Until the iPhone’s arrival in 2007, upgrading the software on a mobile phone was a rare experience for users. So rare that effectively it was not done. Few people were bothered though since they did not see the product they used as a software product.
This was even true for Windows Mobile and Symbian which were licensed platforms. Microsoft tried several times to offer upgrade paths, but more often than not the device vendors did not push out updates or the process required to perform an upgrade made it the reserve of either those who were paid to do it or those who enjoyed the challenge.
In the era of the modern smartphone, upgrades are more common. Certainly with the iPhone the process is easy enough that opting out of an upgrade is more challenging than opting in. But it’s still not as common with other platforms. Even with all the resources and experience behind them, Microsoft is still stumbling with Windows Phone upgrading.
UPDATE 1-Microsoft explains phone software update delay | Reuters
But is it really a matter of blundering or is there evidence of nominal partners working at cross-purposes?
Michael DeGusta created beautiful and informative charts on how The Newspaper Business Implodes.
With charts, he also told the story of how the recorded music industry followed a similar path:
Who is Winning the U.S. Smartphone Battle? | Nielsen Wire.
This is a great chart from Nielsen showing the split in manufacturer share by OS in US installed base. What I consider significant is how the modular software platforms Windows Mobile and Android worked out for the licensees.
Whereas in the case of Windows Mobile HTC took a significant, nearly dominant share, the Android ecosystem was more balanced between HTC and Motorola. However, HP and Motorola left the Microsoft camps, Motorola going exclusively for Android and HP buying Palm. That leaves Microsoft with HTC, Samsung and Other (mainly LG I presume).
The question of how Windows Phone will shape up vs. Windows Mobile and Android remains. Motorola has signaled they are not interested in WP7 for the time being and so it’s likely that they will stick with Android. Samsung is always hedging its bets so it will probably balance its portfolio. One could conceive of Nokia stepping into the US with significant WP volumes, but there are many hurdles on the way.
One can see the challenge individual modular vendors have to edge the overall volumes of the integrated vendors. As Nielsen points out:
But an analysis by manufacturer shows RIM and Apple to be the winners compared to other device makers since they are the only ones creating and selling smartphones with their respective operating systems
Not only are the volumes higher, but so are the margins and hence profit share.
Vic Gundotra of Google tipped off the world two days in advance that on Feb 11 Android would play no part in Nokia’s strategy. To be sure, Elop said that Nokia didn’t choose Android because of “differentiation challenges and commoditization risk” (begging the question of how these challenges and risks are mitigated by licensing another openly available OS).
But I won’t weigh the merits of one module vs. another. Rather, the more pertinent discussion should be on why license instead of build. Clearly, Nokia threw in the towel. Not because they could not build, but because their building processes could not create greatness.
But can greatness ever come from modularity? I’ve argued that it can’t. I’ll maintain that argument as long as what is being built is not good enough. In other words, as long as innovation remains relevant, improvements will be absorbed and rewarded. Once innovation exceeds what can be absorbed, the basis of competition will shift to convenience and price which are best served with a modular business architecture.
Android is a fast follower. The first Android prototypes looked like Blackberries because that was the input paradigm of 2006. When capacitive touch was shown to be a better input method, Android reacted swiftly. When app stores created a new medium Android reacted swiftly. When the iPad demonstrated that computing can be done in new settings, Android reacted. At such time when there will be nothing to follow Android will be the king of the last commoditized innovation, but as long as there is something worth inventing Android will be there to reproduce it.
This is not a judgement, but an observation: Nokia and Microsoft may not make an Apple but neither will Android ever create the future.
The smartphone market grew to about 100 million units last quarter. That’s nearly double what it was a year earlier and triple what it was three years earlier, the year the iPhone made its debut.
Few markets grow this quickly, especially as this tripling happened during one of the worst recessions for a century. 100 million units a quarter is not a small number. The rate at which smartphones are growing makes clear the trajectory of where all phones are going.
As I’ve shown in profitability charts, vendors have been benefiting to differing degrees. The overall smartphone market with individual vendors is shown below:
And so we come to the question of Chrome and H.264. First off, it should be clear that video codecs are infrastructural technology. They are commodity algorithms which are generally invisible to users. They are ubiquitous and are “shared” in the sense that they are available for licensing often without much in terms of cost.
So they don’t really offer strategic advantage to the adopter. Some may end up adding slightly more to a cost structure than others, but not in a way that determines strategy.
Flash on the other hand is not infrastructural. It is not shared, it is not invisible to users, it is a brand, it has a significant business model and market value. It is sustaining to Adobe.
So the argument I’ve heard against Google’s decision is that they are using an infrastructural technology decision (a new video codec) to placate or sustain Adobe Flash, at the expense of Apple, a potential or perceived rival.
If this was the plan, it would be a strategic mistake.
The recently announced move by Microsoft to support the ARM architecture with their Windows product, indicates something profound is happening in the market for microprocessors.
Dr. Hermann Hauser puts in bluntly:
“The reason why ARM is going to kill the microprocessor is not because Intel will not eventually produce an Atom [Intel's low-power microprocessor] that might be as good as an ARM, but because Intel has the wrong business model,” said Dr. Hauser. “People in the mobile phone architecture do not buy microprocessors. So if you sell microprocessors you have the wrong model. They license them. So it’s not Intel vs. ARM, it is Intel vs. every single semiconductor company in the world.”
via Intel Microprocessor Business ‘Doomed,’ Claims ARM Co-Founder – Tech Europe – WSJ.
To make sense of that you have to step back and look at what’s been happening in microprocessors and how mobile computing is affecting the whole processor value chain.
Since I spend most of my time thinking about what will happen, at the end of each year, rather than looking forward I like to look back to see how wrong I’ve been. The great thing about being wrong is that you learn something. Especially if you use a foundational theory to tie concepts together. Theory building is all about finding anomalies that adjust and improve it.
Fortunately, exactly one year ago, on December 30 2009 I wrote an article asking if Android was disruptive. It turned out to be the right question to ask for 2010.
What have I learned since?
The release of the iPhone is rightly acclaimed as a watershed event in the history of telecom. It was a sensation. But it was also a product that was widely underestimated and dismissed. Even today expert opinion is divided. The critics of the product transitioned directly from labeling it a superfluous bauble to an obvious and copyable sustaining innovation. Advocates of the product describe it as revolutionary and dazzling with the potential for capturing significant profit share due to premium pricing and positioning.
So which is it?
When the iPhone vs. Android rhetorical war heats up, both sides bring up the history of Macs vs. Windows PCs. The commonly held thesis is that Windows triumphed as the PC was commoditized (and modularized). This triumph was at the expense of the over-serving and over-priced Mac.
This is a largely accurate view of what happened during the 90s. But the problem with this thesis is that (1) the PC’s job has been slowly changing in the last decade (2) the Mac keeps growing faster than the PC and (3) Apple keeps capturing a vast portion of the profits in the PC industry.
These anomalies or contradictions to the thesis imply that something changed. What changed and can these changes turn the tables on the market and create an opportunity for a new computing disruption?