My prediction months ago that Android would pass Apple iOS in total share in the fourth quarter of 2010 is looking more prescient all the time. this ComputerWorld reports IDC’s conservative prediction that global (not U.S. share) will reach 16% for Android, 15% for iOS at the end of 2010.
More interesting is the report from ChangeWave that corporate IT buyers now favor Android over iOS in new purchases. The installed base of corporate iOS devices is about double that of their Android counterparts, but Android’s recent growth in that space is a factor of twenty larger than iOS’s. In fact Android is perceptibly eroding the position of market leader RIM’s blackberry line even among corporate IT buyers, RIM’s core market.
ComputerWorld also reports that a survey of 2300 app developers find them bullish on iOS as a short-term revenue opportunity but believing that Android’s long-term prospects to dominate the smartphone market are better, by 59% to 35%.
Part of this evaluation seems to be a revolt against Apple’s restrictions on app development and friction problems in its approval process. Perhaps just as importantly, worries about Android platform fragmentation are diminishing, with Google now reporting that over 70% of deployed Android devices are now running 2.1 or 2.2.
That 70% figure has another message. Smartphone customers appear to be exerting significant market pressure against phones that lag behind Google’s software leading edge. This decreases the carriers’ maneuvering room, making it more difficult for them to lock out features and generally more expensive to maintain customized skins.
In good news for MeeGo fans, the Gartner Group projects that the other open-source smartphone OS will, propelled by Intel and Nokia, keep ahead of Windows Phone 7 as both launch and struggle for recognition at the bottom end of the market.
On the hardware side, the Samsung Galaxy S phone’s simultaneous rollout through all four major carriers is complete. It’s being sold as AT&T’s Captivate, T-Mobile’s Vibrant, Sprint’s Epic, and Verizon’s Fascinate, initially running Android 2.1 but with 2.2 promised as an over-the-air update. This development is interesting on several levels, beginning with the fact that it marks Samsung’s emergence as a supplier not just of critical components such as AMOLED displays but of whole smartphones. Planners at Apple and HTC who have depended on Samsung as a critical part of their supply chain now have to sweat the fact that the company is likely to allocate its resources to where its profit margins are higher, likely putting a price and availability squeeze on its OEM customers.
The Galaxy S firmware uses a UI skin called TouchWiz which also runs on Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Samsungâ€™s own proprietary dumb-phone OS. It hasn’t been getting good reviews, and on Android Samsung has taken interesting step of allowing users to disable it. In another move towards openness, Samsung has released its Android source code, and it is reported that most Galaxy S variants have unlocked bootloaders that make installing custom firmware relatively easy. The phone has been successfully rooted and CyanogenMOD support is promised for 6.1.
The picture isn’t perfectly rosy; AT&T’s Captivate disables app sideloading, and the Fascinate locks the search provider to Microsoft Bing. But I see the ability to disable TouchWiz and the unlocked bootloaders on the Galaxy S as part of the same development as the unskinned Android 2.2 on the T-Mobile G-2; the carriers are feeling pushback from reviewers and users that hate locked-down phones, and they’re gradually giving up on that strategy.
Another implication of the Galaxy S releases is that all the carriers are trying to develop depth in their Android product lines, offering both inexpensive and high-end flagship models. Compare the Epic to Sprint’s flagship EVO 4G, or the Vibrant to T-Mobile’s much-touted G-2. Samsung seems to be repeating its historic product strategy for dumb phones, which centered around being a technology follower rather than leader and trying to own the broad middle range of the market.
Actually, I think we may be seeing the beginnings of a shakeout on the hardware side. Android presented a disruptive opportunity for new players in the handset space (especially given Nokia’s failure to compete effectively in smartphones), but with the dust settling HTC seems to have been the only one to capitalize on it effectively. Samsung’s entry in force is going to make it significantly more difficult for new players to find room to compete. I think the big bets by small companies are increasingly likely to happen in the still-nascent Android tablet space rather than smartphones.
UPDATE: The developer mindshare predictions lead me to another projection. In 2011 the iPad is going to get seriously hammered by the wave of Android tablets now just beginning to ship. Developers are already planning for this, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy because the positioning of tablets means apps will be more important for them than apps have been for cellphones.
UPDATE2: It seems RIM won’t be going Android after all. They plan to go with QNX. I say stick a fork in ’em, because a painful transition to yet another proprietary single-platform operating system is not anything a developer will willingly undergo when there’s a multiplatform open-source system grabbing market share at a furious clip.
UPDATE3: Seems they open-sourced QNX while I wasn’t looking. This improves RIM’s odds some.