The last two years have seen a very impressive trend upwards in terms of the functionality you can fit in your pocket. It didn’t seem like too long ago that streaming a YouTube video to your phone would take half an hour to load and would cost you at least $5. Compared to today when my phone is actually a usable substitute for my fully fledged computer when I’m on the move. For the everyman this has led to even the cheapest of phones being filled to the brim with oodles of technology with even sub $100 phones having features like GPS and 3G connectivity. Even more interesting is the line that once separated smart phones from regular phones has become increasingly blurry to the point where consumers rarely make the distinction anymore.
Realistically the initiator of this paradigm shift¹ was Apple as they brought technology that was usually out of reach to everyone. Sure they did it whilst making a decent buck off everyone but they broke down that barrier many people held that paying over $200 for a phone was something of an extravagance. Now it’s not unusual for anyone to shell out up to $1000 on a phone these days, especially when that cost is hidden away in the form of a 2 year contract. The flow on effect was not limited to Apple however, and now we have yet another booming industry with many large corporations vying for our wallets.
For the most part Apple still reigns supreme in this world. Whilst they’re by no means the largest competitor in the smartphone market, that helm still belongs to Symbian, they still carry the lion’s share of mobile Internet traffic. That hasn’t stopped Google’s competing platform from sneaking up on them with them taking 24% to Apple’s 50%. The growth is actually becoming something of a talking point amongst the tech crowd as whilst Google has floundered in its attempts to replicate Apple’s succes with its Nexus One it’s platform is surging forward with little signs of slowdown. Could it be that the line Google towed of open winning out in the long run has some truth to it?
Amongst developers the one thing that gets trotted out against programming for Android is the market segmentation. With the specs on Android devices not tightly controlled you have many different variables (screen size, is it multi-touch, does it have a keyboard, etc) to account for when building your application. With the iPhone (and soon Windows Phone 7) those variables are eliminated and your development time is cut by a significant amount. Still the leniency granted by the Android platform means that manufacturers are able to make a wide variety of handsets that can cater to almost any need and budget, opening up the market considerably. So whilst Apple might have broken through the initial barrier to get people to buy smartphones it would appear that people are now starting to crave something a little more.
For every person that has an iPhone there’s quite a few who want something similar but couldn’t afford it or justify the expense. The Android platform, with over 60 handsets available, gives those people an option for a feature rich phone that doesn’t necessarily attract the Apple premium. In essence Apple pioneered demand for devices that it had no interest in developing and Google, with it’s desire to be in on the ground level for such a market, took the easier road of developing (well really they bought it) an open platform and leaving the handsets up to the manufacturers. At the time this was a somewhat risky move as despite Google’s brand power they had no experience in the mobile world, but it seems to be paying off in spades.
Real competition in any markets is always a good thing for end consumers and the mobile phone space is no exception. Today almost any handset you buy is as capable as a desktop PC was 10 years ago, fueling demand for instant access information and Internet enabled services. Google and Apple are gearing up to duke it out for the top spot in this space and I for one couldn’t be more excited to see them duke it out. I never really want to see either of them win though because as long as they’re fighting to keep their fans loyal I know the mobile world will keep innovating at already blistering pace they’ve managed to sustain over the past 2 years.
¹Don’t you dare call buzzword bingo here, that’s a proper use of the term.