Microsoft’s Windows and Google’s Linux (Android), the Mobile Race

The good days when you can do no wrong and no evil

By on March 13th, 2010 11:52 GMT
Will Microsoft slapping “7” on the rebranded Windows Mobile (now Windows Phone) OS be enough to counter Google’s Linux for mobile phones? It’s easy to expand the Microsoft vs. Google antithesis to Windows Phone and Android – proprietary vs. open source, paid vs. free, Windows vs. Linux, etc. Most would undoubtedly agree that Windows Phone and Android being placed at opposite poles of the mobile-phone world is more than just a matter of perception.

Next week, on March 15th, it will be the first month since Microsoft showcased the Windows Phone 7 Series at the Mobile World Congress 2010 in Barcelona, Spain. At the same time, the week of March 15th will be synonymous with the Redmond company beginning to evangelize Windows Phone 7 to developers, as the company’s MIX10 event kicks off. Still, the general public will have to wait until the end of 2010, just ahead of the holiday season, to get their first Windows Phone 7 device. And in the meanwhile, Google will have plenty of elbow room to continue growing its marketshare, which has virtually exploded since the end of 2009.

It’s also extremely easy to credit the underlying Linux OS and open source model for the success of Android. “42.7 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones in an average month during the November to January period, up 18 percent from the August through October period. RIM was the leading mobile smartphone platform in the U.S. with 43.0 percent share of U.S. smartphone subscribers, rising 1.7 percentage points versus three months earlier. Apple ranked second with 25.1 percent share (up 0.3 percentage points), followed by Microsoft at 15.7 percent, Google at 7.1 percent (up 4.3 percentage points), and Palm at 5.7 percent. Google’s Android platform continues to see rapid gains in market share,” comScore revealed.

In the US, Windows Mobile continues to own more than twice as much market share as Android, but this situation will soon change, especially if Google’s mobile OS continues to grow by 4% leaps at every three months. In fact, taking into consideration just US customers, if Android’s growth holds steady, Google will own a larger size of the mobile operating-system market than Microsoft, by the time that the Windows Phone 7 Series drops. Especially seeing how Windows Mobile took a steep plunge, as steep as Android’s increase, dropping from 19.7% from November 2009 to just 15.7% in January 2010.

The good days when you can do no wrong and no evil

I’m sure that many in the open source community won’t agree with me, but Android’s explosion is not about Linux or open source, but about Google. Far from me to deny the advantages of an open source “germination” process for handset manufacturers, for mobile application developers or for the Mountain View-based search giant, but it’s Google that’s behind the fast-spreading Android “spores,” which are appearing on more and more smartphones. It is Google’s weight that made possible Android devices shipping at a rate of over 60,000 per day in the short time since the platform was launched.

Gartner has made available some extremely interesting statistics, which offer an insight into the evolution of Windows Mobile, Linux and Android on the mobile-OS market. In 2008, Symbian shipped on 52.4% of all smartphones sold globally with almost 73 million units acquired around the world. Research In Motion was second with 23 million and a 16.6% share of sales, Windows Mobile the third with 16 million and 11.8%, Mac OS X followed next with 11 million copies and 8.2%. Only 11.2 million Linux smartphones were sold in 2008, representing 8.1% of all sales that year.

At that time, Google was yet to release Android. But throughout 2009, the situation changed drastically. 46.9% of sales were Symbian smartphones, some 80,8 million, 19.9%, came from RIM (34.3 million), 14.4% were iPhones, namely 24,8 million iPhone OS devices. Statistics reveal that just 8.7% of all smartphones sold in 2009 came with Windows Mobile, 15 million, while the number of Linux handsets dropped dramatically to 8.1 million, representing just 4.7% of the sold devices. In 2009, 3.9% of all smartphones worldwide featured Android, 6.7 million units, Gartner revealed.

Interpreting the data offered by Gartner, it’s clear that manufactures that traditionally reserved devices for the open source OS were quick to embrace Android, explaining the drop in sales share of non-Android flavors of Linux. “The two best performers in 2009 were Android and Apple. Android increased its market share by 3.5 percentage points in 2009, while Apple's share grew by 6.2 percentage points from 2008, which helped it move to the No. 3 position and displace Microsoft Windows Mobile,” Gartner said at the end of February 2010.

“Android's success experienced in the fourth quarter of 2009 should continue into 2010 as more manufacturers launch Android products, but some CSPs and manufacturers have expressed growing concern about Google's intentions in the mobile market,” Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner, explained at the time. “If such concerns cause manufacturers to change their product strategies or CSPs to change which devices they stock, this might hinder Android's growth in 2010.”

Windows Phone 7 Series

The way I see it, the most consistent problem that has stood in the way of open source becoming as ubiquitous as Windows is market fragmentation. The paradox however is that, while open source would be more successful under a single banner, the divisions, diversity and multi-faceted universe are the valves that drive its anti-proprietary heart.

Microsoft was by no means actually slow to embrace mobile operating systems with Windows, but despite this, the company seemed out of breath with the Windows Mobile 6.5 release in 2009, and watched Apple slide past, being in danger of Google outrunning it as well. This although the Redmond company had an indisputable head-start over both Google and Apple. But just as indisputable, Microsoft failed to build a momentum for Windows Mobile, and now there’s nothing to conserve, and what little remains might prove insufficient to build growth at the same rate as its rivals, considering that the company is losing its grip on the market more and more with each passing day. Certainly, the hope is that Windows Phone 7 will fuel the Windows Mobile dying fire.

“Windows 7 Phone Series (…) that’s coming out this fall, is our new phone platform. And it’s not a me-too product, it’s an incredible social piece of lifestyle technology that has both cloud services with it that allows you to do Xbox gaming to Facebook to your music and movies and everything you want to watch on your mobile telephone, and it is an incredible product that we just gave some sneak peek demos of it last week or two weeks ago, and stay tuned for it,” Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner stated during a speech at the University of Zurich in Switzerland on March 5, 2010.

Still, I continue to believe that the vast majority of customers take a wide range of features and capabilities into consideration when buying a smartphone, but that the actual operating system is not a deal-breaking factor. From my point of view, handsets are being purchased for the overall experience – a combination of media features, hardware specifications (with the camera specs and touch interaction model key details), social networking and Internet-browsing capabilities, application and standards support and app ecosystem diversity and ease of access, and only lastly because of the actual operating system.

But Microsoft should in no way ignore the power of “Google” in “Google Android” devices. Taipei-based Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute (MIC) estimates that shipments of Android smartphones will reach 32 million units in just three years, namely in 2013. Telecom consultant Juniper Research expects 223 million smartphones to be shipped with open source operating systems by 2014. According to IDC, Google and its handset partners are going to make Android the second most used mobile operating system worldwide by 2013, with total sales of approximately 70 million devices.

With Windows Phone 7,Microsoft showed that it was on the right track, understanding that it was not about the operating system but rather about the phone experience. Now, the company needs to deliver on its promise of a new beginning.

I’ve often noticed nuances, not exactly subtle, of envy from Microsoft as company representatives pointed out that Google was now in a place where it could do no wrong. The vast majority of the projects that the search giant embarks on turn out to be gold mines, and Google gets applauded constantly for being, well, not Microsoft.

Not that Microsoft has a shortage of gold mines. The Windows Phone 7 Series, provided that it will be all that the company promised in Barcelona, will surely help turn things around. But realistically speaking, Microsoft needs to pick up the pace. In the long-term mobile OS marathon, it’s now short dashes, rhythm breaks and explosions of pace that seem to define success, at least on the short term, but guaranteed to also impact the evolution of OS vendors in the long run.

And for the time being, the software giant continues to move so slow that it’s in danger of coming too close to being pushed to the periphery of the mobile-OS market.

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