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Ever since Android arrived on the scene, the world of smartphone operating systems has pretty much boiled down to iOS vs Android. Despite massive gains in market share, Android always seemed to be on the second-tier compared to the superior iOS, or at the very least, Android devices seemed to be second-tier devices compared to the iPhone. The difference is only accentuated when you compare the popularity of the iPad and its successor to any of the Android tablets.
However, in 2011 Google has been making some huge strides both in market share and behind the scenes, putting Android in a great position to become the world’s dominant smartphone OS. By comparison, Apple has been pretty silent on the mobile computing front for quite some time, leaving some to wonder whether the company has what it takes to stay on top of the heap, especially with a surging Google right on its heels.
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Google Acquisitions and Partnerships Lead the Way
While Google has remained constantly active, even within the relatively small confines of mobile telephony, over the past few years, 2011 has seen the company make a few truly major purchases. The largest move Google made was purchasing Motorola Mobility for a little over 12 billion dollars. The purchase is still pending regulatory approval, but at this point it looks like its a done deal. The move not only places one of the most popular Android device manufacturers under the Google umbrella, but also gives Google access to a number of important patents, the ammunition of choice in modern technology battles. On that same front, Google made two large patent purchases from IBM. Apple countered by teaming up with former arch-rival Microsoft (along with Sony and RIM) to purchase Nortel patents specifically to keep them out of Google’s hands.
When Google couldn’t buy something, it partnered with it instead. The largest of those partnerships was with Intel, as the chip maker and OS developer will work hand-in-hand going forward. The goal is to get the Android OS working smoothly with Intel’s oft-maligned Atom processor, along with future processors, thus reducing the development time for new Android devices.
By comparison, Apple has been strangely quiet since early in the year when they released the iPad 2. The Verizon launch of the iPhone was pretty much a non-event and rumors of a standard mid-summer iPhone 5 release proved false as the device release has been pushed back into October. While Google has been making headlines, the best Apple could do is team up with a former enemy to prevent Google from sweeping up the available patents on the market. The end result of this quiet period is the growing belief that the iPhone simply can’t catch up to a surging Android OS.
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Smartphone Market Share Shakeup
Recent ComScore reports have shown just how popular Android devices have become. Since the OS exploded onto the smartphone scene some years ago, Android devices have continuously gobbled up market share from other carriers. The phenomenon isn’t constrained to the States, as the latest European reports show a similar growth pattern.
The usual victims of this market share shift are pretty much everyone but Apple. RIM, Symbian (Nokia) and Microsoft all appear to be losing subscribers, but the issue for iOS is that almost all of these defectors are choosing Android. Apple’s market share remains just above 25 percent in the States and just above 20 percent in Europe, while Android’s numbers are significantly higher.
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The Real iOS vs Android Battle
The issue in the battle between iOS and Android isn’t in the actual sales numbers, as that gets bogged down into a discussion of whether or not it’s better to have multiple manufacturers for an OS. The issue is going to be whether Android grabs enough of the market share to be considered the de-facto leader in smartphones.
Apple’s hold on its customer base isn’t going to loosen unless app developers start choosing Android devices over iOS devices. Let’s face it, apps are the driving force behind smartphone sales and that fact isn’t going to change anytime soon. At this point in time, app developers (for the most part) write for iOS first and then for Android. It’s a combination of Apple being in the game longer and having a customer base that is more likely to purchase apps. If Android can grab twice the market share that iOS has, and with recent Windows and RIM stumbles this is entirely possible, developers will follow the money and start flocking to produce Android apps first.
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Apple Can Still Win Big
This period of silence while Google racks up wins is certainly not automatically a bad thing for Apple. The proof on whether Apple wasted this time, or was simply biding its time, will show up when the iPhone 5 does. Now slated for release in October, the iPhone 5 has had record-level excitement surrounding it according to some informal polls. However, since there are no real specs on the device yet, and most tech insiders say not to expect something too major like 4G connectivity, it’s hard to believe that there will be a record level of demand for what is ostensibly a tweaked iPhone 4.
With all that being said, should the iPhone 5 turn out to have something truly revolutionary, then Apple could easily make up the difference in operating system market share, especially considering the device will now be available at all of the major carriers.
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How It All Ends Up
Let there be no doubt, Google isn’t in the smartphone space to simply put up a competing product and let the cards fall where they may. The company’s recent moves show that they are hell-bent on dominating the market. The iPhone and its legions of fans aren’t going anywhere, but if another smartphone OS doesn’t jump into the mix, Android could quickly find itself with upwards of 60 percent of the market share. With a lead like that, Android will move from its second-tier status to become the preferred OS for developers and consumers alike.
So far, this year at least, Google’s made all the right moves and Apple seems to be running in place. If something doesn’t change soon, Android could dominate everything within the next two years.
- Apple Insider, http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/09/13/intel_google_announce_mobile_partnership_for_atom_android_smartphones.html
- TechCrunch, http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/15/breaking-google-buys-motorola-for-12-5-billion/
- Mashable, http://mashable.com/2011/09/13/android-ios-europe/
- CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/13/tech/mobile/google-android-intel/
- Motorola Media Center, http://mediacenter.motorola.com/Image-Gallery/Droid-3-Dyn-L-horiz-Corp-Email-6bc.aspx
- TG Daily, http://www.tgdaily.com/mobility-features/58188-android-gains-ground-in-smartphone-war