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Day September 18, 2013

Think local, act global

One of the curiosities of the mobile phone market is how vast it is but also how heterogeneous it has always been. I wrote about this in 2010:  Smartphone parochialism: How operator policies prevent or promote platform adoption. This observation was influenced by my time at Nokia where I became amazed at how differently users behaved in different countries.

There were many causes. Some cultural, some historical, some economic and some policy-driven. The result was that it presented a challenge to any company with global ambitions and indeed it was rare to see the same company do well in every market. Japanese companies did well in Japan, European companies did well in Europe and US (and Korean) companies did well in the US. Nokia was most successful because it was able to apply an European model more broadly (but not in the US). Samsung succeeded by simply adapting to each and every market with hundreds of products. But it was a particularly “provincial” market.

My assumption was that when smartphones would become the majority of phones in use there would be a normalization of behavior and thus a homogeneity of preferences. This is, after all, what happened in other platform games. PC form factors are globally consistent, PC operating systems are equally preferred around the world, FaceBook, Google and Twitter are also, unless censored, uniformly popular. Apple’s iPod eventually also became a global phenomenon with no material difference in preference by market. Likewise for game consoles.[1]

However, a decade after the broad adoption of smartphones, the relative popularity of various platforms is still unevenly distributed. Prior to the iPhone, Symbian was strong everywhere but the US and BlackBerry was very strong in the US but weak elsewhere. Windows Mobile had footholds in some markets but little traction in others. Today the picture has changed but it’s still a patchwork of preferences. Consider the following graphs.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9-18-12.57.15 PM

Notes:
  1. Although Japanese do seem to prefer Japanese platforms more. []