Mobile platforms in 2015

Tomi Ahonen made a bold prediction of the top three mobile platforms in 2015: Android, Tizen, and iOS in that order. I disagreed, and made my own prediction:

Mobile Platforms in 2015

140 characters were not enough to cover this, so here are some thoughts on the matter.

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What drives adoption of a platform? Some of the most critical elements include (in no particular order):

  • Manufacturers: marketing budget, developing cool new technologies, acclaimed devices with compelling hardware and user experiences.
  • Mobile operators: marketing budget, pushing devices through their retail channels, selling subsidised handsets.
  • Platforms: it’s not just “what’s on your smartphone” but also “what’s on your tablet” and in the future “what’s on your TV”, “what’s in your car”, etc. This neatly ties in with ecosystems… 
  • Ecosystems: it’s not just the device itself but also the applications and content that can be accessed on them. What can I play, read, watch, work on? Where can I use it? (It’s not just what device, but also what country. Global reach is a table stake.)
  • Brands: The ecosystem also extends beyond the bare “how many apps does this platform have”; it’s also about how many brands does this platform have. Brands drive investment and engagement. Does Audi use your tablet at their marketing events? Does John Lewis advertise your phone on all their price tags? Does Tesco have an app for your platform?
  • Developer engagement: you need the trust and confidence of the developers, as well as all of the infrastructure to allow them to use your platform – SDKs, monetisation routes, etc.

Any mobile platform must arguably have a good showing in all of the above in order to be successful.

If you look at RIM, they are struggling to deliver hardware and software, they are struggling to build the ecosystem, and they are struggling to get the brands (no Kindle app on the Playbook; not much happening with movies and music; apparently Facebook and LinkedIn will be on the new phones at the start, but is that enough?) They’re also struggling with a joined-up platform at the moment, with the Playbook being a release ahead of their smartphones. Finally, they are struggling with the developer engagement despite some excellent efforts. I have a lot of enthusiasm for what they are doing, but they still have a lot of work ahead of them.

If you look at WebOS, although the hardware and software was okay, the operators failed to push the handsets. Developers were enthusiastic, and the infrastructure was there, but the brands reached the platform too late to save it.

Android and iOS have all of the critical components: compelling hardware and software, support of the operators, a thriving ecosystem (apps, movies, books, etc), broad support for and from developers, and lots of key brands.

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So what about Tomi’s predictions? Android, Tizen, and iOS – in that order.

I have no problem in believing that in 3 years’ time both Android and iOS will have further consolidated their positions as the number one and number two smartphone platforms. I suspect they will be in that order, simply because Android is pushed by more manufacturers and is available for a wider range of price points. It’s more mass market.

So what will be the third mobile platform? I claimed Windows Phone, but could Tizen take that spot?

The obvious place to turn to for data on mobile platforms is asymco; for example Positioning Lumia or American exceptionalism both give comprehensive charts and statistics on what’s happening in market share.

In the middle of 2012 the mobile platforms that could be considered include (in order of approximate market share) RIM (Blackberry), Symbian, Windows Phone, Bada, and “all the others”.

Bear in mind that Tizen have not shipped a single handset yet.

To meet Tomi’s prediction, Tizen would need to out-ship RIM, Symbian, and Windows Phone. One way that might happen would be if (when) Samsung combines Tizen and Bada. This will make Tizen an interesting proposition because Samsung will be able to aggregate their smartphone and feature phone sales under one banner, which might allow them to get away with claiming the number three spot (or even number two). Without Bada, can Tizen ship enough though?

From asymco’s data we gather that there’s maybe 200m Android devices and 80m iOS devices; so Tizen would need to ship at least 80m devices as well as outselling iOS over the coming years.

From asymco again, It’s costly and has unpredictable consequences, we read:

it’s possible that Samsung could sell 290 million smartphones in the next 12 months and Apple could sell about 200 million in the same time frame

In the next 12 months, Samsung and Apple could conceivably draw level – but Samsung will be shipping a mix of Android, Tizen, and anything else that sells. Given Samsung’s best-selling smartphones are currently Android, it’s unlikely they will cannibalise this success in order to boost Tizen. So assuming a more than generous 50/50 split, it’s likely Tizen will at most get 145m handsets in 12 months.

If Apple are on course to sell 200m devices, I would suggest it’s extremely unlikely for Tizen to take second place – unless something dramatic happens.

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There are other ways to disrupt in the marketplace. To compete with a closed ecosystem you have three choices:

  1. Buy and build your own ecosystem.
  2. Borrow someone else’s ecosystem.
  3. Create an open ecosystem.

Samsung are opting for #1. I wrote in November 2011:

Samsung are challenging the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon head-on with a range of content provision services: music, films, curated games, books and other media, all under the branding of Samsung Hub.

And I wrote in February of this year:

Samsung are clearly making progress, and they are tying Bada into a whole ecosystem of services (music, movies, home hub with TV, app stores)

And recently, from Reuters:

Samsung Electronics, which has vaulted the value chain on the strength of its hardware, will go out and buy mobile content providers, a senior executive told Reuters, to compete with Apple, Google and Amazon.com in a global digital music market worth nearly $9 billion.

Samsung know what they have to do, and they know how to get there. The question is whether they can do it quickly and effectively enough to catch up with Google and Apple.

Of course, Microsoft are already well on the way to completing option #1 themselves. They can leverage their existing partnerships and their position in the console market. XBox is just another device, and fulfils “what’s on your tv” alongside Microsoft’s offerings for “what’s on your phone” and “what’s on your tablet”. Microsoft already have agreements with content providers as part of the XBox ecosystem.

Microsoft also have very deep pockets, a determination to succeed, and a history of making dramatic losses in order to win in a market – something I don’t see Samsung doing. Microsoft represent a single, focussed commercial entity (with a lot of partners to leverage). Tizen, as a partnership between Samsung and Intel, cannot ever achieve the same focus.

Canonical are opting at least in part for #2. From ars technica:

Ubuntu 12.10 introduces search results from Amazon into the Dash. That means you could be searching for a file or application on your computer and get shopping results under a “more suggestions” section after your general results.

This is just one example of Ubuntu’s tighter integration with third-party providers. Wondering why I’m including them in a discussion of smartphone platforms? Wait and see.

Of course Amazon themselves are piggy-backing on the Android ecosystem with the Kindle Fire, whilst making the most of their own ecosystem – an interesting blend of #1 and #2.

Finally, option #3, create an open ecosystem. The obvious contender here is Firefox OS (B2G). The ecosystem for Firefox OS is the entire internet; whilst this won’t disrupt the market fast enough to change the top three players by 2015, keep a close eye on it as it may well succeed where openmoko, maemo, meego, and webos have failed. The challenge for Mozilla will be to convince the manufacturers, network operators, brands and developers to get on board.

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One thing is for sure – it’s going to be a very interesting three years, and I wouldn’t like to predict the state of mobile in 2020.

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