Smartphones

Have the mobile OS wars really been decided already?

A research report concludes that the mobile OS war has been decided and Apple's iOS and Android are the big winners. In the long run will that really be the case?

This is a guest post from Larry Dignan of TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet. You can follow Larry on his ZDNet blog Between the Lines, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Apple's iOS and Android will be the dominant platforms for mobile operating systems and rivals can just pack it in. It's over. Kaput. Why should competitors bother? And why would developers pick anything other than Android and iOS?

That argument comes from Stifel Nicolaus analyst Doug Reid. In a research report last week, Reid said that the mobile OS war has been decided and future growth will come from the connected home.

There are hedges here, but Reid said the following in a research note:

iOS and Android are on track to dominate mobile device markets In the near term (3-12 months), we expect the rapid pace of innovation in mobile operating systems and related ecosystem content to: (1) drive industry unit growth for smartphones at levels above investor expectations (CY11E growth of 27% y/y versus 23%-24% consensus); and (2) cause unprecedented disruption to OEM market share as consumers and business users migrate to the leading mobile OS platforms-iOS and Android. Within our coverage Apple and Motorola appear best leveraged to industry trends while Research in Motion and Nokia appear vulnerable to continued market share losses and potential earnings misses.

There aren't many folks that would argue with that. Reid's other argument is that the iOS vs. Android scrum will bleed over to consumer electronics is also true. Reid argues that mobile operating systems will dominate converged platforms across smartphones and PCs-and potentially consumer electronics.

But the real thing to ponder comes in Reid's headline: Are the mobile OS wars really decided?

Consider the following:

  • Android barely existed a year ago.
  • Apple's iPhone didn't even appear until 2007.
  • Companies with vast resources-Microsoft and HP-will push their own mobile operating systems.
  • And incumbents like Nokia and RIM aren't going to roll over and die.

Simply put, anything could happen. Four years ago, you'd say the mobile OS wars were decided-and Nokia was the champ. No one would say that today. How could things change? Here are a few ideas:

  • Microsoft's persistence could make Windows Phone 7 a popular platform.
  • Fragmentation could knock Android off of its perch.
  • Nokia's developer efforts could pay off.
  • RIM QNX platform, the successor to the BlackBerry OS, could be a game changer.

A more proper argument is that the mobile OS war has been decided-for now. In the long run, this mobile OS fragmentation will be boiled down to two or maybe three winners. Today, it looks like iOS and Android are the favorites. Two years from now that may not be the case.

12 comments
tctm
tctm

Samsung's OS barely get's a mention today. It will be interesting to see what happens to it in the near future.

dogknees
dogknees

Like decades? I'd place money on neither existing in anything like their current form in 10 years.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

With Symbian and RIM still leading the mobile market by a long shot, where is it that you get some sort of competition between Android and iOS to lead? Blogs? Reports about web traffic? Sure iOS is the US favorite right now, but as soon as someone else tells people they need to buy X-OS instead, it will in turn take over as the masses run out to buy them. [i]cause unprecedented disruption to OEM market share as consumers and business users migrate to the leading mobile OS platforms-iOS and Android. Within our coverage Apple and Motorola appear best leveraged to industry trends while Research in Motion and Nokia appear vulnerable to continued market share losses and potential earnings misses.[/i] Vulnerable? it will take a MASSIVE global shift for them to lose the vast lead they have with global market share. [i]There aren?t many folks that would argue with that.[/i] Anyone who see what is actually preferred globally will. Sure one nation will flip flop with market trends but most others do not follow such trends. People in most other nations feel comfortable making their own choices and buying based on personal wants and needs, not what others have or use.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

Just about nothing is ever decided in technology until the players give up - or go broke trying. Probably the most definitive thing that can be said is that there will be Apple and one or more something(s) else. Apple will be around because (1) it's just great (2) enough folks will continue to pay a premium for snob appeal (3) all of the above. However, unless Apple decides to license its software to other manufacturers, it will never be "the" winner. Android does indeed have the best shot at becoming the standard for those who don't like Apple for whatever reason(s) and/or find other products they like better than Apple stuff. Android's biggest threat is fragmentation because that gives others a chance. If Microsoft can retain control over Windows Phone 7 (hey, it worked for PCs!), it could be a big player in the long run. Microsoft has the pockets and the patience to play the long game. However, there are as many people who don't like Microsoft as there are who don't like Apple, so it doesn't stand out as "THE" non-Apple OS, either. I suspect that the dust will settle on the breadth of useful, repeat useful, apps that there are for the various OSs. Apple may have the most apps numerically, but so what? How many bar coding scanning apps does someone need - or want! - on their phone.

Nsaf
Nsaf

"So 412 people out of the 1212 asked"

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

First of all, the 34% refers to a completely different question, simple how many would switch from a standard smart phone if it were available through THEIR carrier. So 412 people out of the 1212 asked said that IF their carrier offered the iPhone, they would have opted for it instead of their current smart phone. That says absolutely nothing at all regarding what mobile OS will take over, Android or iOS. As both are very weak on a global scale, iPhone near the bottom of the pile still, the 34% stat is absolutely irrelevant actually.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Symbian is very quiet around here, many of those who do have it don't know it is Symbian (which can be a good sign actually, they just like how their phone works and don't concern themselves with what the OS is). On a global scale though, Symbian/Nokia still sits as the market leader by a HUGE margin. Nokia is known to have the best audio quality for calls; of all the "phones" I've had, Nokia's always have the best voice quality so they had a head start before introducing Symbian anyway. Since Symbian was introduced, they have climbed in market share consistently. Last year, even with the iPhone out, they saw a 10% increase in market share to well over 45% of the global marketplace. I don't even know why people are even bothering to discuss iOS market share, on a global scale it is almost a nonplayer. If iOs market share TRIPLED this year, it still wouldn't be the dominant OS for mobiles.

m@rcel
m@rcel

Apple is for snobs and Andriod is Google spyware.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

"How many bar coding scanning apps does someone need - or want!" Just one...that actually works, so Apple is out, they do not offer a bar code scanner in the iPhone, people just THINK it's a bar code scanner but the iPhone is not even an approved laser device. Apple's bar code system is simply a take on the bar code imager; it's not actually a bar code scanner at all, or even a real bar code imager for that matter.

adornoe
adornoe

allow me to make my own prediction. In 2 to 3 years, Apple and Google will be crying foul and will issue challenges to government to "please stop Microsoft" from taking over another tech market. Since the mobile OS wars seem to get renewed on a weekly basis, with a new OS or a new version of an OS, and since the whole market is fairly new, there isn't and won't be a clear-cut winner for a long time. That's why it's foolish to make predictions about a market that is very far from being settled. Besides, people don't care about the OS inside; they care about features and coolness and perceptions and prices and looks and service plans and the "latest and greatest". When a manufacturer/vendor is faced with so many variables, it's hard to make any predictions. Predictions are not certainty, and nobody should be ready to declare who the winners and losers are, not in this finicky market with so many finicky consumers.

Nsaf
Nsaf

I am glad you mentioned this: "So 412 people out of the 1212 asked"....That is why these surveys are not valid at all.