One of the most important of the many battles that will be fought during the next few years is for supremacy in the mobile operating system sector.
It’s a fluid situation. One of the reasons it gets as much attention as it does is that what is a battle for the top spot for some companies is a battle for survival for others.
There always will be news on the mobile OS front, but there seems to be at least a bit more than usual this week: Apple announced results that seemed to point to barely visible hairline cracks in its façade; Research In Motion ended the “Waiting for Godot” element of the introduction of BlackBerry 10 and announced a date; and Android-dominant Samsung delivered a Windows Phone.
Beyond this, a PCWorld article points to the fact that screens are getting bigger. This could change the underlying dynamics of the OS landscape by requiring bigger batteries.
Apple’s reports were an exercise in cognitive dissonance. On one hand, the company said that it sold about 10 million more iPhones – 47.8 million – than in the year-ago quarter. That’s not too shabby, but, as ABC News reported, analysts were hoping for a 50-million iPhone quarter. The initial reaction to the news was to cut the stock price by about 10 percent. That number likely will rebound, but the initial disappointment is interesting to note.
It is important to see that result – growth that is slightly slower than anticipated – in the context of this piece at eWeek. Don Reisinger provides 10 reasons that the iPhone may fade, at least a bit. Indeed, one of Reisinger’s assertions couldn’t be more direct: He suggests that iOS is falling behind Android. Though he doesn’t see Apple’s OS fading away, he does suggest that the real world may catch up to Cupertino, at least to a degree:
Of course, declining demand is a relative term. In the iPhone’s case, it doesn’t necessarily mean that sales will plummet. Instead, it’s possible that iPhone sales growth slows this year. It’s also possible that, in the worst-case scenario for Apple, it will actually see shipments drop in 2013. Regardless of the scenario, it appears increasingly likely that the iPhone’s demand among consumers and enterprise users will slow to some degree in 2013.
BlackBerry and Research In Motion’s last shot at slipping through the closing window of viability will be next Wednesday, when the BlackBerry 10 is introduced in New York City. CNN, which reports that two phones -- one with a virtual keyboard and one with an actual keyboard -- does a good job of describing the company’s travails.
One of the areas in which devices try to distinguish themselves is reducing the demand put on the battery. There are several factors at play: the battery itself, the level of demand put on it by processors and the shrewdness with which the device is managed. At the end of the day, a change in the status of batteries will have an impact on the OS sector. Lots of work is ongoing in the processor and management areas. Reisinger suggests that Apple is not winning on power issues.
At the same time, however, the focus on power economy is showing signs of abating. PCWorld reports that a trend of 5-inch screens is leading to bigger batteries and thicker phones.
The takeaway from all this is that the smartphone OS landscape is complex and continually in flux. Apple and Android will remain on top. The exact market slices will shift. The general dynamics of the Android/iOS relationship – and the ramifications if a strong third player emerges – will be interesting to watch.