The biggest revolution in communications over the last couple of years must be the emergence of mobile devices as the dominant communication tools, eating much of the market share that had been the preserve of PCs. Smartphones and tablet computers have become the norm, with many people acquiring them. But then, behind this veil of success rages a bitter war between smartphone manufacturers, and it is getting uglier by the day. O, what is the war all about?
Battle for Numbers
Of course, the main battle between smartphone manufacturers is with regard to getting as many people as possible to use their devices and platforms. This is one metric that has been consistently used to gauge the smartphone manufacturers, as well as the operating systems powering them. When the smartphone revolution started with the release of the flagship iPhone, there was little competition. At that time, if you had to get a smartphone, then you had to get an iPhone. The other phones that were leaders in the market by then, such as Nokia, could not match the computing power and elegance of the iPhone. For a couple of years after its launch, the iPhone, in its various iterations, had an unassailable lead. This also brought the stark distinction between a normal‘ phone and a smartphone. For example, Nokia phones at this time were running on the Symbian operating system, which was not that powerful. When the iPhone was launched, it totally redefined the mobile phone market, and sold many pieces worldwide.
However, Google was taking note of this revolution. At the time the iPhone was launched, Google was secretly working on its own smartphone operating system, called Android. When Google released their operating system, it did not cause much of a star. This is simply because Google did not have their own branded phone, meaning that it could only reach a few people. Although Android was released on the HTC Dream phone, it did not pose a direct challenge to iOS. Android was also reported to be very slow, and it also had numerous security concerns. But Google kept improving its software as well as collaborating with major handset manufacturers. This then led to the rise of Android as a worthy challenger to iOS. The release of Samsung Galaxy S3 must have been the trigger point that led Android to surpass iOS and the most widely used smartphone operating system, since Android is also powering numerous smartphones from different manufacturers, spanning across all price ranges. Some analysts, such as Venture Beat, have placed Android’s global market share at 70%.
Windows on the other hand has been very late to the party, and it is now playing catch up to Google and Apple. With fewer than 3% of the smartphone market share, Microsoft is significantly trailing Android and Google. However, Microsoft and Nokia have noticed that the only way they can mount a viable challenge against Apple and Google is by partnering; this is made evident by the fact that Nokia has gobbled up 70% of Windows operating system share, making it the front runner in competing with iOS and Android.
The mobile revolution has most certainly been fueled by the emergence of mobile phone apps as a great way of making the mobile devices more powerful. Apple were the first to venture into this market, as they sought to build a vibrant ecosystem of app developers that would make apps that would exponentially improve the usefulness of their mobile devices. The sheer number of apps in Apple’s AppStore is also a good pointer as to how valuable and integral this market has been. These apps have been designed to run on the iPhone, as well as the iPad, as they both run the iOS operating system. Some of the iOS apps are free of charge to download, while you have to pay for others. However, the pricing of these apps has been such that they are very cheap, enabling people to download many of them. But this model is not a preserve of Apple, since their biggest rival, Android, also cloned the model to launch their own Google Play Store.
However, the approach for Google in developing the Google Play Store, as well as coming up with the guidelines for developing Android apps has been somewhat complicated. This is due to the fact that, unlike iOS, Android powers many different smartphones, all with different specifications. Thus, creating an app that works well on all handsets and tablets that run Android has been a great challenge. But this has not lessened the momentum at which Android is challenging iOS. Many developers have taken the leap of faith and developed numerous apps to run on Android devices.
Microsoft entered the smartphone competition with the launch of Windows Mobile; unfortunately, this mobile operating system has not experienced the huge success that Microsoft operating system for PCs experienced. This is mainly due to the fact that Android and iOS had already taken up much of the smartphone market share, a combined figure of more than 90%. But the recent launch of Windows Store was a sign that Microsoft was very keen on getting a sizable share of the mobile market. Also, Windows Mobile 8 was a remarkable release, as it promised to make it easier than before for developers to develop, host and sell their apps. The number of Windows Mobile apps has been increasing steadily, although it is still tiny, as compared to the number of iOS and Android apps.
It is fair to note that Nokia has been developing apps for a number of years; however, these apps have been quite inferior since they have not been optimized to run on smartphones. Nokia then realized that they needed to create more powerful apps, and the most effective way of doing this was to partner with Microsoft so that they can launch Nokia smartphones powered by Windows Mobile. This partnership looks promising, since the number of Nokia smartphones running on Windows Mobile operating system has increased significantly. Thus, Nokia is betting heavily on the success of Windows Mobile operating system to drive their smartphones.
As of writing, here’s recent statistics on App numbers providing by credible resources:
App Store – 791, 974+
Google Play – Roughly 800, 000+
Blackberry App World – 99, 500+
Windows Phone – 150, 000+
Perhaps the biggest wars being fought at the moment by smartphone giants is on the legal front. The biggest battles between smartphone companies are on patents, with iPhone and Samsung, who account for the largest share in the smartphone industry, trading numerous accusations of patent infringements, especially with regard to the design of their smartphones. One such case stands out clearly: in August 2012, Apple won a suit against Samsung over the ‘pinch to zoom’ and ‘scrolling bounce back’ patents. The settlements that were offered caused loud mumbling from mobile industry commentators. This case was heard in the US, and at the end, Apple was awarded US$1 billion by the court, and Samsung was compelled to pay the amount. However, Samsung filed a counter suit, and they were then awarded US$0. This caused Samsung to complain that the verdict was not fair at all, but it nonetheless paid the amount. Samsung also filed a suit in a Seoul court, claiming that Apple has infringed on some of their patents. However, the court ruled that both Apple and Samsung infringed each other’s patents. The battle between Samsung and Apple on the smartphone front has intensified since Samsung decided to run their phones on Android, an operating system developed by Apple.
Interestingly, legal battles in the smartphone industry have been increasing, with many more smartphone companies jumping into the foray. When Google acquired Motorola Mobility, there were rumors that Google aimed at making its own smartphone to run on its successful Android market. Apple responded soon after by filing a suit in a US court, claiming that Google’s Motorola Mobility has infringed a number of patents. However, these claims seemed to be baseless, as the court threw out the case.
Microsoft also took a swipe at Google in 2011 when it filed a suit that sought to give the former a licence fee of US$15 from Samsung for every device it sold that ran on Android. Microsoft won this case and had Samsung pay them the royalties. This was a major statement by Microsoft, since it had now effectively joined the murky waters of patent litigation that were now all too common. Microsoft also had several suits and counter-suit salvos with Motorola, especially in 2010, over patent infringement. At some point, it as lost to observers on what was worth suing for, since even the smallest or even imagined violations usually led to a series of suits and counter suits.
Nokia was also part and parcel of the patent litigation wars, although it’s started off these wars with Apple when the latter launched the iPhone. Nokia fired the first salvo by suing Apple over ten patents in 2009; less than three months later, Apple counter-sued with claims that Nokia had violated 13 of its patents. This exchange then continued for a number of years, with these companies suing for all sorts of patent infringements.
In order to underline how the legal wars based on patent infringements have become crucial, Google acquired 1023 patents from IBM in 2011, giving it greater power to keep its competitors at bay. Such kinds of wars are still far from over, with each smartphone manufacturer and mobile operating systems trying to out-innovate each other.
It seems that mobile devices are the future, and this is greatly powered by constant innovation in this market. Smartphones are becoming more powerful by the day, and this is thanks to the numerous computing power that is packed in each new smartphone. Some current trends are a great indication of what is to come. For example, Google has made its fortune from selling advertisements, and they have noted that with more people using mobile devices than they are using personal computers, they can tap this emerging trend by selling their ads on mobile devices. This is why they released Android as a free mobile operating system, and they have been refining it with every subsequent release.
Windows Mobile is also proving to be quite something to watch, though it will be a momentous task for it to eclipse Android or even iOS. But the partnerships that Microsoft is snapping up with major smartphone manufacturers should not be ignored by analysts, since it may jolt the mobile industry market share. Nokia is also angling towards working with Microsoft in order to be able to sell more smartphones, but time will tell whether this will actually cause any significant shifts in the mobile industry.
The biggest question on the lips of most mobile industry analysts is whether Apple will continue innovating by keeping iPhone at the top of the pyramid of smartphones. The sure thing is that the smartphone industry will continue being dynamic, with growth in innovation being punctuated by legal wars over patent infringements.