Mobile OS Wars Revisited: Google & Android Are Winning…for Now

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.

In early 2010, I wrote a three-article series of blogs about the mobile operating system (OS) wars. At the time, I recommended that businesses “should consider developing on Android in 2010 to prepare for the market realization of Google’s broad-based mobile cloud strategy” and I predicted “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.”

Two years later, smartphones running Android comprise approximately 50% of the global market, and every other major mobile OS is trending flat or down. Apple has lost their visionary leader and recently launched iCloud in an attempt to catch up with Google. Symbian, historically the largest deployed mobile OS in the world, is being replaced by Windows Phone OS, an impressive late market entry by Microsoft to integrate their cloud computing, desktop, gaming, and web assets with mobile.

The subtext of my 2010 blog series was that the future lies in mobile cloud computing. In the mobile cloud paradigm, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are the only players worthy of consideration in 2012. Google has the lead and the momentum.  Can they keep it? Or are they destined to become the next Symbian?

Google, the leader…for now
Now that Google has grabbed the global lead, I see growing risks for Android. In the long-term, OS fragmentation and competition between—and from—device manufacturers who are hungry to outdo Apple and/or emulate Apple’s proven ecosystem model could fragment Android into a market destruction phase that rivals Symbian’s demise.

Samsung’s bada platform is one example of a leading device manufacturer with its own ambitions, though I don’t see bada ruling the world anytime soon. A more likely short-term outcome is that Android will continue to ride the wave of super-powered new devices that support 4G and other advanced capabilities Apple doesn’t have yet.  Category leaders like Amazon and Cisco will continue to build the well-tended Android app store experiences users want, for specialized devices such as the Kindle Fire and the Cius tablet.

The looming questions for 2012 are:

  • Can Google develop an Android smartphone + tablet OS that beats iOS?
  • Can Google establish and maintain a healthy, open, and well-integrated Android ecosystem?
  • Can device manufacturers provide specialized app stores that offer the cross-device Android ecosystem integration smartphone users want, Apple has, and Android market lacks?

Apple, the old reliable
Five years have gone by since Apple sparked the current smartphone revolution; hard to believe that the iPhone was announced in January 2007 and the iPad in January 2010. In 2012, Apple looks like they can continue to roll along if they don’t get complacent. Most users and pundits still agree that Apple offers the best user experience and a clean, vertically-integrated ecosystem.

Distimo’s October 2011 publication states that 86% of the top brands have a presence in the Apple App Store for iPhone. The next most popular app store for brands to publish their applications is the Apple App Store for iPad with 66% while the Google Android Market follows with 59%. Clearly the iTunes App Store continues to be the first choice of global brands looking to establish a mobile presence. If you consider iPad tablet in the mix, iOS is running neck-and-neck with Android and Apple is leading in this important new mobile device category.

However, the iPhone 4S was an unmistakable sign that Apple may have trouble keeping up the pace of innovation. If the iPhone 5 and iPad 3 disappoint the market, the onslaught of advanced new Android devices and Ice Cream Sandwich may hurt them bad.

Microsoft, the slow upstart
Microsoft’s recent innovations with the Windows Phone OS have earned them a place at the table. It’s smart, it’s sexy, it’s a great user experience, and here in Washington, it’s winning over users who used to be on iOS or Android. Unfortunately, thus far it only has 2-5% of the smartphone market, depending on whose statistics you read.

Their strategic partnership with Nokia potentially gives Microsoft the global reach they are lacking in the mobile space, but it’s moving slowly. And there’s the BlackBerry Business Cloud Services for Microsoft Office 365 beta offering with RIMM.

Microsoft faces two challenges that will be difficult for them to overcome:

  • The impressive new Windows Phone OS is about two years too late to the game; Google and Apple collectively own about 80% of the global market.  Android already took most of Symbian’s market share.
  • They have a demonstrated tendency to be their own worst enemy. Should the opportunity ever present itself, the company’s size and hubris may prevent them from ever moving fast enough to seize the leadership position in the high-speed race for mobile cloud supremacy.

What does the future hold?
All three companies are global leaders with lots of cash in the bank and an ongoing commitment to innovation. Assuming no major missteps in the future, Google, Apple, and Microsoft will all be a part of the mobile cloud computing future.

In summary, I think Google is racing ahead so fast that they are headed for trouble; they need to take corrective actions in the marketplace to establish a more orderly ecosystem. Apple and Microsoft are both looking impressive to me and they are heading in the right direction, but they need to pick up the pace or they could be left behind if Google gets its ecosystem act together.

What does this mean for your business?
Your mobile cloud computing strategy for the next three to five years must consider what these three market leaders are doing.

If your organization has embraced the consumerization of IT for mobile devices, you will need to deal with at least two if not all three of these ecosystems. What does each company offer to make this easier for you?

If you are considering an enterprise-managed solution, are you willing to bet an aspect of your company’s future competitiveness on only one of these companies?

I will publish a follow-up article that assists you to answer these questions by examining the merits and missteps of each ecosystem from the consumerization of IT and enterprise-managed solution perspectives. However, I reserve the right for my next article to focus on this year’s inspiration from CES!

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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.

6 Responses to Mobile OS Wars Revisited: Google & Android Are Winning…for Now

  1. Pingback: Mobile OS Wars Revisited: Google & Android Are Winning…for Now … |

  2. Justin Jarrett says:

    Great article Jeff, always enjoy your insight!

  3. Deric says:

    Well captured Jeff. Enjoyed the pointed insights and action points.

  4. shop android says:

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