Last night I was reading that UK gadget rag Stuff Magazine named the Samsung SIII as their gadget of the year, and also as smartphone of the year. The iPhone 5 got third place in the smartphone of the year list. Then this morning I read a bunch of other relevant data points:
- Samsung has sold 30m SIIIs in the last five months
- analysts are predicting the iPhone 5 will sell 26m units by the end of the year (3 months and ten days of sales)
- overall in Q3 Samsung sold 58m units, vs Apple’s 26.9m iPhones (Samsung has released 25 Android phones since the beginning of 2011 – see Wikipedia)
- but iOS has been gaining market share faster than Android in the UK and US over the last twelve months (in contrast, Europeans were unmoved by the iPhone 5)
On balance I read this data as saying that Samsung is marching ahead of Apple. The picture is unclear, and I always wonder how objective magazines like Stuff are able to be, but one thing I can say for sure is that a year ago the story was totally different. At that time there was still no Android phone that could hold its own next to the iPhone, and many people argued that there never would be.
Whilst I’m sure that Google is happy with these numbers, they will of course be concerned that Samsung’s dominance of the Android smartphone market threatens the open-ness that they cherish (and their ability to insist that Google maps and search remain part of the bundle). Remember that Samsung has previously tried to develop their own mobile OS (Bada) and accompanying app ecosystem. I suspect that is why Google decided to go with LG for their next flagship phone the Google Nexus 4, due for release next week.
Similarly, the success of Amazon’s Kindle tablets running a proprietary version of Android that locks users into Amazon’s content ecosystem will be causing some head scratching in Mountain View.
Looking to the future it seems to me that we are headed for a smartphone world that will superficially resemble the PC world from an OS perspective. Apple will have a 10-20% market share and the bulk of the rest of devices will run a more open system (Android). Where it may well look very different is that the 80%+ devices running Android are likely to have different versions of the OS and probably won’t be able to run all the same apps. The fact that Windows PCs were able to run all the same apps was one of the main reasons the platform succeeded over Apple in the 1990s, and without that cross compatibility Android’s market share dominance may not count for that much. The vast majority of entrepreneurs I talk to certainly feel that way – they are developing for iPhone first so they don’t have to deal with the headache of Android fragmentation.
Overall it seems we are headed for a multi-platform world with little standardisation. That will increase the cost of innovating on mobile and slow the pace of change, which is a shame.