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In the Beginning...
Manufacturers produced the hardware as well as the software for their brand of phones. They weren't quite at the level to be called 'smartphones' but they were progressing there. Flip phones ran rampant with decent hardware, sluggish operating systems and boring designs. The RAZR was considered revolutionary with its sleek and slim design and yet the operating system was lacking quite a bit. However, it seemed no other flip phone or touch-screen phone was going to come close to taking on the RAZR. Touch screens were too far behind in technology and at times operating systems were modified to become touch sensitive, but not necessarily designed as touch-screen interfaces.
The smartphone market was dominated by RIM's BlackBerry lineup. They weren't the most fashionable, but they got the job done, and it was the smartphone to carry for businesses, especially larger enterprises. Their designs remained stagnant, as did their operating system. When rumors began to spread that Apple was developing a smartphone, most people scoffed at the idea of a fully touch-screen phone with only one button.
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Enter the Apple iPhone
In the MP3 arena, the Apple iPod was beginning its total domination of the MP3 player industry and the idea of a full touch-screen iPod began to surface. At the same time the rumors of a phone emerged, yet no phone manufacturer seemed to worry. Some thought it would be an innovative idea, but at the same time, felt it was nothing more than another fad on the rise. Little did they know that the upcoming iPhone was ready to change the way people used their phones, and quite possibly change the face of the mobile OS industry forever.
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Rise of the Android
As the iPhone shattered the industry standard for mobile operating systems, another contender slowly entered into the market. Google's own open source OS, Android, made its debut on T-Mobile's network. While manufacturers were struggling to update their own operating systems to compete with Apple's iOS, Google came out of left field with an OS that could be installed on any mobile device. HTC was the first manufacturer to take on Google's OS with the G1 for T-Mobile USA. It wasn't the earth shattering hit that some people thought it would be, but T-Mobile had a hand in dropping the ball with marketing.
When Verizon took on the Droid brand and began their marketing campaign, people began to notice. Motorola, Samsung, and HTC began launching series after series of Android power handsets, hoping to capitalize on the now growing interest in Android. It seemed manufacturers were ditching their efforts to create their own operating systems and in their place creating overlays for Android. It was an interesting shift as manufacturers such as Samsung relabeled their TouchWiz interface as an Android overlay rather than an operating system.
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The Beginnings of a Duopoly
Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS have steadily grown to dominate the smartphone market, taking the majority of the market share from RIM's BlackBerry OS. Windows Phone 7 is trying desperately to enter the market, but it seems they're too late into the game. Customers are becoming more and more accustomed to the iPhone or any Android handset, which leads to an interesting state for smartphones. When people think of computers they think Windows or Mac, but it seems in the smartphone arena, people are going to think of Apple or Android. This is an interesting twist as Apple now has a powerful share in the smartphone market and a secondary lead in the computer market.
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The Dangers of the Duopoly
This duopoly that's on the rise brings dangers with it. Apple doesn't have much to worry about as the hardware and software is all their property. They're further merging their devices with the use of iCloud and integrating all their devices to work smoothly and interactively. Apple made a smart choice in building the iPhone from hardware to software. This doesn't stray very far from their original line up of Macs, creating their hardware and software in one computer.
Android on the other hand is a different type of beast, developed by Google as an open source operating system, it is available for any hardware that has the required specifications. In a sense, it is very similar to Microsoft's Windows operating system for computers. Manufacturers focus on the hardware while they pre-package the smartphone with software. This comes as a double-edged sword as it doesn't require as much research and development as building a new system, but manufacturers now rely on a third-party for their operating system. This reliance can easily lead to a lack of innovation at manufacturers, and it can almost be seen now with so many similar smartphones being released one after another.
This is dangerous territory for smartphone manufacturers utilizing Android, as Google may ultimately decide to build hardware. In addition, consumers could be turned off by the lack of innovation. If a customer is dissatisfied with the iPhone and Android, their options become rather limited. While BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone 7 are alternatives, decent smartphone offerings with them installed are difficult to find. Ultimately, this duopoly that's forming for mobile devices may be bad, not only for smartphone manufacturers, but for consumers as well. Hopefully smartphone manufacturers will realize the danger they're putting themselves in by relying on Android OS and work to create their own operating systems on the side. Unless the companies feel like becoming nothing more than shells for Android, like computer manufacturers.
- Source: Author's experience
- Image Credit: Android, http://www.android.com/index.html
- Source: Wired, http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2008/09/g1-android-phon/
- Source: Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/16/idUSL3E7KG1DZ20110916
- Image Credit: Apple, http://www.apple.com/iphone/ios/