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The Barbarians at iPhone's Gate

By Katherine Noyes MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Dec 22, 2009 5:00 AM PT

Apple's iPhone may be one of the most popular devices ever to hit the consumer market, but whether it can sustain that success is another question. A recent report from ComScore suggests it may be losing ground to Google's Android platform, even as upcoming mobile browser innovations call into question the future of app stores like the one for the iPhone.

The Barbarians at iPhone's Gate

"With handsets on multiple carriers, from multiple manufacturers, and numerous Android device models expected to be in the U.S. market by January, the Android platform is rapidly shaking up the smartphone market," said Mark Donovan, comScore's senior vice president of mobile.

"While iPhone continues to set the bar with its App Store and passionate user base, and RIM remains the leader among the business set, Android is clearly gaining momentum among developers and consumers," Donovan added.

Rapid Growth

Consumer awareness of Google's Android is growing rapidly, ComScore found, due in large part to Verizon's Droid campaign.

In fact, Android phones are now almost neck-and-neck with iPhone in American consumers' purchase plans, with 17 percent of those in the market for a smartphone considering buying an Android device in the next three months, compared with 20 percent planning to purchase an iPhone, comScore reported.

Back in August, only 7 percent of survey respondents indicated an intent to purchase either the T-Mobile G1 or the T-Mobile MyTouch -- the only Android phones available in the U.S. at the time -- while 21 percent planned to purchase an iPhone.

Android's share of the smartphone market has quickly doubled in the past year to 3.5 percent in October 2009, comScore said.

One App for Everyone

Mozilla's upcoming Fennec, meanwhile -- the first mobile version of its Mobile Firefox browser -- will reportedly feature the fastest Javascript engine yet, the company says.

That, in turn, will make it possible for developers to create apps in just one version for the browser rather than separate versions for each mobile OS, Jay Sullivan, Mozilla's vice president of mobile, said in an interview with PC Pro.

The result, eventually, will be an end to the app store model, Sullivan predicted.

'Not a Zero-Sum Game'

Taken together, such developments could be viewed as a threat to the iPhone -- or not.

"Looking at blips of data in time and trying to draw conclusions just doesn't really indicate anything," Michael Gartenberg, vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret, told MacNewsWorld. "We may be seeing some very skewed results."

Not only that, but "it also just doesn't matter," Gartenberg asserted. "We're not talking about a zero-sum game, where for one to do well the other has to lose."

Plenty of Room for Many

Indeed, it's still very early days for the industry, telecom analyst Jeff Kagan agreed.

There are multiple strong players, and all will likely carve out their own part of the market, he added.

"Over the next several years, we may see movement from one direction to another, but I don't think any one will put the others out of business," Kagan told MacNewsWorld.

'Subject to Change'

What's more interesting, Gartenberg asserted, is that three years ago, neither Apple nor Google was even part of the mobile picture.

"The velocity of change in the mobile space is what's really important here," he explained -- "how quickly one can go from being unknown to being a major force within the industry, and how subject to change all of that is."

At the end of the day, "the iPhone experience is still far more robust and mature than what the best Android devices offer," Gartenberg noted. "The question for Apple is, can it continue that into 2010?"

Toward the App Model

Meanwhile, the trend on mobile devices in many cases is actually leading away from browsing and toward delivering a connected experience through applications, he added.

"It's almost the inverse of the PC, where we're moving from rich apps to Web apps," he said. "On the phone, it's moving from the Web browser and into an app model that gives a rich and connected experience."

'Just the Beginning'

Looking ahead, it will likely be many years before a clear direction emerges among the key competitors, Kagan predicted.

"Apple will play a large role," he said. "That's not going to change because Apple customers are different -- Apple customers love Apple."

Google customers, meanwhile, "seem as rabid as Apple's, so far," he added.

"We're just in the beginning of the wave of change -- maybe the middle of the first tenth," he concluded. "There's still tons to come."

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