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The Fight For Mobile Platform Dominance

The iPhone has been the default choice for the last 2 or 3 years as the first platform to cover, and is still the big user base. In fact iPhone traffic currently makes up more than half of all mobile traffic and accounts for 4.5% of all UK website traffic.

Back in Jan 2011 55% of traffic originating from mobile was using iPhone with apple in general account for 70% of mobile traffic, Android was responsible for 11% of traffic, Blackberry 6% and Other devices 13%

But in the last 3 months there are signs that the market is changing – the growth in the Android platform is huge, and the connection rate of new Androids is now much higher then iPhones.

The iPhone was the first consumer targeted smartphone and was the only choice if you wanted that sort of device. But now 85% of handsets sold are “internet ready” (this does not mean they are all smartphones, you do not need a smartphone to access the web) and one in five users have access to fast mobile internet (3G or better)

Pundits are split long term over which mobile technology will be the market giant: iPhone, Windows Phone 7 or Android. Realistically, Windows Phone 7 is just an also-ran right now with a tiny market share, is getting poor reviews in general, and has some tech design gotchas that don’t bode well – such as the weakness that it allows users to break their phone just by swapping in a new SD bigger memory card.

So that leaves iPhone and Android to slug it out. Looking back in history, we can see that this fight has been fought before – and Apple didn’t win it.

In the early days of the PC, the new Microsoft Windows based PC, running on Intel chips: competed with a number of other PC makers – most noticeably Apple with what became the Mac.

Apple made both hardware and software: and thus excluded any partner possibilities. In contrast, Microsoft and and Intel were happy to sell their products to the Far Eastern manufacturers, who competed with each other to develop better and better hardware – with the result that we still benefit from today with PC hardware continuing to become more powerful, and lower cost year on year. Apple’s machines despite a return to popularity in the last 5 years, is still a tiny part of the desktop market with a small but loyal following.

Apple receives far more publicity than any other mobile-phone manufacturer, but on the world stage it is still a pretty small player (though fast-growing). Before media hype lulls you into focusing your marketing/development budget on the Apple platform exclusively, consider this: 96.5 percent of mobile users don’t have one – mostly they use Nokia or Samsung; and even among smartphone users 84 percent don’t have an Apple.

The power of harnessing many hardware companies, around a common core of Intel CPU and Microsoft Windows software – dominated the PC market. The parallel to now, is that Android is open source software provided by Google and the open source community, that all the Far Eastern manufacturers can take for free – and compete with each other to produce better and better mobile hardware using it – Android devices are going to get better and cheaper at least as fast as PCs have done.

There are now 5.3 billion mobile subscribers (77% of the world’s population) Growth is led by China and India. Will Apple’s brand led values appeal to the users in these huge emerging markets who use and relate to their devices in very different ways from urban western consumers?

For example, an HTC phone has a cool feature that iPhone’s, at the time of writing, do not: it can take a 3G internet signal, and give Internet access to my laptop using standard Wifi. To me that’s cool, but in a location where access to WiFi is otherwise limited, it will be a game changer.

Total shipments of smartphones in 2010 were 302.6 million units up 74.4 percent from 2009.

This makes smartphones 21.8 percent of all handsets shipped. Of course the rise in number of smartphones purchased is not the only driver. Continued advances in in how video and audio is compressed over WiFi and 3G, technological improvements in the stability of networks and the overall level of immersive content all contribute to increasing online mobile use – and increasing need to build the best retail mobile website.

Android, being open source, also means the hardware vendors can look right into the code, so when struggling to get the latest hardware chips to work, their engineers can troubleshoot immediately and get things working quickly. That makes for faster time to market. So compared to Apple’s hardware: which is only being improved by one company – there are many hardware companies all improving mobile hardware for Android users.

Currently the most popular activities on the mobile web are: mobile search, reading news and sports information, downloading music and videos, and email and instant messages. So far, so standard, but in future activities are expected to be money transfer; location-based services with m-health and m-payment being key drivers, surely these are no longer the kinds of service that can be tied up in a branded monopoly?