realization of Google’s broad-based mobile cloud strategy. These three posts describe why Google is a force to be reckoned with in the mobile space and is well positioned to keep pace with and potentially overtake Apple as the top smart phone platform in the U.S. To conclude the series, here are seven reasons why Google and Android should be part of your mobile strategy and plans; these reasons are tied to the broad range of options Google offers for presenting mobile content:

  1. Google rules mobile advertising and search.
  2. Android is an open platform that is maturing quickly and offers programmatic capabilities such as multi-tasking and data sharing between apps that are not available in the iPhone OS.
  3. Android enables you to develop enterprise applications for one platform while allowing users to choose their device and carrier; Google mobile products include iPhone apps, Blackberry apps, and solutions for Blackberry Enterprise Server for enterprises that need to support multiple mobile OS platforms.
  4. Android Market offers faster publication times and less restrictions that the Apple App Store model.
  5. YouTube and the Listen audio podcasting platform; Apple is not the only game in town anymore for distribution of corporate or marketing mobile content.
  6. Google Analytics is free and far superior to Apple’s app store download reports, and you can use the tool to measure usage of all your mobile apps and mobile websites.
  7. Google will eventually provide tighter integration with Google Apps and Android, offering a mobile enterprise alternative to Microsoft Office applications.

Google is the only player in the mobile space to provide this kind of comprehensive cloud computing and media distribution platform for mobile and the web. In my opinion, this is why Google will ultimately win 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.

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