As most of you know, I am a critic of the iPhone. Truth be told, though, if you say that the iPhone is the best smartphone on the market, I won’t entirely disagree. The question, of course, is “best for whom?” For people that want a phone of its type (simple, tightly integrated design, thin, no keyboard, outstanding app selection), it is far and away the best. But that’s sort of giving it a heck of a home field advantage. Tim Lee sums up my thoughts better than I have yet to be able to:

A good way to visualize this is by thinking of a computing platform as a funnel. At the narrow end of the funnel is a human user with an extremely limited capacity for absorbing information. At the fat end of the funnel is “the world”—the collection of websites, devices, people, organizations, or other entities with which the user might wish to exchange information. The job of a computing platform is to connect the two—to filter and organize the vast amounts of information at the fat end of the funnel into a form that is digestible by the user at the skinny end. {…}

This explains why iOS has been losing ground to Android even though most people agree that the iPhone is the best single smartphone on the market. There are tens of millions of people who care most about the narrow end of the funnel. They want the best user interface, and are willing to make compromises on other fronts to get it. Most of these customers will opt for an iPhone. But there are hundreds of millions of customers who care more about some other factor. They want a phone from their favorite carrier, a phone with a physical keyboard or a removable battery, a phone with their choice of app store, a phone they can get for free with a contract, a phone they can get with a pre-paid plan, etc. No single phone (wireless carrier, hardware manufacturer, etc) can satisfy all of these diverse customers. Only a platform designed to support many different phones from many different manufacturers on many different networks can cope with this kind of diversity.

Armed & Dangerous talks about the success that Android has been having:

More interesting, perhaps, is what is not happening in the latest figures. Tragically for the contrarians, it is Apple’s U.S market-share growth rather than Android’s that has stalled. Android share growth continues to bucket along at about 2% a month, while Apple’s shows no increase in the latest figures.

The future is another country, of course, but right now it looks like those of us who thought that multicarrier iPhone was going to be largely unable to fix Apple’s long-term positioning problem were correct. The iPhone’s market isn’t exactly saturated in the normal sense, but sales volumes are only growing as fast as the smartphone userbase as a whole; the multicarrier ‘breakout’ only netted Apple about a 1% competitive gain, and that gain now appears to be over.

Apple is now relying on smartphones for 68% of revenue, so they’d be very vulnerable to an actual drop in marketshare. I’ve taken a lot of flak for saying the company looks like a late-stage sustainer with a principal product line about to experience disruptive collapse, but this is yet another straw in the wind. If next month’s figures show an actual share drop, expect it to be self-reinforcing and get the hell out of Apple stock.

It sounds ominous to talk about how much of Apple’s revenue comes from smartphones. That could just as easily be pointing out the other thing: Apple is actually making money from its smartphones.

There are a lot of questions as to why Google has taken it upon itself to purchase Motorola. Here is Farhad Manjoo’s take:

That’s why I’m betting that this deal will represent a turning point in how Google operates Android. Today, the platform is “open” but chaotic—because phone-makers get the software for free and can do whatever they want with it, Android is available on some good phones as well as lots and lots of cheap, bad ones. In the aftermath of this deal, Google will seek to exert greater influence over hardware companies. Eventually, the deal will help reduce the number of new Android devices that are released every year, and the few that are released will be of generally higher quality—and sell for higher prices—than what we see in the Android device market today.

This won’t happen overnight. Indeed, in a conference call announcing the deal, Google executives argued that the huge purchase won’t change anything about Android. The Motorola division will run as a separate entity within Google. This arrangement is meant to reduce Motorola’s ability to get preferential access to Android over other handset makers that use the OS. This is a signal that at Google, “openness” is still the ideal.

My hope is that Google’s main plan is to create a flagship product. That there are many products and designs that carry different versions of Android is not as much a problem as the fact that there is no real central design that they are all drifting from. If Google can create a serious of flagship products, it would be in the best interest of Samsung and others to fly relatively close to the formation so that the Android apps created for the Flagship will work on their product. Motorola is one of the big makers of Android phones, and with direct ownership over the product, it’s possible that they can be central enough to get the others to “fly right.” That’s my hope anyway.

It also allows them the opportunity to actually make money with their product.

The big news with Apple is, of course, the departure (and likely imminent death) of Steve Jobs. Not being an Apple guy, I don’t have much to say about it other than that I wish the best for him. Despite my disagreements with the direction he took it, he did make everyone take smartphones seriously. Before him, there was serious resistance on the part of carriers because they couldn’t control a smartphone the way that they could control feature phones where ringtones and apps could be required to come from the company store. Jobs didn’t do me any favors, since I was perfectly willing to seek out a product that not everyone else was using, and preferred the niche devices over the standard that Jobs set. But… he introduced smartphoning to a whole lot of people.

However, even though I am not a Mac user and an iPhone user, there was one thing that he did that I loved. One of his “failed” ventures was a company called NeXT, which worked on OSes. In addition to kind of setting up their own shop, they created a front-end shell for Windows 3.1, which was the first Windows operating system that I ever used. Windows 3.1 relied on Program Manager, which was as user unfriendly as it was inflexible. NeXT made Windows 3.1 really easy to use and set the standard for how I would later customize Windows 95 and beyond.


Category: Market

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5 Responses to The Smartphone Wars

  1. Logtar says:

    You know, after everything I said, I ended up not going for an iphone, or waiting for the iphone 5. I just ordered a RIM device and here is why.. (I will post about it on my blog once I get to play with the phone, its still in its way here)

    Out of all the phones that I have owned, the one that I had the best results out of was actually a blackberry. Even though the software is not as advanced as the iOS or even Android it got the job done.

    When I started to weight my needs I had I started to see that I was looking for a couple of very specific things… mostly call quality and convenience.

    My biggest issue with my android is how difficult it is sometimes to make a phone call. It takes forever… and I get more disconnect or random mute of my call than in any other device I have owned. The call quality overall has never been all that great either.

    Traveling and phone charging was another pain point that if both Bea and I had the same device, it might be somewhat alleviated (since we could have one car charger in both vehicles, instead of having to have 4 car plugs.

    The thing (besides phone calls) that I use my device for the most was web surfing, I don’t really text all that much or facebook or twitter but just plain old browsing.

    I know from previous RIM devices that call quality is second to none. I already ordered extra plugs and stuff so batter life is not an issue (even though I had awesome performance from my last BB). The kicker will be web surfing, if it is as easy or easier than it is on an iphone, I will be totally satisfied with the switch I made.

  2. Samson says:

    Does your wife have an iPhone, Will? I don’t have one, but I do have an iPod touch – the medical apps are just so valuable. I don’t whether they exist for the Android. Of course, I’m waiting until I can buy a smartphone not produced by evil Apple *or* evil Google.

  3. Samson says:

    Also, wasn’t Windows 3.x the first Windows that *everyone* used?

  4. trumwill says:

    That’s interesting, Logtar. I approve, even though I have determined that the Blackberry isn’t for me. Smartphone call quality is generally a problem. A lot of “AT&T coverage sux” were actually “iPhone reception sux”… complaints about how terrible AT&T coverage has dropped precipitously since iPhones have been put out there for the Verizon. To be fair, Verizon does seem to be doing better, but the difference was not what a lot of people were expecting. My WinMo phones don’t do as well as regular phones, either. It’s interesting that Blackberry’s seem to be the exception to this. Given Blackberry’s market, though, I guess it’s not *entirely* surprising, however.

  5. trumwill says:

    Samson,

    She has the same (WinMo 6.5) phone that I do. The EMR, once it’s instituted, will be compatible with iPhone or Android. I suspect that I will be moving her to Android at some point, possibly ahead of me.

    People do seem to forget 3.1, which was the first real mass-market Windows OS. However, it was when Windows 95 was out that everyone began to have computers. So it depends on if by “everyone” you mean “everyone with a computer” or just everyone more generally.

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