The latest IDC numbers are out, and Android is by far the undisputed heavyweight champion of the smartphone world. If Android was Mike Tyson, iOS would be Peewee Herman, and everything else is dust on the floor.
That is, if shipping numbers are all that matter.
Manufacturers — mostly Samsung — shipped 136 million Android-based phones in the third quarter of 2012, capturing 75 percent market share. The only other growing phone ecosystem, iOS, shipped 27 million units, taking 15 percent market share.
After that, it gets really nasty.
BlackBerry captured 4.3 percent, which is, let us remember, more than double the percentage of Windows Phone — not bad for the embattled RIM, but both down and going downer. Symbian desperately clung to 2.3 percent of the market, and Windows Phone had two percent. Expect to see that number grow as Windows Phone 8 — and some positive Windows 8 and Surface tablet momentum — finally engage Microsoft’s mobile engines.
But the real story is Android and iOS, Google and Apple. And haven’t we seen this movie before?
I know that shipping numbers aren’t everything. And I know that the Apple ecosystem is still the strongest mobile/media/apps ecosystem in the world (well, I think I know that … some may disagree). And I know that iOS punches way above its weight in terms of actual use and usability — it’s only in the past month that the overwhelming majority of Android phones finally surpassed iPhone’s mobile web traffic share. And I know that Apple still accounts for a staggering proportion, almost certainly still the majority, of profits in the mobile device market.
But do you really think all that can continue to be true if iOS starts accounting for 10 percent of all mobile devices sold? What if it’s five percent?
I should add a caveat here: iPhone sales were probably a little depressed in the past quarter — July, August, and September — since the iPhone 5 was not released until late September. So we’ll probably see a bump in iOS market share in the next couple of quarters, which are traditionally strong for Apple in any case.
But Android is a train that has left the station, and it is stopping for no one. (No, not even for Google — ask Amazon.) The number of Android phones sold in this quarter alone is greater than the total number of smartphones of all kinds sold in the entire year of 2007.
And, not to do the monkey dance here, developers follow users. Sometimes the other way around, too, but developers will develop for platforms that have users. Ecosystem partners, like media companies, tend to aggregate around platforms with scale.
Another caveat, for which Apple can get down on its knees and thank Google: Android is fragmented and fractured, and likely to get more so over time.
In spite of all Google is doing to try to connect and unite and consolidate the versions of Android that users have on their phones, powerful ecosystem frenemies, like the carriers, and just plain old-fashioned enemies — or at least freeloaders — like Amazon, have opposing strategic imperatives. As do Chinese carriers, who might love what Android can do for them but have little incentive to keep Google in the mix.
Because of that, and because Apple earns vastly disproportionate amounts of income from its slice of the mobile market, I’m not saying that things are going to be the way they were when “beleaguered” was the adjective du jour for every article about Apple.
But there’s no doubt that there are clear parallels. And while I love Apple’s extreme devotion to not building crap as much as anyone, there’s a very valid question here: Was it truly impossible for Apple to build a mid-market or even low-end phone two or three years ago, and possibly be in a very different position today — possibly not as wealthy, but perhaps with a larger market share?
Some will say market share is irrelevant. To them I say, go get a job at RIM. Or Nokia. Market share does matter. And there will also be some who will say that profits matter most, and Apple’s got the mostest of those. To them I say, revenue and profit are trailing indicators that reveal a lot about what you have done, not so much about what you will accomplish.
I guess, in a sense, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just not in quite the same way.
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