The Smartphone World Needs Microsoft
Nov 29, 2012 5:00 AM PT
I admit it: When I read the news that Apple's share of U.S. smartphone sales skyrocketed with the launch of the iPhone 5 to surpass Android, I felt a momentary note of satisfaction. In the last 12 weeks, Android gobbled up 46.7 percent of smartphone sales while the iPhone nabbed 48.1 percent, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel.
Assuming that percentage is sustainable -- which it's not -- I realized fairly quickly that absolutely dominating a market might not be so great for Apple -- and maybe even worse for consumers. Maybe a roller-coaster battle of market share is good, but not to give fuel to all the haters out there who feel vastly superior because they chose to buy into a particular smartphone ecosystem.
Android will retake the lead in sales, no doubt, and I actually think that's good -- Apple does its best work when it thinks it's the underdog. This forces it to work harder and provide better solutions. Take, for example, the stagnation of the iOS look and feel. Over the holiday break, one guy told me he bought the iPhone 4S mostly because he could understand it a glance -- that it seemed to make sense to him in the Verizon store he was in. Compared to the Android-based phones, there was a little too much going on in the interfaces. He felt more comfortable with iOS.
Comfortable Like a Ratty Old Pair of Slippers?
No doubt, the iOS interface is easy to use. At the same time, the overall look and action is starting to feel dated. If Apple dominates too much, I think it will get complacent and make sure that it doesn't "fix" something that's not very clearly broken. Because the overall state of iOS is not clearly broken, because Apple is actively enhancing it with functionality, and because Apple is quite profitable with its devices, Apple doesn't feel the pressure it needs to. Sure, the company is producing some of the best products in the industry, but when you set the bar high, well, your customers look for you to exceed everything else. -- clearly.
I don't believe that many of the available Android interfaces are easier to use than iOS -- or even better in overall functionality -- but if Apple doesn't give us a refresh, some first impressions in the various cellular service stores might sway even more buyers to Android-based phones. Worse than that scenario, when Apple's confidence grows too high, we get things like the new undercooked Maps app.
Either way, right now, we're still stuck in a vitriolic world of Android lovers who are also Apple haters; and of Apple lovers who mostly dismiss Android lovers, which just irritates the Android fans all the more. It seems to me that often enough, many of the Apple lovers online these days take an older-brother tone by treating Android users like their bratty little sisters -- there's all sorts of latent superiority and teasing going on.
I find it tiresome -- even while I admitted the quick hit of satisfaction when Kantar Worldpanel validated my smartphone choice. For the love of all things Apple, I hope that Android continues to find success. Except, Android ruling the world isn't a good thing because Apple could spend far too much time hating Android and Google and all the stuff Google and its partners have ripped off of Apple. Case in point: All the litigation. There's nothing like a boatload of lawsuits to demand attention from Apple's top executives -- when they ought to be focused on kicking ass and taking names with new products, not lawyers.
Hence, even if Android and iOS duke it out -- with the iPhone garnering massive new sales for a few months each year after a new release -- it's a lackluster situation. Android will continue to take the lion's share of the market in terms of units sold while Apple loyalists will likely remain far more engaged, giving Apple the lead in profit-share as well as mindshare, despite having fewer actual units in worldwide use.
This model so far -- as Apple has risen from underdog to corporate sledgehammer -- I think has actually increased the number of Apple haters in the world. Is that because Android is so good? I'm not so sure. Google doesn't exactly garner unconditional trust.
For some, I get the idea that going to Android is like fleeing a swarm of bees by jumping into a raging river.
Why We Need Windows Phones to Succeed
Enter Microsoft. With its new Surface tablet line, as well as a new Windows OS for PCs and Windows-based smartphones, might Microsoft provide an alternative to jumping into a raging river?
I think so. But more to the point, I hope so. In many ways, Android shares too many similarities as an operating system to iOS. Granted, there are some radical facelifts going on with Android, so this isn't exactly true. However, in terms of mass consumer impressions, I believe that many people see Android vs. iOS as a choice between two similar products that just have different ecosystems for apps. Windows Phone 8's Live Tiles immediately speaks to it being something different, and this difference makes people look and consider the whole package more closely.
Granted, Microsoft is digging itself out of a very deep hole, but if it can continue to tie its consumer ecosystems together nearly as well as it has with the Xbox 360 world, it has a chance gain some ground.
If Microsoft succeeds, maybe we'll get to have a more interesting love triangle instead of the two-sided Android vs Apple hatefest.
In fact, I believe a trifecta with Android generally leading in raw market share, with Apple trailing but holding the most mindshare and Microsoft snapping at both of their heels will ultimately make Apple fight harder to delight its customers, and Apple technology enthusiasts will end up benefiting.
The only thing worse than Apple having a tiny market share is an Apple that dominates entire markets. So yeah, I never thought I'd say this, but, "Go Microsoft!"