Google's Android Versus Apple's iOS: A Likely Rehash of Microsoft's Windows Versus Apple's OS X
A month and a half ago, in a blog post that subsequently became a two-part print editorial series, I analyzed Apple’s iOS operating system (currently running in the Apple TV, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, with more hardware variants likely to follow in the future) and iTunes Store online content delivery service. Among other things, I drew analogies to Apple’s historical struggles versus Microsoft for dominance of the computer market. I subsequently assessed Microsoft’s chances of successfully re-entering the handset space with Windows Phone v7. And long-time readers already know what I (don’t) think of the Nokia-championed Symbian operating system’s chances. Apparently the broad market agrees with my stance.
Google’s Android O/S is, it seems to me, the mobile operating system successor to Microsoft Windows when it comes to versus-Apple competition. And although Apple can claim all it wants that this time will be different, the Apple-versus-Google battle is seemingly playing out in a near-identical fashion to its Apple-versus-Microsoft predecessor, at least from my vantage point. Recent data only reinforces my long-term perspective on this topic.
Just yesterday, for example, analyst firm The NPD Group published a report estimating that the Android O/S was installed in 44 percent of all smartphone-specific handsets sold in the third quarter in the United States, an increase of 11 percentage points from the prior quarter. Apple’s iOS grew only one percentage point quarter-to-quarter to 23 percent, trading market segment share positions with the RIM O/S, which dropped six percentage points to 22 percent. Symbian and Windows Mobile’s comparatively scant market shares, along with those of other O/Ss such as Samsung’s open source-aspiring Bada, weren’t reported.
Broaden your perspective to encompass year-to-year versus quarter-to-quarter, and Android’s surge becomes even more impressive:
According to NPD’s Mobile Phone Track, when OS unit share for the third quarter of 2010 is compared to the third quarter of 2009, the declines among Android competitors were as follows: RIM OS share declined by 53 percent; Apple iOS share declined 21 percent.
Now turn your attention to specific handset model sales, and the resultant data may look contradictory…but as I’ll soon explain, it’s only seemingly the case (bracketed O/S information is mine):
Based on U.S. consumer purchases of mobile phones in Q3, four of the top five handset models were smartphones, as follows:
- Apple iPhone 4 (smartphone) [iOS]
- BlackBerry Curve 8500 series (smartphone) [RIM]
- LG Cosmos (messaging phone) [proprietary]
- Motorola Droid X (smartphone) [Android]
- HC EVO 4G (smartphone) [Android]
In interpreting these statistics, keep some important qualifiers in mind:
- The NPD data, as perpetually predictable Apple fanboy John Gruber points out, encompasses only the iPhone series, not any other iOS-based device.
- In the United States, the iPhone is at least currently (and at least officially) only supported by one carrier (AT&T) and across only two product variants (the iPhone 4 and still-sold prior-generation iPhone 3GS). Conversely, all four major U.S. cellular service providers sell multiple Android-powered handsets.
- Even if Verizon gets the iPhone soon, as is seemingly becoming increasingly likely, the resultant market segment share improvement will mostly be domestic-only (although CDMA is also used in a few notable international markets such as some areas of India).
- And speaking of international, Android is also dominant in terms of both carriers and equipment choices. Specifically, the iPhone has only officially been available for purchase and use in China for a bit over a month.
But although Apple apologists might try to spin these facts as excuses for the Android surge, a more impartial perspective would be to substitute the word explanations. As such, consider Android-versus-iOS in the context of the Windows-versus-Mac OS past; a few hardware options running a tightly-controlled proprietary O/S, versus diverse hardware platforms from multiple suppliers running a broadly licensed and more-or-less common software platform.
Granted, Android is, like Windows, proving to be imperfect…market share dominance will again inevitably attract malware authors, and Android’s open-source foundations will make their nefarious efforts even easier. So, as is the case with OS X’s minor resurgence of late, some folks who dip their toes in the Android pond will sooner or later transition (or return) to Apple’s walled garden. And as I’ve mentioned any number of times before, low-margin/high-volume and high-margin/low-volume are both valid business strategies…Apple can craft reasonable long-term fiscal success even in the absence of clear market share dominance.
Still, I see little reason to not conclude that Android’s mobile O/S surge is credible and long-term sustainable, even if near-term no single Android-based handset cracks the top three in adoption. If further evidence is necessary to convince skeptical readers, I’ll offer up the following few data points from just the past few days’ archives:
- The first Android handset, HTC’s Dream (better known in the U.S. via its T-Mobile G1 moniker), is only two years old. Granted, the initial Android O/S release was deficient in any number of ways versus its then-competition. But can any of you analyze the innumerable feature set and stability improvements since then, versus today’s v2.2 (not to mention a coming-soon next iteration), and not walk away impressed with the accomplishments of Google’s engineers and their hardware and third-party application partners?
- Speaking of versions, more than 70% of Android-powered handsets are now running a v2 O/S release. The much-vaunted fragmentation touted by Google detractors seems to have largely not come to pass.
- Speaking of hardware, long-time Google partner T-Mobile just unveiled a $9.99 contract-subsidized and Android-based smartphone. At prices like that, which other carriers will inevitable sooner or later match, why would a new or handset-upgrading subscriber not go ’smart’?
- I earlier mentioned the year-to-year market share decreases for iOS and RIM. Here are the corresponding stats for Android, as well as for the U.S. smartphone market in general, courtesy of Betanews’ summary of the NPD data:
Android OS posted an astounding 1,309 percent increase in sales — from 1.4 million in the third quarter of 2009 to 20 million this year…Overall the market grew 95 percent year over year, to over 80 million units.
Indeed, the Android Inc. purchase was seemingly a particularly successful one for Google, as acquisitions go (or perhaps more accurately, usually don’t go) in the tech industry. And clearly, an advertising revenue-subsidized ‘free’ operating system is a tempting option for R&D cash-strapped and profit-hungry carriers and their hardware partners.
Agree or disagree with me, readers, and why?