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Rochester, Kent, United Kingdom
Amateur sleuth interested in finding out what's happening in the world today!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The War of the Smartphones: The fact Apple, RIM and Android are taking different routes to hegemony

There is a battle in progress - the winner will take a profitable chunk out of the mobile phone market and with it the ad and app revenue generated therein. The problem is that the media, bloggers, journalists and even the public believe there is an on-going battle between Google and Apple/BlackBerry in progress. But in reality this isn't the case, far from it, in reality Apple and BlackBerry are competitors as they have handsets which use a proprietary operating system and then they spend a small fortune marketing the brand. Google does something else. It does not make handsets (granted the Nexus is a Google handset but made and co-branded by Samsung) and it does not sell its operating system (it gives it freely to handset manufacturers under terms which allow Google services to interact within the network and handset to generate advertising revenue).

This creates a quandary whereby Apple and RIM are creating in all intense and purposes 'lifestyle' devices incarceration within a pre-determined ecosystem and enclosed application-based environment but Google leaves the portcullis to the castle open to anyone able to adapt, develop and thereafter resell their software. The problem is that Apple/RIM are intoxicated by their own 'brand', although that is not to say Android isn't a brand it's just what that brand means and therein becomes associated with is completely different to anything Apple or RIM create and distribute.

So, what the issue here surrounds is that of the public perception whereby 'Google' is going to steal or beat Apple and RIM into inferiority within the smartphone market. However this just isn't the case, in reality a free Google product will help to see an increase in market share, but that does not mean Google captures that market share for its self. HTC or Samsung capture that market. We need to remember that Handsets and Operating Systems, partially due to the success of Android, have become divorced from one another. This cleavage creates a perception  problem and one that needs to be cleared up.

Apple makes the iPhone. The iPhone is in incredible piece of both technological and marketing accomplishment yet it's operating system iOS is confined to the Apple mobile computing environment. You cant install iOS on a BlackBerry 9780 or a HTC Sensation. So that means Android cannot be compared to Apple or BlackBerry in the same way. Yet, this is what has happened so far. Android is battling BlackBerry and Apple. The question is can this be healthy for the future of Android.

The argument about Android's open eco-system are predominantly based on the Wintel arguments of the 1990s where, generally perceived, PC manufacturers and Software manufacturers colluded to bring down quality and technical excellence so as they could compete on a race to the bottom. Price was everything and that's how Intel, Windows and HP/Dell or IBM won out! The arguments are transplanted into the twenty first century that Google's Android will with Samsung, HTC and Sony Erricson's help see 'excellence' eroded through a battle of 'dumbing down' and racing to the bottom and competing on price.

Yet, the issue here is that we are arguing that BlackBerry and Apple, the undoubted smartphone pioneers, worked hard to keep their phones at a certain cost level so as to retain their incredibly profitable revenue streams from collapsing because of engineering excellence. Apple and RIM make billions from selling phones, so when Android came along and people like DoCoMo, Huwaei and HTC created mid-range phones offering similar experiences to the iPhone or BlackBerry but at a substantially reduced price this created the perfect storm to occur within the mobile phone market. Apple and RIM went tooth and nail for the premium customers whilst Android's open handset alliance went all out for the budget and mid-size customers. The result was the undoubtedly that Android would dominate the smartphone market. Android handsets are shipping at 3-1 to Apple or RIM handsets according to Catalyst/comScore but, importantly, to different customers. 

The issue here is that Apple/RIM are now going to begin dumbing down their products for the mid-size/budget markets whilst Android is going to have to cater for premium customers. This is evident as BlackBerry  is now creating low-end phones and Apple, allegedly is creating a toned down iPhone for 2012, is mimicking RIM's business plan however Android has gone premium because we can see that premium phones are awash since 2.3 was released on dual core smartphones. But the differentiation between ecosystems needs to be made clearer. 

Apple and RIM are rivals but Google's Android isn't, yet, a competitive rival to these two smartphone rivals. More premium models, better quality apps and more security/functionality on the Android market is needed before premium customers (who, if we remember spend money on apps as oppose to budget/mid-size users who avoid payware for freeware) switch in large swathes. HTC or Samsung need to match handset sales with RIM and Apple for this 'battle' to become a reality. Android is using the old Roman adage of 'divide and conquour' but this might not help them with the premium custom-base. This change requires a change not just from Android and Smartphone manufacturers but security firms, software developers and web content developers to come together, like RIM and Apple have created, to build Android a tiered platform for different user expectations. Therefore budget users on £39 Android smartphones, or pay monthly customers with a £200 or premium customers on £500+ handset pay monthly contracts will be catered for in the correct fashion. Only then when all sections of the mobile market are fully catered for by Android and that there are a plethora of designated tiered phones available will there be any reality in the 'battle' between the Smartphone giants.