If Nokia Loses … Who Wins? Android Literally Exploding

Funny … I write something about Nokia losing market share to Apple, Google and then everyone writes it. Must be the Zeitgeist. Would that I could claim to have been the opinion leader here. Robert Scoble (who posted about exactly the same kind of lockin I mused on a few days after me) I am not. These articles each make Apple versus Google the key competition (by inference, Nokia has already lost and has been consigned to history or at least to the mobile wastebasket).

The FT says:

Android-based phones – handsets that use the open source Google mobile operating system – are on the march as non-iPhone carriers look for a rival to Apple’s device.

According to Eric Schmidt this month, “Android adoption is literally about to explode.” [literally!]

Gartner, the research group, sees Android eating into Nokia’s leading market share and featuring on 18 per cent of smartphones by 2012, up from 1.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2009. That would put it ahead of RIM on 13.9 per cent and Apple on 13.6 per cent.

Android will inevitably beat the iPhone, according to Ken Dulaney, a Gartner analyst, if only because it will feature on many more handset models. Apple has only the iPhone and does not license its operating system or technology.

The NY Times says:

Twelve Android handsets have been announced this year, with dozens more expected next year. Motorola has dropped Windows Mobile from its line entirely in a switch to Android. HTC, a major cellphone maker, expects half its phones sold this year to run Android. Dell is using Android for its entry into the cellphone market.

One part of the appeal is that, unlike other operating systems, Android is open source software, so anyone can use or change it. “We have access to the source code,” said Sanjay Jha, the co-chief executive of Motorola. “To do that on any other platform would be very difficult.

Android is on only 1.8 percent of smartphones worldwide, according to Gartner, and Windows Mobile software still dwarfs Android. But Microsoft is slipping. The percentage of smartphones using the Windows Mobile system has plummeted to 9.3 percent, from 12 percent in the second quarter of 2008. Microsoft fell behind Apple, which shot up to 13.3 percent, from 2.8 percent.

Android’s supporters say that in contrast, Google’s software and the devices that run it are evolving very quickly.

“They started with the base layer of capabilities,” Kevin Packingham, senior vice president for product and technology development at Sprint. “What was missing from the first generation was the user interface that really gets to consumers.”

There’s some caution needed here before everyone rushes on raving about the speed of evolution of Android software. If everyone takes hold of a copy of Android and changes it, adding features and capabilities, pretty soon it’s not Android and the consumer will be confused about which apps run on which phone. You’re then in a world where you have to look at the “minimum specifications” before you can download an app.
Rapid innovation of the operating system is also risky in a multi-version proliferation. Each manufacturer will have to take the new build and modify it to work with their phones, delaying release to their existing customers – or saving a new release for a new phone (which is pretty much where Microsoft is now – if you want the new version, you have to wait until you can upgrade within your existing contract).
I would have thought some control would be necessary to ensure that the market doesn’t fragment down too many subversions of Android – not as much control, perhaps, as Apple has with a single release, but control nonetheless.
It is, though, interesting to hear the increasing clamour regarding every mobile phone manufacturer except Nokia. Who would have thought that even 24 months ago? It seems most think Nokia is gone, going or soon to go.
Alas poor Nokia … I knew him, Horatio!

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