As is customary in the mobile market, lots of focus has been given to specific products over the last couple of months. Literally hundreds of discussions can be found online, both positive and negative, around the iPhone 4S, iOS 5, or the Kindle Fire for instance. Many people in the US seem to exhibit an almost cult-like following of various electronic brands, and that elicits even more writing and speculation online. Factor in the huge battle going on between the Android and iOS ecosystems for dominance in the mobile market, and you can see why there is so much written about who is going to win, and who isn’t.
After all, a study by Markets and Markets estimates the worldwide mobile app market alone at $25 billion by 2015. That doesn’t take into account worldwide revenue generated by mobile devices, mobile wireless services, mobile accessories, mobile consulting, and so on. The market is already huge and growing rapidly. There is a lot at stake.
Any given week a reader can find dozens of metrics generated by various companies who watch the mobile market on an ongoing basis. All of us who write for The Mobilists will quote one or more of these statistics in just about every post. There’s so much data out there it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. So I thought it would be worthwhile to look beyond all the numbers to see what the statistics are really telling us. For those of us who are deploying mobile apps or other mobile technologies, I think it is worthwhile for us to see the big picture of what the mobile trends are telling us. In most cases that message is actually quite easy to understand. For this post I’ll focus my comments on the US market, though in many ways it is similar to the worldwide market.
According to a report released by ComScore in October, Android is now found on 43.7% of all smartphones in the US. That is over a 5 percentage point increase since the last quarter. According to numbers from Canalys, Android has an even bigger domination worldwide with almost 50% of the worldwide smartphone market. iOS is now on 27.3% of smartphones in the US, up almost a percentage point from the second quarter of this year. And remember with Apple many people were holding off to purchase what they thought was the iPhone 5, so I imagine these numbers were somewhat depressed for iOS. Factor in a new carrier (Sprint) being added to the Apple fold along with a new device (iPhone 4S), and I would expect Apple to make bigger gains in the fourth quarter.
So what do these numbers mean? First of all they confirm the domination of Android and iPhone in the US market. 71% of all smartphones in the US are one or the other…and that market share is growing rapidly. Some numbers I have seen project Android will own 50% of the US market by the end of this year. From what I’m reading, most industry watchers expect Apple to get a big boost from the iPhone 4S, especially over the holiday season when so many are purchased as gifts. So this domination by the top two operating systems should continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
What doesn’t get mentioned nearly as much is the fact some big players are really losing out. For instance, RIM, the makers of BlackBerry, have continued their precipitous fall from grace that began about three years ago. Depending on the study you look at, market share for RIM in the US is anywhere between 9% and 19.7%. No matter what numbers you accept, the trend for RIM is unmistakable. They are losing market share at the rate of 4-5 percentage points each quarter. That’s amazing for a company who was the market leader with about 45% market share just 4 years ago. Couple that with the fact the Palm has disappeared in that same time frame and you can see how quickly the mobile market can change.
So what do these market share percentages and trends mean for us? Well, if you are a mobile developer and haven’t already done it, you should be getting acquainted with both iPhone and Android. While it was OK in the personal computer world to develop just for Mac or just for Windows, in the mobile world users expect apps to be available on both. Fortunately there are some nice cross platform tools that make supporting both platforms much easier than developing twice from scratch. These tools aren’t magic, but they do make the job of supporting applications in two environments easier in most cases. Of course I think you should always consider your target market when developing an app, so in select cases the RIM platform will still be the target, but that won’t be the case much longer, at least in the US.
What if you are an IT department? If it were me, I would be assembling tools and building policies for how I was going to support iPhone and Android. Many IT departments in larger companies are already supporting a large BlackBerry population, but again I don’t think that will last for much longer. If it were me I would be readying myself to support iPhone and Android. Microsoft might be able to step up and make an impact on the market, but the way it is looking I am highly doubtful that will happen. So unless something very unexpected happens, iOS and Android it is unless specific business issues dictate otherwise.
The tablet market is must less chaotic than the smartphone market…at least for now. Apple has complete control of the tablet market with an estimated 80% market share in the US according to one report. I’ve seen numbers for worldwide market share that don’t look much different. That leaves the other 20% for Android and everything else (Playbook for instance). Most industry watchers agree the overwhelming majority of that 20% is made up of Android tablets. To be quite honest, I’m surprised Android is doing even that well with market share. Most of the Android tablets to date have been clunky and expensive. It’s hard to compete with that recipe when Apple does such a good job with user experience. The iPad is very, very good. But Apple is not invincible. RIM, Palm, IBM, Microsoft and other once-dominant technology companies have all learned this lesson the hard way.
Amazon’s new Kindle Fire promises to bring some characteristics to the table other Android tablets simply haven’t had. For instance, Amazon has a pre-built, extremely loyal, user base of people using their wildly popular existing Kindle readers. My wife and my father are both loyal Kindle users, and both are individuals I think would benefit from the Fire. It’s similar in form factor to what they are accustomed to with the Kindle, and it gives them access to games, movies, music, social media, etc…all things they cannot access with their Kindle. And why buy an iPad for $300 more than it costs to buy a Fire. It’s dramatically cheaper, it’s familiar, and it’s a brand they have grown to trust and love. Sound familiar? Except for the cheap part it’s a list of qualities that helps keep Apple on top.
This argument doesn’t necessarily hold for non-Kindle users, but there are enough Kindle users that I think the Fire will be a huge success. Estimates have put expected fourth quarter Fire sales somewhere in the range of 3-5 million devices. If Amazon is able to achieve this level of adoption (and I think it is very likely), they will give Apple a worthy competitor. While 3-5 million is a far cry from the number of iPads Apple will sell this year, I think it is an admirable start, and a much bigger impact on the market than any tablet other than iPad has even come close to. And if industry rumors and reports are any indication, Amazon appears to be building a pipeline of tablets with additional form factors.
Now don’t get me wrong. I do not see the Kindle Fire as a business tablet. And that means when you look at everything else out there, the best alternative today is the tablet with the largest market share…the iPad. But what many people do not realize is that building some business apps on iPad can be problematic, especially for larger companies. Most companies want to push and retrieve data to and from apps on mobile devices. It’s one of the things that makes business apps quite different from most consumer apps. iOS makes some of this unattended data transfer difficult. I was in a meeting last week with about half a dozen CIOs, and 3 of them cited data synchronization issues as the primary reason they have not deployed iPad tablets on a more widespread basis. Some of them have even resorted to developing for Windows based tablets…gasp!
There are some workaround for this…there are always workarounds, but it does make things difficult. I don’t see the Kindle Fire as a big business platform, but what I do think the Fire will do is open the market up more fully for Android tablets. A friend of mine who develops games for iOS is even porting one of his games to the Fire. To me that demonstrates how even big Apple fans can see the potential for the Fire specifically. But regardless of how Kindle Fire will do in the future, if I were deploying a business app for a tablet, I would be focused just about exclusively on the iPad for now. A year from now I think the market will likely be different, but for now there is not a device that comes close in terms of its usability.
So what does all of this mean? Again, it once again shows just how dominate iOS and Android are in the US market. It’s easy to dismiss Android if you carry an Apple device, and vice versa, but in reality together they form an environment that will continue to play off each other and drive better mobile products for all of us. Even Apple’s iOS 5 announcement addressed some of the things Android had which iOS was lacking, and in some cases in a more elegant way. This competitive push is good for the market, but it’s not good for companies like RIM and Microsoft who seem to continue to struggle with their approach and execution.
Sign up for The Mobilists