Smartphones: Who’s winning, and who’s losing?

February 15, 2010


A couple months ago, I was shopping for a smartphone. I had a Palm Pre, and while I enjoyed using WebOS immensely, the hardware itself felt cheaply made. I was a member of the Palm Pre Homebrew forums, and the single most common thread there and elsewhere regarding the Pre was the same; the slider was breaking. Some owners went through 3 physical phones in a year. Needless to say, that was 2 breaks too many for me so I split. But where did I want to go? The obvious choice was Apple’s iPhone. Or was it?

2009 was a huge year for smartphones. According one study done by the Canalys group, smartphone shipments (specifically touch-screen) were up 138% from Q4 of the previous year. Overall smart phone purchases up 41%. That’s a huge increase, especially in a down economy. People want these new phones. So who’s winning, and what’s coming?

You can see from the article the raw data, I don’t need to repost it here. Androidfeens being Androidfeens, however, what I wanted to do was talk a bit about Android.

The Open Handset Alliance released (well, Google did) Android v1 on October 21, 2008 (source). It’s impact that quarter is hard to determine (Canalys shows it pushing a .5% market share, which in two months is respectable), but what the data shows for 2009 is fairly telling: a 1073.5% increase in market share up to 4.7%.

What does this mean? It means they went from 663K units sold in 2008 to 7.7 MILLION last year. No other OS vendor showed anything like that sort of increase. None showed half.

Now, bear in mind that through the Open Handset Alliance, there’s a wide selection of phones out there sharing that little green robot of an operating system. Some have said (and I don’t dispute) this is more curse than blessing, as each hardware provider (Samsung, HTC, Motorola, and LG just to name a few) usually has their own cream on top of the OS to navigate, etc. Many models are running versions of Android well below the current stable release, which is reportedly a nightmare for some developers.

Even with all of this factored in, I think the Android explosion is going to continue. It’s new and it spread incredibly fast, faster than hardware could keep up. Once that slows down and everyone catches up across the hardware footprint, these little issues will work themselves out. With hints of tablets and netbooks running the OS as well (I’ll tell you, solid state drives should have been a priority in laptops years ago. It’s good to finally see it) you’re looking at an admittedly fledgling OS spreading like wildfire throughout the industry.

Those few months ago, I ended up buying an iPhone, mostly because I had concerns about the multiple versions of the OS floating around per-provider, and also because the Droid had a flip out keyboard, giving me flashbacks of the Pre. If Google had thrown down the Nexus One a few weeks earlier, I think I’d be singing a different tune. And even with contract cancellation as expensive as it is now, I might end up singing it anyways.

I mean, man, it’s got widgets.