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.

Does iPhone really have 72% of Japanese smartphone market?

MM Research does not count Symbian as a smartphone platform. This makes them inconsistent with any other analyst for counting smartphones.  So shouldn’t Symbian be included?

In a comment to iPhone has 72% of Japanese smartphone market | Asymco it’s been pointed out that 12 million Symbian sold in the same time frame as Apple sold 1.7 million phones in Japan.

It would seem then that the correct market share for iPhone would be 12%, with Symbian having 83% and “others” having less than 5%.

However

Symbian in Japan is not the same thing as Symbian elsewhere.  Symbian in Japan is used as a low level OS by Fujitsu, Sony Ericsson Japan, Mitsubishi, Sharp and others to provide devices running the MOAP(Symbian) software platform.  MOAP (Mobile Oriented Applications Platform) is the software platform for NTT DoCoMo’s FOMA (Freedom of Mobile Multimedia Access) service.

Unlike Series 60 and UIQ MOAP(Symbian) is not a open development platform.

MOAP is also supported by Linux with Panasonic and NEC using it in something called MOAP(Linux).

MOAP(Linux) is also not an open development platform.

So the “72% share for iPhone” in Japan must be stated with this important caveat: that Symbian and Linux are not included because, due to not having exposed APIs, they are classified as feature phone platforms.

Visualizing iPhone vs Android Shares

Following up on my last post on how misleading US-only share comparisons can be, I decided to draw charts to visualize the comparison.

As Android and iPhone compete in various ways, it’s hard to see which is the preferred choice given a direct comparison.  In other words, iPhone and Android devices rarely are placed next to each other with similar terms.

Take the US market for example.  The overall data from NPD suggests that last quarter Android reached 28% share vs. 21% for iPhone.  Many of those Android devices were new to market or at least newer than the iPhone which in Q1 was coming to the end of its product cycle.  Second, pricing for Android devices seems to have been quite aggressive with buy one get one free sales.  But I won’t dwell on tactics now; what I do want to note are the differences in share between AT&T users and non-AT&T.

Note that within AT&T, iPhone outsells Android over 4 to 1.  iPhone also outsells “others” (mainly RIM) more than 3 to 1.  However, outside AT&T, where the iPhone is not available, Android does not outsell “others”.

If we exclude the US altogether, we also see that Android does not have a great distribution.

Outside the US, the iPhone also outsells Android nearly 4 to 1, but it has a way to go before challenging Symbian which makes up the bulk of “Others”.

So in markets where Android is head-to-head with the iPhone (AT&T and non-US markets), iPhone’s lead is quite high (still).  The possibility still exists that Android will overtake iPhone given the broad licensing and distribution, but it’s not necessarily a given.  And in any case, iPhone is not the market share leader today and that leadership does not seem to be their objective (note the pricing).

The bigger question is what will happen to RIM and Symbian as Android grows.

Symbian Admob impressions grow 22% in a year

Smartphone impressions triple in a year « Asymco

Following up on the previous Admob numbers, it seems that Symbian impressions grew by 22% vs. overall growth of 43%.

In absolute terms, total impressions a year ago for Symbian reached about 1 billion vs. 1.22b in February.

Symbian’s share of requests therefore fell from 43% in February 2009 to 18% in February 2010.


On Units and Platforms

When thinking about the number of devices shipping out of Apple, and the relative value of those units compared to the competition you have to always think of the platform.

The market leader Nokia claimed to have sold 16+ million smartphones in the quarter. When comparing platforms, to whatever Apple ships in iPhones you have to add the iPod touch units. I see that number being about half of the iPhone numbers or about 4 million. Let’s say 10 to 12 million as a range for the platform. Already this is within striking range of Nokia.

It may sound that Apple has some catching up to do, however the important thing is that most of the Nokia devices are not uniformly addressable by developers because they are different platforms and the Symbian platform itself will be broken next year as it has been broken many times before. This is also true for Blackberry and Windows Mobile and will become true for Android as vendors fork and splinter the code to differentiate.

This already puts Apple in the pole position today in terms of contiguous addressable units volumes.

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this platform effect. It’s what made Windows dominant and it should be the most important issue in the planning of new mobile products, but it clearly isn’t for Apple’s competitors. Either product planners are ignorant of history or completely hamstrung by other constraints on their businesses (I expect the latter).

As a result it’s inevitable that Apple will have a dominant platform. The numbers in apps and consumption of apps already are telling this story, and devs are voting with their code in a landslide. But going into 2010, this will become evident in the units and Apple share numbers will accelerate toward lead position.

The bogie therefore is to look for contiguously addressable installed base. On this basis of competition, I expect at least 100 million for Apple at the end of next year and less than 10 million for any competitor. At that point the game will be officially over.