Republicans/Democrats. VHS/Beta. Team Jacob/Team Edward (ask your kids). And, of course Android/iOS.
Most folks, especially technology folks, like a simple choice, one or the other (the Xbox/PlayStation/Nintendo ménage àtrois a notable exception). All of which makes the recent rumblings of competition in the smartphone space so fascinating.
According to recent figures from a number of sources, Google and Apple are battling over nearly 90 percent of the smartphone market. But two wannabees – one a former king looking to reclaim its crown, the other a potential usurper – are fighting an uphill battle. As in the real world, however, third-party and even fourth-party candidates don’t stand much of a chance.
Take Windows Phone 8, please – at least that’s what Microsoft is pleading. But despite having a critically lauded interface (personally, I think it far superior to Android for novice smartphone users), Microsoft’s smartphone share actually shrank in the holiday shopping Q4 last year, from 3.6 percent to 2.9 percent.
Any increased consumer adoption of Windows Phone 8 faces four major hurdles.
One, being the soft acceptance of the Windows 8 desktop OS. Microsoft clearly hoped the creation of an end-to-end OS ecosystem a la Apple would lead to broader WP8 market share. But according to Net Applications, uptake of Windows 8 didn’t even reach Windows Vista’s levels.
Two is Microsoft’s demographic marketing approach. Ads from Nokia, especially for its Lumia 920, for instance, are aimed at perhaps the most loyal user group in tech history – iPhone owners. iPhone is an OS you switch to, not from.
No, the soft underbelly of the smartphone market is Android, whose users rarely take anywhere near full advantage of the often overly complex OS and whose users lack a parallel desktop version. Given the open nature of the OS, Android owners are far less emotionally and technologically invested in the Google ecosystem than Apple acolytes are, which means it should be easier to lure Android owners to switch to the friendlier WP8 platform.
Even lower-hanging fruit for Microsoft are feature phone owners susceptible to compelling reasons to jump on the smartphone bandwagon.
Colorful WP8 handsets – and low pricing (Verizon is offering the wonderful Nokia Lumia 822 for free on contract) – are clearly designed to target non-smartphone owners. But Microsoft’s marketing seems to completely ignore this non-smartphone owning constituency.
Three is a lack of enterprise adoption. Since Microsoft is targeting lower-end consumers, WP8 has gained no corporate traction. Without some sort of management mandate, there’s no forced foundational user base.
Finally there’s Microsoft’s smartphone party arrival tardiness. For most consumers, the market has already made up its mind – Apple or Android. No matter how clean, efficient and innovative WP8 is, the OS is perceived as an interloper, a Johnny-come-lately and especially a gamble. Why invest, consumers ponder, in an ecosystem that might not be around in a year or two?
Given this last hurdle, WP8 future – or lack thereof – may result in a case of self-fulfilling prophecy.
BlackBerry’s task is more daunting than WP8 because of its fall from its once lofty smartphone market perch.
Less than three years ago, BlackBerry lorded over the smartphone world. Even after iPhone had been available for two years, BlackBerry still maintained a significantly larger share of the smartphone market over iPhone.
But now, BlackBerry’s share of the smartphone market is minuscule in comparison (ouch), and still falling fast (oucher).
What doomed BlackBerry wasn’t iPhone or even Android or even its own failure to develop a compelling touchscreen alternative – it was the iPad.
Realizing its error in ignoring the enterprise market when it unveiled the iPhone, Apple carefully laid the foundation for corporate adoption of the iPad. iPad then served as a Trojan Horse for executive acceptance of iPhone and iOS.
What has followed in the last two years is an exodus more shocking than the Hebrews from Egypt. Company after company, government agency after government agency, have abandoned BlackBerry for Apple, with several high profile switches awkwardly announced (for BlackBerry) in the days after the introduction of BlackBerry 10 and the Z10 handsets on January 30.
Worse were two very public BB10 burps. First came the death of New York Magazine’s Z10 review unit and subsequent tongue-in-cheek eulogy. Then, there was a tweet by newly-minted BlackBerry creative director Alicia Keys – reportedly from an iPhone. Keys awkwardly asserted her Twitter account had been hacked and that she’s been using her Z10 exclusively in 2013, but the mainstream media may have missed (or not believed) this subtlety.
The BlackBerry Z10 is a fine device, despite the death of New York Magazine’s review unit, and BB10 represents some solid OS steps forward. But neither is likely enough to cause a reverse migration – it’s sort of like leaving a second spouse to go back to your first just because s/he’s had plastic surgery and gotten a better job.
While the Z10 and BB10 may help stabilize BlackBerry’s bleeding, it may be a case of too much, too late. The damage to BlackBerry’s tainted corporate reputation may be too much to overcome. Combined with Microsoft’s WP8 seeming failure, it seems Apple and Android will uneasily maintain their smartphone market dominance.