ADOTAS – Although the Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” Mobile OS won’t be available for a few months, the buzz since last month’s announcement has been overwhelmingly positive. Already, comparisons to the newly released iOS 5 are being made — what each platform can and can’t do, why that’s a good or a bad thing, and how the two together may officially signal the death knell for BlackBerry. It’s an interesting conversation, sure, but not a new one. What we’re seeing now should be familiar to those of us who lived through the computer wars in the late 1980s and early 1990s. History does indeed repeat itself.
In the beginning, there was IBM. It was first to market, first to offices and boardrooms. IBM products were overwhelmingly corporate, championed by evangelists who believed that IBM’s technology could change the future of how we work, and competition was essentially nil. In other words, IBM in the ’80s was like BlackBerry in the early ’00s. But IBM and BlackBerry, as we now know, were both unable to retain their dominance in their respective markets for one very important reason: They found something that worked, and they stuck with it, at the expense of innovation.
The common disruptive element in 1984 and again in 2008: Apple. In its famous 1984 television commercial, the relative upstart Apple promised a product for individuals, not cube workers. Bursting onto the consumer market, trendy Macintosh computers appealed to creative types and educators, and it made its way into people’s homes, not just their offices. Steve Jobs sought to make personal computers an integral part of how we live, and in many ways, he succeeded then, just as he succeeded two decades later with the launch of the iPod and iPhone. Suddenly, smart devices were no longer just business tools — they were practical and entertaining devices for the everyday consumer, albeit those who could afford the luxury price tag. Again, a compelling ad campaign positioned an Apple product as an attractive option for people who wanted to assert their individuality, as opposed to those who were so enslaved to corporate culture that they called their phones “CrackBerries.” Apple’s closed system — allowing its OS (whether on computers or phones) to only run on Apple-manufactured devices — ensured the product quality that Jobs and other Apple execs felt was utmost to the Apple experience.
Of course, the story was not then, and still is not today, a tale of two companies. In the same way that Microsoft made a late entry into the market and quickly came to dominate it, Android was a market leader even before the announcement of Ice Cream Sandwich. In both Microsoft and Android’s cases, we’re confronted with a broad, open market response to Apple’s innovation. Android, like Windows in the early ’90s, is a relatively open operating system that is galvanizing hundreds of manufacturers around a mass market fast-follower approach. Just as Microsoft-powered computers quickly became the status quo for both home and office environments, Android smart devices are likewise now poised to dominate the mobile market. The growth of Android has been rapid. Here at InMobi, we’ve noticed that Android’s share of mobile ad impressions has increased globally by 7.2 percent (to 22.5 percent) in just three months. In the U.S., Android’s growth has been similarly impressive — up 6.8 percent, to 40.3 percent of the total market.
The challenge today for Apple is the same as it was in 1984. Can it maintain the pace of innovation required to keep the fast following open market response of Android even somewhat contained? It will be interesting to see what happens after the Ice Cream Sandwich roll-out. Will Android continue on its Microsoft-like trajectory, stealing market share from Apple and effectively rendering BlackBerry moot, as happened to IBM? Or will Apple’s rumored interest in smart TV technology or another “rabbit in the hat” moment help them maintain their position?
Of course, there’s always the dark horse in the running, as Microsoft prepares to launch Windows Mobile 7. With the $100 billion or more developer economy as a driving force, there’s always a chance that Windows Mobile 7 and HTML5 will make everything I’ve just said moot. Whoever the winner (or winners…), it’s an interesting race to watch and it will be even more interesting to see how history really does repeat itself.