With the red-hot Android 2.2 on the horizon, and Microsoft's much-anticipated Windows Phone 7 hoping to resurrect the company's smartphone OS, there's a lot on the line for the industry as a whole. Let's take a look at two possible scenarios—one if Android takes the lead, and the other if Windows Mobile does.
Scenario One: Android Takes the Lead
In mid-March, the news hit the wire that Android devices had collaboratively overtaken the iPhone in US market share, unleashing an explosion of news sounding the death knell for iPhone and the crowned future for Android. While there was a definite element of hyperbole, it's important to realize the significance of this news. For Android, an operating system only a few years old, to have captured 28 percent of the US smartphone market, plus become the platform of choice for heavyweights such as HTC, is pretty momentous.
This scenario predicts Android continuing to leap forward, maybe even eventually surpassing RIM's BlackBerry, the smartphone leader. From there, Android could even overtake BlackBerry in the enterprise, where it's currently the clear leader. (Again, a stretch, but if it continues uptake at its current rate, it's possible.)
The two biggest contributors to Android's success thus far, in my opinion, are (1) the failures of Windows Mobile, which has pushed an army of leading manufacturers to follow Android, and (2) Android's open-source nature, which has propelled its app store forward, allowing it to compete with Apple's app marketplace. For Android to truly take over, the platform will need to continue to evolve to serve enterprise needs, especially in Exchange support.
Consequences: Should this scenario be realized, it could spell great news for smaller, third-party vendors. If Android becomes an enterprise standard, the need for third-party solutions to manage, secure, and monitor these devices will skyrocket. Plus, third-party manufacturers such as HTC, Motorola, and others could begin to take back some of the hardware market from Apple and RIM.
A second possible consequence, and one that Google is likely banking on, is an increased acceptance of Google's business solutions. It's true that many of Google's business solutions in the press are much ado about nothing, as few of their solutions (Google Docs/Apps, Gmail, Android) have done anything to generate revenue for the company. However, in the same way that Microsoft has managed to maintain an unconquerable presence in the enterprise by linking and syncing products, Google can continue to gain acceptance and familiarity with every web it weaves into normal business life.
A final potential consequence, and maybe the biggest stretch of all, is an increased adoption of open source in businesses. With Acer planning an Android netbook, there's some plans in the woodwork for an open-source OS to again gain some traction with computers. However, many people said the same about the initial influx of Linux netbooks when netbooks first picked up, and those didn't really go anywhere.
Let's examine the possibility (and consequences) of a Windows Mobile/Windows Phone resurgence on the next page.
Scenario Two: Windows Mobile Regains Its Foothold Beside RIM
Among the more liberal-minded, consumer-focused tech sites, the idea that Microsoft could ever do something in mobile is blasphemous, but among friends I know many of you see the merits of Windows Mobile, outdated as it may be. Microsoft has an incredible ecosystem with enterprises, and can offer similar levels of manageability and structure to a smartphone deployment with System Center as RIM can with BlackBerry Enterprise Server. So really, when you get down to it, the possibility of Microsoft retaking the smartphone battlefield (in the enterprise) isn't that radical.
I don't have the numbers before me, but I'm sure Windows Mobile is still leagues ahead of the iPhone and Android in the enterprise (18 percent of smartphones overall, but presumably that number is higher in enterprises specifically). But what Microsoft needs to do to succeed is to energize its mobile offering enough to excite those current Windows Mobile customers to upgrade to Windows Phone, rather than another platform (regardless of whether that's in one, two, or three years). The platform can't rest on its past glory forever (WinMo 6 came out in 2007).
There are two big stumbling blocks in the way. First, Microsoft needs to rebuild its reputation in mobility, and to do that, Windows Phone needs to be a hit out of the gate. (Paul Thurrott seems pretty optimistic about this prospect.) And secondly, it's really going to depend on how IT reacts—some organizations are starting to let users use their own devices in the enterprise, which is going to favor consumer-oriented phones. For Windows and BlackBerry to stay on top, IT will need to decide overall that it's more important to keep devices securely housed than cut costs.
Consequences: If Windows Phone is a big success, it's not going to play out well for Android and Google. The interests of both platforms are in direct conflict, and the perceived leader is going to win the heaviest support from device manufacturers and carriers. Another consequence is that organizations will probably stick to BlackBerry and Microsoft management programs for the most part, and growth of third-party solutions will be minimal.
Certainly, there are more possible scenarios than just these in the smartphone wars, as well as some middle ground between them. But it's hard to see any battle as paradigm-shifting for the smartphone industry as that between Windows and Android.
What do you think? Is Google just a band of geniuses spitting out innovative products that'll never be taken seriously in the enterprise, or is a momentous shift in the works?
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