Conventional thinking is that the mobile market, or what I call the real personal computing market, will be the same as what we have known as the personal computer market. Over time the original personal computer market consolidated until there were only two popular choices: Macintonsh and Wintel. The question is, while today there are many players in the mobile market, will it too consolidate down to two choices: iOS and Android?
Market data and anecdotal evidence suggests that like the original PC market, the new market will indeed only end up with two choices. Most people who counter that argument point out that the potential market size is so large that even a small percentage of the market can be profitable. The theory is that even if Microsoft only ever gained 5% of the market, that represents enough profits to keep Microsoft in the market.
I think it’s wrong to apply past history to the new personal computing market. For one, there is a significant influencer in this market that did not exist before, the mobile operators, who have tremendous control over entry into the market. However, I think what may be an even greater factor is the speed of change that is now expected by consumers today.
If the launch of Windows 95 was the tipping point that resolved desktop and laptop computing down to two platforms, it took nearly a decade to get to that point. The pace of change is so fast now it is nearly impossible to imagine what the new, real personal computing market will look like in 2017. What I am pretty sure of though is that users won’t be satisfied with platforms that don’t change much during those ten years.
Therefore, while the tendency is to look at the current platforms that aren’t the market leaders and ask whether they have enough to take over a position, it is equally important to ask whether the current market leaders are changing enough to maintain their position. A change in platform leadership is most likely going to be due to stagnation at the top combined by change from below.
In my opinion iOS (Apple) is at risk simply because when you believe you have the perfect product, and the sales numbers support that belief, there is little motivation to change. For the most part iOS looks, feels, and does much the same now as it did in 2007 and that is why I think there is a degree of anxiety about the next version of the iPhone.
Android (Google) is also at risk because their approach to openness is diluting their market share and creating complexity. Which “version” of Android holds the number 2 spot? HTC’s? Samsung’s? Amazon’s? I think there is a point where if users have to know too much or have too many choices the whole platform begins to look too complex.
The real problem for Android is that there are too many stores for Android apps, not all stores have all of the Android apps, nor do all Android devices have access to all Android stores. For example, one of my favorite Android apps is Are You Watching This?, which you can find in the Android Market and therefore install it on most Android devices, but its not in the Amazon Appstore so you can’t install it on the Kindle Fire. What happens when a Kindle Fire user really wants that app and finds out even though his device can run it, he can’t install it because its not in the Appstore?
Above I give an example of issues with the current top two platforms of the new personal computing market that provide opportunities for other platforms. True, it’s hard to imagine Windows Phone taking over either iOS or Android near term, but Microsoft has done this before when it waited out Palm to eventually become the top PDA platform.
I don’t believe the new personal computing market will consolidate down to two platforms simply because the amount of change users now expect provides more opportunities for failure and success. Continued success in this market is going to rely on long term vision, persistence, and constant evolution, all of which is why I think the new personal computing market is so exciting.