As someone whose preference for a smartphone and tablet operating system (OS) is Android, this was heartening news, reported from the World Mobile Congress now playing in Barcelona.
Personally, I believe the past year was Android’s boom year, because of the increasing appeal of smartphones (and thus, alternatives to the iPhone), coupled with the mass influx of tablets to compete with the iPad. But I think this year will really tell the tale with respect to Android’s staying power. Ad campaigns, such as the recent one from Samsung, are making sure the public understands there are viable (and, arguably, better) alternatives to the iPhone. For example, Verizon and AT&T, the two largest US cellphone providers, are expanding their so-called 4G LTE networks—heck, we have 4G from Verizon in Rapid City now, and we’re only the second-largest market in South Dakota! The iPhone, though, doesn’t support LTE and its much faster speeds. (As for the iPhone 5, who knows?)
On the other hand, there are new or reinvigorated players in the smartphone market. But there are a couple questions to be answered before we know their impact in the US. The first, of course, is which companies will market in the US? Right now, the biggest actors are Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony (no longer Sony Ericsson), and Motorola (now a Google subsidiary). Nokia is trying to regain the position it had before the smartphone boom, but it’s also throwing a lot of its eggs in the Windows Phone basket. But if other manufacturers decide to invade North America, especially in the lower-end market, it will be interesting to see how increased fragmentation affects Android overall.
I don’t know what level of market penetration would be considered a serious threat to iPad’s dominance. I haven’t seen any consistent numbers for market share, and when I see any numbers, it’s often “Android vs. Apple,” with no differentiation between 7″ and 10″ form factors for tablets. Add in Samsung’s new Galaxy Note—at over 5″ diagonal screen size, it’s a hybrid phone-tablet (phablet, I’ve seen it called)—and the choices begin to approach staggering. So convincing people to go for something other than an iPad is definitely a challenge. Much as I prefer Android to iOS (the key for me is flexibility), I have yet to see an advertisement in any medium compelling enough for someone to say, “Wow! Gotta have that, and forget about iPad!” Of course, rumors regarding iPad 3 continue to fly around, including the possibility of a 7- or 8-inch iPad tablet.
On the other hand, a strict “Android vs. iOS” comparison is just as valid as the old “Microsoft vs. Apple” comparisons when the PC was the only thing people cared, or talked, about, although I think Android vs. iOS is a fairer fight.1 But when we start to do that comparison, it’s pretty weak, given the huge—let’s call it insurmountable—lead iOS has in terms of an installed base. Forget iPhones and iPads—just count iPods! Granted, there are some Android media devices out there (did you even know that?), and if I were in the market for an iPod, I’d give them serious consideration, but their market penetration is minuscule.
Clearly, Android is growing phenomenally, and it isn’t going away. However, there are criticisms that its openness is a drawback, because it allows both the manufacturers, as well as the carriers, to dictate features, bloat, and create other irritations for users. There’s no difference between the AT&T iPhone and the Verizon iPhone except for the internal radio. But the controls on my son’s Samsung Galaxy SII don’t look anything like those on my Motorola Droid X—yet they’re both running the same version of Android.
It’s going to be interesting to see where we end up a year from now. I’m particularly interested, as I will probably be upgrading my phone. And to be perfectly honest, I’m still undecided whether I will stick with Android (I’m definitely leaning that way), or switch to the iPhone 5, or Windows Phone with Windows 8. How about you? Thinking about upgrading to a smartphone this year? If so, what’s caught your fancy?
Disclaimer: My PC is an iMac, and I also have a MacBook Air. My wife’s PC runs Windows. She also has an iPad, while I have a Nook Color that I’ve modded to be an open Android tablet. I have a 4th generation iPod Touch, and my smartphone is a Droid X. I really am an equal-opportunity OS fan.
- Let’s face it: OS X never threatened Windows’s presence on the desktop, and Linux is to OS X as OS X is to Windows. However, that’s not the point of this article. ↩