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When I applied the modularity dichotomy to smartphone operating system there were several implications that came to light. One was the question of whether the market has reached the point where products were “good enough” and the speed of innovation became less important than price. Another was: will integrated vendors be able to hold on to a healthy share of growth against non-consumption?
Now I bring up another implication of modularity: the concept of “law of conservation of modularity”.
When I wrote about the absence of copyright enforcement on the Android marketplace, I was trying to point out that Google did not have the interests of copyright owners at heart. This attitutde is also apparent in many ways from the absence of desktop sync for Android (and hence the absence of discovery or acquisition of commercial media) to the absence of protection for the app developer.
Moreover, recently Google TV was blocked from all major US TV content and Google faced litigation from copyright holders in print publications and before that for YouTube infringements and before that from newspaper publishers for Google News’ unlicensed reuse of their content.
Therefore it should not come as a surprise the following revelation that Android lacks any common DRM framework.
When mobile platforms are discussed, the conversation frequently turns to market share battles between Android and iOS. I’ve pointed out before that the problem with this reasoning is that market share in a market that’s growing at 90% is a false measure of performance.
The more important measure is how much of the non-smartphone market is being taken by smartphones and how fast the whole phone market is growing. Competition with non-consumption is very different from platform warfare.
But even when discussing the rivalry between current platforms, the Blackberry and Symbian are often overlooked as contenders. Windows Phone and iOS come in and out of discussion only on the basis of press releases. The truth is however that Symbian, Windows, Blackberry are not going to disappear anytime soon. Why is that?
Can you imagine Microsoft launching a Microsoft branded phone to compete with its Windows Phone licensees? When Microsoft launched the Zune, their licensing model (PlaysForSure) was quietly folded up.
A Google phone makes little sense, but then again Google does not seem to care much about its ecosystem or relationships with Android device vendors. They even claim that they have no idea how many phones are being built using Android and, except for activations, have no way of measuring the number sold.
From their point of view, if Motorola feels it’s unfair to have to compete with a Google branded Samsung (or HTC) designed phone then too bad. There’s lots of white label vendors lined up to make these with or without anyone’s blessing.
In fact, the biggest opportunity for Android growth seems to be the large unlicensed (and illegal) grey market which seems to be rapidly expanding.
The latest mobile phone estimates from Gartner made a startling claim that “Others” vendors increased share from 16% a year ago to 33%. Doubling share in a year is possible if you’re at 1% share but to double from a base of 16% is sounding improbable. They allege that the “Others” now sell more phones than Nokia. And Others don’t even include ZTE and Huawei, the prototypical low end challengers.
They emphasize this point in their discussion and state that the incumbent vendors are being pressured by these low end entrants. They go on to explain that the same set of vendors will probably use Android to enter the smartphone space.
To illustrate, the growth of individual companies is shown here (all phones).
None of this should come as major surprises, but Gartner’s data allows for a bit more granular detail in the overall view of the market. Here are new points derived from Gartner’s sell-through data:
- The smartphone market is growing at nearly 100% (96%).
Gartner released sell-through data for the handset market. In the release appears an estimate of total Android 3Q Smartphone sales (20.5 million). Combining this with what some of the vendors have reported in terms of units sold, we can estimate the share of Android by vendors.
Note that this is a rough estimate. We don’t have data on Sony Ericsson’s smartphone units sold and we don’t know the mix of HTC’s Windows Mobile vs. Android. I’m also assuming LG as part of Others. The data from Gartner is claimed to be sell-through whereas vendors report sell-in so there is more roughness about each vendor.
Regardless of these potential sources of error, it’s a very safe bet that Samsung and HTC are the largest Android vendors by a fairly large margin.
It’s perhaps noteworthy that both are also committed Windows Phone vendors. According to pdadb.net here is the count of Windows Phone SKUs by vendor:
- HTC 12
- LG 5
- Samsung 2
- Dell 2
- Toshiba 1
Motorola is keeping its Windows Phone options open, leaving “Others” as the only likely exclusive Android vendors.
Several readers pointed out that in my discussion on the market share of modular vs. inter-dependent market shares for smartphones, Nokia was incorrectly classified as having an inter-dependent software architecture since the Symbian platform is/was a modular component.
The problem is that the relationship between Symbian and Nokia is not that of independent modules. Nominally, the two are independent and mutually exclusive, but, in practice, Symbian has always been so heavily dependent and influenced by Nokia that it’s never been possible to declare its governance fully independent.
Android remains the only mobile OS still patterned after Microsoft's 2002 vision of the mobile value chain
Belfiore wasn’t shy about criticizing Google’s Android OS. Even though Google currently dominates the mobile OS market, its strategy of licensing the Android OS to manufacturers is similar to Microsoft’s previous approach with Windows Mobile: It’s open-ended, and there are few restrictions on how manufacturers can use or modify the OS.
As a result, Android is suffering from some of the same issues as Windows Mobile did: Android works better on some phones than others, manufacturers are shipping different versions of the OS on different phones, some Android phones are shipping with bloatware made by carriers, and some app developers complain that it’s difficult to make software because of the hardware and OS fragmentation.