I recently read Tim Wu’s The Master Switch (read my review here) the central thesis of which is that tech revolutions start with the promise of freedom to operate, light regulation, plenty of scope for new entrants and a promise of an enduring new order, but always end with regulated monopolies and oligopolies. A discussion over the weekend with Jof Arnold has got me wondering is Android is about to suffer the same fate.
The following bullets sum up the most pertinent recent news on Android:
- As an OS Android continues to do very well, with market share now over 50%
- Samsung is now the dominant Android vendor – Q4 sales were exceptionally strong
- HTC and Motorola, the other leading Android vendors are having a tough time
- The leading Android tablet, the Amazon Kindle Fire, runs a forked version of Android
Looking at this, it is easy to see a future for Android where the lions share of sales are with two vendors, one of whom (Amazon) has already forked Android and has a ‘closed’ mentality, and one (Samsung) that has a history of proprietary OS development (remember Bada). For a while Jof has been saying that he can see Samsung making its own fork of Android, and if that happens the smartphone market would be dominated by two companies with roughly equivalent proprietary OS-hardware combinations – Apple and Samsung. The tablet market could end up in a similar place with Apple and Amazon being the lead players, although Samsung may have something to say about that.
There are of course other credible future scenarios for Android, including a resurgence of Motorola under Google’s ownership, but I think it is becoming clear that even if Android does win out against iOS it doesn’t necessarily follow that we will have an open, startup friendly, mobile ecosystem. It may just be that we have a new set of gatekeepers.