Will Google’s Android operating system overwhelm Apple’s iPhone OS and RIM’s BlackBerry the way Windows nearly wiped out the Mac OS? Yes. It will come down to the popularity of Google’s free Internet-based applications, and the range of phone manufacturers selling Android phones.
Blackberry still leads US smart phone manufacturers, but after getting messaging exactly right they seem to have stopped expanding the concept. Apple makes great products, and they have done a good job by combining services and syncing desktops to the iPhone, but seem intent on playing Custer again for quickly growing band of Android Indians, and their online services are not broadly used outside of iTunes. Microsoft shows every sign of continuing to squander their historic advantages. Nokia is the big gorilla in phones, but Ovi is too tightly tied to their own products. And Palm’s best chance is selling to Yahoo!, which isn’t much of a chance at all.
Smart phones depend for their success on how much of the world they can fit into a device smaller than the user’s hand. The ideal phone would let a user take it out of its box for the first time, turn it on, sign in once and get access to all the data from their laptop or desktop, and their favorite online accounts, plus all the location-based features that only phones or navigation devices can provide. Only Microsoft or Google have a prayer of pulling this off, and only Google will.
RIM’s BlackBerry devices were the first to fit Microsoft’s Exchange into a user’s hand. With a fairly simple activation process, a user went from having a mostly empty phone, to having all their email, contacts, calendar, task lists and Exchange notes from their PCs, with them anywhere they went.
RIM has added web browsers, cameras, music and application support to the BlackBerry line, which now dominate US smart phone sales, but RIM itself doesn’t provide the online services (webmail, music downloads, video sharing, online documents, etc.) that reach most Internet users, so services like iTunes and Google Docs aren’t integrated into the phone’s operating system and those popular services will probably always run more smoothly on iPhone or Android devices. Further, RIM, like Apple, doesn’t license the BlackBerry operating system, which restricts the range of BlackBerry-based products, and leaves the line vulnerable to a single management team’s mistakes.
Apple’s ownership of iTunes (a true killer application) gave the iPhone a great start, and Apple also offers its own email service, web page hosting and services to synchronize data between iPhones and PCs. The trouble for Apple is that, iTunes aside, Mac users are just about the only people who use the Apple online services, and Mac users make up only around 10% of all PC users. Charging for some of these service doesn’t help consumer adoption, either, but Apple doesn’t have Google’s ad network to make them all free. Also, like RIM, Apple has so far not licensed the iPhone operating system, so there are only 3 iPhone models available, and then only through one US carrier.
Hundreds of millions of PC users, including Mac users, have Google accounts, and unlike some of Apple’s services, nearly every Google service is available at no charge to the user. The sheer breadth of Google’s offerings, and their free availability, means that even dedicated Mac users will eventually find reason to get a Google account, whether it is to get access to Google Docs or Voice, or because an employer or a school has moved communications to the Google Apps platform. As Google expands its product range eventually it will only become more rewarding to boot your mobile phone with a Google ID.
If Google’s service advantage were not enough, Android phones are made by several of the world’s largest phone manufacturers, including Motorola, HTC and Samsung. Instead of 3 iPhones that work with one US carrier, there are at least 11 Android phones, and they’re available through all 4 major US carriers.
What about Nokia? It still sells half the world’s cell phones, and sells more smart phones than anyone else. Nokia offers maps, file sync, Exchange-like personal information management, music and photo sharing through its Ovi suite of services. Nice, yes. Built for phones, yes. But built for one manufacturer’s Nokia phones, and without anything like Google’s breadth of services.
What about Microsoft? Lots of manufacturers make Windows Mobile devices, and Microsoft makes Exchange and offers a huge range of online services. But Microsoft’s culture is rooted in application sales, not services, and the company’s online services are poorly integrated and less broadly used than Google’s. They could give Google a run, but they probably won’t.
And Palm? Yahoo! should buy them now to do for that company’s services what Android does for Google’s. Any other option for Web OS, and, well….