Phones running Google’s Android operating system outsold the iPhone in the first quarter of this year. What’s more, BlackBerry phones outsold both iPhones and phones running Android.
BlackBerry phones, which run an operating system from Research In Motion, had 36 percent market share, according to NPD group, a research company. Android phones (including the widely advertised Droid) had a 28 percent share. And iPhones, which run Apple’s own operating system, had a 21 percent share.
It was the first time Android phones outsold iPhones.
…and iPhones will never again outsell Android phones, until and unless Google renames Android. Here’s why.
The iPhone is a great tool, and as Charles Stross has been pointing out for a while, Apple is making a big bet that their future is not as a hardware company with ancillary software but as a platform company with ancillary hardware. Because Apple is Apple, they want to control this platform totally, so this means they make the hardware that runs the platform, and they control the price-point. This works up to a point, but simple economics on both ends (theirs and consumers’) dictates that there’s necessarily a ceiling for both the number of iPhones they can make and the number of people who might buy iPhones. Apple survives by making those numbers as similar as possible, but it’s never going to be approaching 100% – or 50, even. Twenty percent market share is pretty substantial, but I wouldn’t anticipate Apple’s share of any market getting bigger than that.
Research in Motion’s continued dominance of the smartphone market is pretty impressive, and they’ve wisely kept their sights firmly focused on doing one thing and doing it well: making a business- and email-centric device that just plain works, and that its users stick with through multiple generations and structure their digital lives around. The Blackberry appears to have staying power, but with a substantial caveat: it’s a perfect device for email (and texting) but not for Web2.0 and the social web. That’s fine – there will always be a business and power-user market – but it’s tough to see RIM’s market share increasing much beyond where it is now (I’d expect it to shrink and stay put at a lower level), because as my research shows, young people don’t really have email as the central communications method of their digital lives. Phones are central, texting especially so, and the social web after that. Email is for professors and the professional world, so for those that head that direction, Blackberries are in their future.
But Android really is the future of the mobile environment, over the next several years. Like the Apple ecosystem, it’s an app-heavy and social-web-facilitating environment, but unlike Apple and RIM, Google is happy to let anyone (on any mobile network) make phones that run its OS – and thus experience the mobile web how Google would like you to do so. Which is, for the moment at least, preferable: no censorship in its app store, and a wide (and widening) range of hardware choices on your preferred mobile carrier. Anything that fights against the Web turning into a set of walled gardens, I can heartily endorse. Android will also push prices down for all smartphones and for access to the mobile web by offering experiences comparable to the iPhone and Blackberry without the single-system lock-in, and that’s (clearly) preferable, too. While the jury is still out on Google’s entrance into the hardware world, it’s not as important as their introduction and support of an open and high-quality platform for the Web to move to mobiles without intermediation and without sacrificing its values and variety.