At 135 devices, the Android army marches on but what happened to the Windows Mobile legions?

The number of Android devices is rising steadily; it’s already up to 135.  Android devotees should rightly rejoice.  However, Android is not the first mobile platform with an open licensing strategy. A quick visit to pdadb.net lets us count the number of devices that shipped for every mobile platform in history.  We can also see the current market shares as listed by Gartner for these platforms.

The numbers of SKUs (stock keeping units) that have shipped historically vs. the market shares of the mobile phones running those platforms are (see Footnote below for some caveats):

The same data in a scatter plot:(SKUs on the x-axis and share on the y-axis)

The thing that jumps out is how uncorrelated the two quantities are.  The Windows Mobile/CE number is such an outlier that it breaks any attempt to link the two variables.

What’s likely to happen is that since the licensing of Android is even less problematic than it was for WinCE (i.e. it’s both free as in beer and free as in speech) the number of Android SKUs is likely to overtake WinCE.  In other words, we’re very likely to see Android grow from hundreds to thousands SKUs.

However, the real question for the Android platform isn’t whether it will have licensees. WinCE proved that there is vast demand from many companies to build cloned and undifferentiated devices. The real challenge is whether Android can achieve significant volumes without fragmentation to keep the platform/network effect going.

The WinCE platform was actually less fragmented through its life than Android is today. This is understandable since the source code was decidedly not open and thus not modifiable and new versions were released far less frequently. And even with a high price tag, it was wildly popular with licensees. Nevertheless, the volumes never came and Microsoft was forced to abandoned the whole strategy.  The next version of Windows Mobile (Windows Phone 7) will follow an “iPhone lite” model of highly restricted configurations and device and ecosystem specification.

So will Android follow the fate of Windows Mobile with an even more fragmented, bazaar-like licensing model? Or will thousands of undifferentiated Android devices swamp their integrated competitors?

Footnote: The total SKU number includes non-cellular devices whereas the market share number includes only cellular devices. Omitting non-cellular devices will not detract from the pattern or change the correlation meaningfully.  The argument can also be made that the “platform” value lies in both cellular and non-cellular devices (e.g. iPad) and they should both be counted.  Unfortunately there are no market share statistics that blend both device types into one market.

The reason Robbie Bach was fired

Vague justifications about under-performance of Windows Mobile or cancelled Courier miss the whole point.  The chronic problems with Microsoft’s consumer businesses cited as causes for dismissal have roots in core processes and priorities which management changes will not address.  The failure of Zune was evident long ago. Windows Mobile has not been competitive with RIM for years, and failed to take significant share from Symbian, never mind iPhone. Tablets were the responsibility of the Windows team.  Kin is a rogue project based on a bone-headed acquisition. From a P/L point of view, Entertainment was mostly Xbox, which although deep in the hole over its lifetime, was starting to break even.

No, the reason I believe Bach lost his head is that HP bought Palm.

Bach lost a key account; in fact, he could be responsible for having lost the biggest account that Microsoft ever had.  Ballmer is a sales guy and he knows the importance of these relationships.  A customer like HP must be managed carefully and their strategy must be steered to fit with yours.  If HP felt they needed to go somewhere else for their mobile OS, it’s a slap in the face, but if they buy the asset and IP and internalize a competing platform, then that is a dagger to the heart for Ballmer.

Consider Google’s seduction of Dell. Microsoft can tolerate Dell’s affairs (Dell even fooled around with Linux back in the day.) But in contrast, HP is effectively filing for divorce.

The blow could not have been more obvious and more cruel.

HTC to pay Microsoft for Android

While Apple’s patent lawsuit against HTC remains ongoing, the Taiwanese handset maker has reached a licensing agreement with Microsoft to avoid another lawsuit over its Android-powered handsets.

AppleInsider | Microsoft believes Android infringes on patents, HTC strikes deal

Who says Android is “free”?

Google and Microsoft swap mobile share

according to a report published Monday. ComScore reported that Google’s share of smartphone subscribers rose to 9%, compared to 3.8% at the end of November. Meanwhile Apple’s share fell 0.1 points to 25.4%, while Microsoft’s share fell 4 points to 15.1%.

via Google’s share of mobile market grows: report – MarketWatch.

Seems Google’s gain is Microsoft’s loss.

BlackBerry, saw its share rise 1.3 points to 42.1%, according to the data. The number of owners of smartphones rose 21% in the U.S. in the three months ended in February compared to the prior period.

Ten Percent of Microsoft Employees use iPhone as Company Phone

Nearly 10,000 iPhone users were accessing the Microsoft employee email system last year, say two people who heard the estimates from senior Microsoft executives. That figure equals about 10% of the company’s global work force.

link: Microsoft Employees Love Gadgets, but iPhone Fans Lie Low – WSJ.com


The day the Windows died

I always thought Windows 2000 was the point of over-service for Microsoft. The book linked below puts a date on the point when Microsoft could and should have created an autonomous division whose task would be to create the platform that would eventually disrupt its core business.

Clearly Microsoft did not do this but Apple, with iPad, did.

In September 1999, Kodesh wrote a memo to Gates and Ballmer under the heading “Starting from Scratch.” We need to kill Windows CE for those categories, he argued. Win32 is not an advantage; it’s a tax on device design. It served to further Microsoft’s strategy but not to help consumers. Given all their other alternatives, electronics manufacturers wouldn’t pay the tax. Kodesh wanted to take a small group of developers and work solely on developing the best software for information appliances, unconstrained by the needs of the rest of the company. Gates rejected the suggestions. “It’s very disappointing you feel that way,” he told Kodesh. “We don’t have time to start from scratch.”

link: Who Fatally Wounded Microsoft? It Was Bill Gates. « Mike Cane’s iPad Test


Why HTC (Part II)

Starting in January, Apple launched a series of C-Level discussions with tier-1 handset makers to underscore its growing displeasure at seeing its iPhone-related IP infringed. The lawsuit filed against HTC thus appears to be Apple’s way of putting a public, lawyered-up exclamation point on a series of blunt conversations that have been occurring behind closed doors.

link: Apple talks tough to handset makers – Apple 2.0 – Fortune Brainstorm Tech

Top-tier handset makers continued to avoid implementing multi-touch, but Apple could safely assume that they were hanging back to gauge Apple’s response to Motorola and HTC. If there wasn’t one, the OEMs would likely read the silence as a green light, especially after Google also moved to enable multi-touch on its Nexus One phone.

Even before the lawsuit, handset makers were having second thoughts about Google, which with the Nexus One had become a direct competitor. Now their faith in Android as the easiest and cheapest way to counter the iPhone has been shaken, says Reiner.

Seems pretty close to what I wrote here:

Why HTC?

Therefore it’s entirely likely that HTC was singled out to disrupt the business logic of modular mobile software. HTC is the pioneer and the hub as the largest licensee for both WinMo/WinP and Android and the inspiration for hundreds of OEM/ODMs to make modular products.

… Other vendors looking at this licensing model might think harder about participating, and that may be the whole point.