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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The War Of Mobile Platforms

11:03 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , 1 comment
I believe there have been three mega-breakthroughs in the field of computers that have completely changed the way we live and work. The first was the computer itself and the second was the Internet. Now we are witnessing the third mega-breakthrough - mobile devices (smart phones and tablets).

"Smartphones" have been around for quite sometime now, but the iPhone changed it all in 2007 - the device, the industry and the consumer perception. What iPhone did to smartphones, iPad did to tablets. While tablet market has been completely dominated by the iPad since its launch, the smartphone market has been very dynamic. The industry revolutionized by iPhone is now dominated by Android. Even though there are more players in the market, iOS and Android pretty much have ~70% of the market amongst themselves. 

Both of these players (Apple and Google) understand the importance of establishing their products as platforms. They also understand that in order to establish their products as sustainable platforms, they do not just have to please the consumers, but the developers and partners as well. The reason for doing so is that it is these developers and partners who are going to create an ecosystem of products and services around their platforms, and whichever platform has the richer ecosystem will have more chances of winning. 

I have been hearing and reading a lot about this whole iOS versus Android platform debate and how one is better than the other, for quite some time now. I thought of doing my own analyses of mobile platforms to find out which one is better for the developers and partners, though there already are many such comparisons on the internet. The table below compares iOS and Android on various categories - green means that player is better in that category, red means that it lacks behind and no color means that both platforms are close.

Market Share (Q2 2011, Global)
19% 48%
68% 27%
Vendors and Models Apple iPhone (3GS, 4, 4S) and iPad (1 and 2) Highly fragmented (HTC, Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony, etc.) One of the key disadvantages of Android, as developers have to test their apps for multiple models
Payment System Praised for its simple and intuitive interface which is linked with user credit card Payment system varies by app store. Google Checkout for Android Market
Distribution Apple App Store.
Apple authorization required for publishing apps. A lot of developers do not like this gatekeeper role, but many also agree that this helps in keeping the app store free from spyware, malware and other unauthorized stuff
Many.
Publication process varies for app stores. The openness of Android app stores makes it an easier target for spywares, malwares and other "junk"
Cost Of Development and Distribution Developer program annual fee is $99. Enterprise program annual fee is $299. 30% of sales revenue to Apple Varies for app stores; for Android Market (one time registration fee of $25; 30% transaction fee
Programming Language Objective C - higher learning curve for programmers Java - huge pool of experienced programmers

And The Winner Is...No One..Yet
We are still in the early stages of this mobile revolution, and as the comparison above shows, it is hard to declare a winner yet. Both, iOS and Android, platforms are very strongly placed, and this can turn out to be anyone's game. Having said that I am more comfortable with a duopoly than a monopoly, as the competition between these two platforms will force them to improve, which in effect will prove to be better for users and developers.

Apple's greatest strengths in this war are its brand, integrated approach and lead in tablet market. However, Google's greatest strength here is the "open" nature of Android. The fact that multiple vendors are pitched against Apple can go both way - work against or for Apple. Two weeks ago I would have inclined in the favor of Apple, but the loss of Steve Jobs is definitely going to make things harder for them, at least in the long term if not now. 

There are technologies and players in the market that help developers bypass the mobile platform debate. HTML 5 is the frontrunner and the key technology in this category. However, using HTML 5 instead of a particular platform, would require extra effort in making an app with good user experienceIn addition to HTML 5, there are cross-platform development frameworks that allow developers to develop mobile apps that can be run on more than one platform. Needless to say, these frameworks are new and require more refinement.

Overall, the jury is still out on the winner of mobile platform war. It is difficult to announce a winner yet, as it is a very close competition. The technology and players are still evolving. No matter how this war ends, I hope that we do not end up with a monopoly like we did in the desktop PC market.

1 comment:

  1. I wrote a huge post but it didnt submit, now i dont have a stamina to do it again. So I ll write in short.

    * I agree with what u said.
    * Android and iOS are converging and moving towards commoditization of mobiles.
    * MS phone certainly has all the ingredients to be successful.
    * Going into future 3 important criteria for dominating mobile market
    (1) Ecosystem, not just apps, number of devices that will have a seamless integration. For now Apple has ipod, iphone and ipad. But Android is moving to capture, Cars, home appliances, home security, TV etc
    (2) Accessibility of devices and support, Apple is 1 company against 100s of OEMs around the world that will create for Android and MS. Apple will have higher margins but not a lions share of market. unless they tweak their business model.
    (3)Number of customer segments covered, Again Apple being 1 OEM, 1 phone against 100s of OEMs. And selling old iphone 3gs is not an answer for it.

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