It’s safe to say that the Android project has succeeded.
Much of the buzz in the mobile world is around Apple’s iOS and its family of sleek products. That clearly is reasonable. But the reality — which was validated by numbers released last week by Gartner — is that Android reigns. The firm found that the open source operating system accounted for 72.4 percent of the devices sold during the third quarter of the year. iOS was next with 13.9 percent.
Of course, that vast lead is due to the cumulative sales of Android from several vendors and its strength as a low-cost platform and one aimed at emerging markets. Regardless, a lead of almost 60 percent is extraordinary. It also raises some big issues.
One of these, which I posted recently, is fragmentation.
A second danger is, in some ways, strangely the opposite: Since the mobile world is settling on Android, there is a danger of the emergence of a type of “monoculture.” This reliance on one OS caused all the trouble in the desktop days. An interesting exercise would be to track the level of dominance held today by Android versus Windows in the 1990s.
Another issue is the possibility — which seems to be becoming a likelihood as Microsoft and Research In Motion (RIM) struggle — of there being only two viable players in the mobile OS world. This InformationWeek piece suggests that the landscape needs more than two viable companies, but that it is uncertain that Windows Phone or BlackBerry are capable of getting a significant enough piece of the action to be a strong enough third OS.
It is unlikely that the trajectory will change much during the next few months. An important question will be closer to being answered, however: Will Windows Phone emerge from the holiday season as the clear favorite to being that highly desired third platform? That is not a question people are asking of Research In Motion. RIM couldn’t get its act together enough to introduce BlackBerry 10 during the gift-giving season, which, for the mobile ecosystem, really is the most wonderful time of year. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft can take advantage of RIM’s failure.
Looking further out, it seems that Android is in an unassailable position. This Business Insider story raises a great point: The fact that so many vendors use Android creates a sort of internal natural selection process. Vendors compete and push the envelope. Proprietary OSes have a far smaller universe of smart people and organizations to drive innovations.
It is important to understand that, as 2012 comes to a close, the mobile landscape has come to look a bit like the desktop used to — and, to some, that isn’t necessarily a great thing. There is reason to think that the trend will continue well into the future.