Email was the killer mobile application for a decade or so. But not any longer.
Today’s mobile user still uses email of course, but there is so much more that defines today’s mobile experience:
Maps & Navigation
Music — and lots of it
Video & Video Conferencing
Apps, Apps, Apps
and of course, one of my favorites, the very expensive Alarm Clock
The smartphone of today must tackle the majority of features on this list to be considered a viable platform — and both Android and iPhone have risen to the challenge over the past few years.
Mobile internet browsing has surged since the introduction of the webkit powered iPhone and the browsing experience on the Android platform is no less impressive.
And both platforms have impressive Application Stores, further fueling their growth.
Android and iPhone are like two heavyweights. With each new release, they are trading punches, pushing each other from side to side across the ring.
BlackBerry is sitting near the ropes after taking one too many shots to the head. They are still a contender, but they really need to regroup.
Everyone else is sitting near ringside either complaining that the rules aren’t fair or desperately taking in some oxygen, hoping beyond hope that some unforseen intellectual property battle takes out the leaders and allows them into the ring for a round or two. Don’t hold your breath on that one.
I still feel that the BlackBerry platform has the best overall email eco-system when it comes to management tools and intelligent mail handling for corporate users. While the physical keyboard is more than a nice-to-have for many serious mobile messaging users, the BlackBerry has simply lost its edge now that “push” (or equivalent) email is the norm.
Of course email is only good if you can read it — now that so many email messages are either highly marked up HTML, or contains a link to a web page, the large cross-section of BlackBerry users just cannot enjoy that content.
Ultimately, the BlackBerry devices are just under-powered and out-muscled by both Android and iPhone. Sure, RIM is coming out with better browser capabilities but a case can be made that the horse is out of the barn and they are going to need to reinvent themselves to compete in the near to mid-term.
So, where do Google/Android and Apple/iPhone go from here?
To get a glimpse of what the future might look like, let’s start by examining the past.
New Super Powers
For years tech giants Microsoft and Intel dominated the computer industry and along with the likes of Dell and Compaq they ushered in an age of productivity gains, thirty year-old millionaires, and eventually a tech bubble in the stock market.
Somewhere in the middle of this, some fellow named Linus decided to write his own operating system kernel, namely Linux. Today that code-base and its derivative work powers millions of servers and devices around the world.
Linux has historically been compared to other operating systems, most notably, Microsoft Windows. Why Windows? Not because it was necessarily the best, but because of the market-share enjoyed by Microsoft and the perception that Windows defined the standard for user interface.
Great, that was then, this is now.
Today’s world is defined by mobile and “mobile to web”. Increasingly, the Software as a Service (SaaS) model is the dominant software distribution model of the day, thanks both to sound business cases and not a little hype about “The Cloud”.
Google, the muscle behind Android has driven much of that “consumer cloud” with GMail and Google Apps. However there is a bit of a gap between form and function when it comes to Android and the mobile eco-system, particularly when compared to the tight user experience that iPhone delivers.
In the mobile space, everyone wants to compare their phone hardware and software to that of the iPhone, even if just to boast how much better their Android phone is compared to the iPhone. Like them or dislike them, Apple is a leader in the mobile market. And in the content market, but that is a different and larger story.
If iPhone had a lead going into the summer, this is buoyed with the release of iPhone version 4 which introduces HD video recording, two-way video conferencing with “front and back” cameras and (finally) multi-tasking. So what that the multi-tasking is not as wide open as the model employed by Android — it is likely to be more than adequate for most iPhone users. Apple has kept their multi-tasking “powder dry” up til now, and they are likely to make some further headway with iPhone OS 4.0.
There is little doubt that Android is capable of delivering equivalent software functionality, but it is not just software that distinguishes iPhone as a leader in today’s mobile space.
Apple’s highly focused design and hardware manufacturing innovation permits iPhone to be a standard bearer for mobile phones in use by every day people for some time to come. Android devices and their manufacturers (HTC and Motorola, predominantly) are just not as focused and it shows — the precision hardware that iPhone is delivering today is remarkable, and Android continues to lack an effective desktop companion such as iTunes.
So where does that leave the very capable Android?
My feeling is that Android is going to increase in numbers thanks to a continued interest by a broad variety of mobile carriers getting on the Android bandwagon. The iPhone is going to sell more than any one Android device, however the “area under the curve” of multiple Android devices across multiple continents and carriers will outpace iPhone in the aggregate.
After all, markets like rivalries:
PC v. Mac
Coke v. Pepsi
Los Angeles v. Boston
Android v. iPhone
Once place where I see Android excelling is in the non-mobile phone space. This is a place where iPhone is not destined — Steve Jobs is not taking products to a place where there is no App Store, period.
Just as Linux powers routers and storage systems, I believe that Android can be used as a “better Linux distribution”, powering appliances in the consumer, commercial and even military markets. Short of some version of “Apple TV”, Android can expect some freedom from iPhone in these markets. And yes, I think BlackBerry will sit this one out too.
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