The State Of Mobile

Mobile Market

The release of the latest quarter’s mobile OS market share numbers got me wondering about where the mobile industry is right now and what we can expect. Are we seeing one platform becoming dominant or is the future fragmented?

The raw numbers aren’t all that helpful: moderate growth from a high starting point for Android, and a small slide from a similar point for Apple. While Blackberry sales are very low and Windows sales up, the starting points for these are low and their sales are skewed by their current product lifecycles. The news however, points to a very clear answer: there is a lot of innovation and disruption coming our way; in 12 months the mobile world will look very different.

Let’s start by looking at Android and Google, and the recent announcement that Andy Rubin is stepping down as head of the OS. Andy created Android as a startup and has managed its rise to its current status as market leader, so why was he suddenly being moved aside? The answer to this question sheds light on everything Google is doing right now.

Google is a cloud services company. The mission statement says it all: “…to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” which means that Google needs to get people using its services, and the easiest way to do that is to make these services as functional and well-integrated into our devices as possible.

From Google’s perspective, that is the whole point of Android: a unified OS means all Google’s software will work on all devices, but more importantly now so much is delivered through a browser is ensuring that their services remain available (think of how Apple locked Google Maps out of the App Store). Android is a means to an end, and as long as users are exposed to Google search it doesn’t matter what platform is being used; remember, Google doesn’t make a profit from Android licences.

But that isn’t how Andy Rubin saw Android. To him, it was a product to protect and develop, to the point that he saw the success of Samsung’s Android as a threat to Google’s Android. I wrote recently about the possibility that Samsung even plans to ditch Android for its developing Tizen OS, which is a viable option as to many consumers the Samsung name is the guarantee that their new phone is worth the money. To Google that’s fine, as long as Google products remain tightly integrated.

Enter Sundar Pichai, Andy’s replacement. Sundar previously managed services including Chrome, Maps and has a track record of working well with Google’s partnerships: exactly the qualities needed to increase the integration and accessibility of Google’s services.

In fact, two recent announcements suggest Google may be planning something major in order to further integrate its services. The first of these is the porting of QuickOffice to the Chrome browser, a play to draw licenses away from Microsoft’s Office software suite, in line with Google’s stated goal to attract 90% of Office users, and offer such good integration with Microsoft that the power users who remain will be unaffected. Of course, it’s a Cloud services company.

The second announcement, of course, is the controversial closing of Google Reader. Many explanations have been offered for this, from increased compliance cost to lack of profitability and shrinking user base. While all of these almost certainly factored, it does seem likely that Reader – along with many other services – simply didn’t fit the new shape of evolving Google.

What is interesting is that Google hasn’t decided to simply keep Reader running to keep its existing users; and a look at The Google Graveyard shows something interesting: of the 39 services listed, 27 of them were closed in 2012 or 2013. Of the remaining 12, only one – Google Lively – was closed before 2011. This suggests Google is dedicated to rationalising and integrating its services. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

The concept of shutting down successful, popular services mid-life in order to innovate brings us to Apple, which has recently been described as “having had its revolutionary moment”, as having completely changed or even codified the smartphone and tablet market, Apple has since shown itself unable to do more than offer up improved but evolutionary versions of its devices.

Of course, Steve Jobs refused to release products that were anything other than unique, but without his genius it remains unclear how the company will progress. In particular, Jobs’ ability lay in taking existing technology and creating near-hysterical demand for it. However it seems Apple may have something interesting in store in the shape of iOS7 which has recently been described as a major development. From the sound of the changes being discussed, this new OS may move a lot of Apple fans’ cheese.

Talking about moving people’s cheese is a good place to start looking at Windows 8. It’s becoming impossible to open an IT website without seeing at least one article proclaiming the total failure of the OS, but is this really fair?

The key comparison being drawn is against Vista, but this analysis ignores several key factors, with the most important being that consumers are reluctant to spend at all in the current climate; and that when they do, they tend to buy tablets. Add in the poor differentiation of Windows RT tablets and, dare I say, the overwhelmingly negative coverage of the OS and it’s hardly surprising they aren’t buying.

Despite this, I think it’s far too early to write off Windows 8. If we ignore the knee-jerk reactions linked to how different it is, actual customer satisfaction data suggest the OS is highly polarising rather than poor. I agree that consumers and businesses alike are trying to stave off purchasing new PCs, and they are probably waiting to see how good Windows 8 actually is, let other people iron out the kinks, and maybe even get a better idea of what form factor they actually need.

That to me is the key problem Windows 8 has: it’s so different, we can’t really relate to it yet, or look at it and say, “I want one of those, in this device type, this size, these specs” because it really is revolutionary. But this isn’t the first time Microsoft launched a device which expert opinion wrote off only for it to become a market leading technology. No, I’m not talking about Windows (yes, there were plenty of people bemoaning how much less productive they would be outside DOS) but the Xbox.

This is a company that knows how to create quality products (remember, users don’t want to leave a three-generations-old OS in XP) and there is more on the way. The Microsoft Surface Team’s recent Q&A session threw up some very interesting hints at what might be coming down the pipeline for Surface Pro that we haven’t even heard of yet. The OS is in its infancy but it’s clear that Microsoft still thinks it has a winner.

Blackberry sales data shows a massive slump, but this is only to be expected with the launch of BB10 only at the end of the quarter. I blogged about this recently and think this could be very successful, however we will get a better view in 6 months.

Meanwhile Amazon has just recruited former Windows Phone exec Charlie Kindel who has announced that he is working on “something secret”, we will have to wait and see whether this is a piece of hardware in the form of a Kindle phone or better integration as is expected from Google and Facebook’s Android launcher, Facebook Home.

You remember how earlier I mentioned that the important thing for Google is keeping their search products front and centre? This development could spark off a major battle for mobile users’ eyes. Big developments are coming from other, less expected places too, such as HP’s new “Moonshot” server that I blogged about recently.

So, where does the mobile industry stand right now? Android sales are growing from a high base, Apple’s shrinking slightly, with Blackberry and Windows 8 sales still very low… but there’s so much going on, that all I can be sure of is that tomorrow will look very different. So right now the most important consideration is to future-proof your business by investing in applications that work across platforms because it’s far too early to say which, if any, will prevail.

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David Akka is Managing Director at Magic Software Enterprises UK. David is a successful executive manager with a proven track record as a general manager with a strong background in sales, marketing, business development and operations. Past experience in technology and service delivery include both UK and European responsibilities.