Android/Linux Triumph II

Update: WSJ’s All things Digital has a story in which Nielsen not only confirms Android ascendancy as the number one smartphone OS in the US but also indicates that Android has taken a commanding 50% lead in new buyers intentions:

Here is what John Paczkowski  at All things Digital noted about the trend:

The mercurial U.S. smartphone market has a new favorite and it’s not the iPhone.  It’s Android, which is now the leading smartphone OS in the States in market share, according to a survey released this morning by Nielsen.

As of March 2011, 37 percent of smartphone users own an Android device, said Nielsen–significantly more than the 27 percent who own an iPhone and the 22 percent who own a BlackBerry.

That’s quite a shift from last October, when 27.9 percent owned an iPhone, 27.4 percent a BlackBerry and 22.7 percent an Android device. But evidently there’s a new trend in smartphone buying intent and it favors Android.

So lets summarize  what is happening – Linux in the form of Android is making a large breakthrough to top spot in the smartphone market[ in the US. But the trends in the US tend to have a global impact. Also it appears the same displacement of an early Apple lead is taking place in the tablet market with the emergence of the Android Honeycomb powered tablets, especially Asus Eee Pad Transformer]. This means that Google has finally brought Linux to a major position in the huge client OS markets.

But consider how Google has succeeded. They did not take on Wintel in the PC market directly. Rather they entered the smartphone and now the tablet markets [primarily to guarantee that their search business did not loose links to customers eyeballs] as they were emerging . Also these were markets  where both Microsoft and Intel failed to have leading products. Google used a combination of free and Open Source OS, rapid development matching all the important Apple iPhone features [multi-touch and a broad set of UI gestures, battery saving software, sensor aware features etc] but at the same time offered capabilities that bested Apple for awhile in the marketplace: full multi-tasking[still stands in advanced form], GPS and Geo-location[lost], savvy mapping functionality[largely lost], syncing capabilities [mixed bag between Android vs iOS now] among other features. But Google was aided an abated mightily by Apple. Steve Jobs limited developers options ruling out Flash and Java on iOS. In addition Apple’s AppStore charged developers 30% off the top for all products sold there – and by the way all iOS products had to be sold in the Apple Appstore. So after starting way behind Apple in number of Apps available, Google’s better developer terms  has meant  that in two years Android has reached near parity in apps with Apple. Meanwhile the Google’s OS race with Apple has left Microsoft Windows Phone 7  well behind  Android.

Android has now become a potent force not just in smartphones and tablets but also general PC  client OS. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer is as much a PC as a  tablet. And given the Motorola Atrix and other Android tablets plus the big improvements in CPU chips from NVidia [Tegra 3 quadcore chip is 5 times faster than the current Tegra 2 and is  due out  by this time next year], Android tablets will have plenty of computing power to make the already started transition  from media consumption computers to fully creative computers equal to if not better[given full multi-touch and added sensors] than  many PCs.

Meanwhile Linux users have an even more ample  range of development  tools as Java and Flash have  been short changed until recently on many Linux distributions. In addition, the beloved command line interface is alive and well in Android the SDK. It is not entirely Linux business as usual, but the opportunity to develop applications with 5-6 on-board sensors often not available on PCs has its compensations. What will be interesting to watch is how the various traditional Linux distributions  accommodate the growing tablet presence – it is not encouraging so far.

In sum, Google has delivered an MBA textbook case of how to come from behind and in 4 years time come to:
1)Dominate the smartphone and tablet markets pioneered by Apple and Steve Jobs;
2)get a significant beachhead in the broader PC market dominated by Microsoft and Intel.
The PC beachhead cannot be underestimated. Recently a friend needed to update her Windows Vista to Windows 7 Professional. The cost, at $350 was almost 3/4 of the $429 price of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer with docking station which would give her much closer to what she really wanted. If an NFC enabled Android with built in encryption and syncing becomes available the Wintel monopoly in the Office will surely totter if not outright crumble at its Business based bastion. And on the personal consumer side, both Gartner and IDC are  reporting loss of sales to tablets.

These adverse  trends for Wintel could change as Intel’s Atom and Sandy Bridge processors provide much improved performance and battery life for tablets and Windows PCs respectively. And Microsoft is rushing completion on Windows 8 with ARM as well as X86 capabilities. But the biggest question for both Intel and Microsoft is where do the fat margins go? Microsoft is paricularly vulnerable because it is decidedly the high price spread and must compete from a features and price deficit against both Apple and Android. Sure the backlog of PC apps and  the server side of Microsoft’s business will provide some protection,  but Redmond is in line for some real hurt if it does not match Android’s Linux powered capabilities.- particularly speed of operation, small memory footprint, and cross platform capable development tools.

Our original April 18th story said if Comscore numbers are right ….
Linux in its Android form has already succeeded very well. If the latest ComScore numbers are right,

Top Smartphone Platforms
3 Month Avg. Ending Feb. 2011 vs. 3 Month Avg. Ending Nov. 2010
Total U.S. Smartphone Subscribers Ages 13+
Source: comScore MobiLens
Share (%) of Smartphone Subscribers
Nov-10 Feb-11 Point Change
Total Smartphone Subscribers 100.0% 100.0% N/A
Google 26.0% 33.0% 7.0
RIM 33.5% 28.9% -4.6
Apple 25.0% 25.2% 0.2
Microsoft 9.0% 7.7% -1.3
Palm 3.9% 2.8% -1.1

Linux has become a major player in the smartphone market.  And if ye Editor is right about the impact of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer on the tablet market – it sales will exceed iPad2  this year; then Linux as the desktop PC of choice will have come to fruition. There are already sell-outs in Britain where the Eee Pad has been on sale from the  start of April. It appears  that Asus really has a major hit on its hands. The one not insubstantial fly in the ointment is the ravages of the earthquake in Japan. Japan is a 30% or greater supplier of Flash memories and some other critical  parts  worldwide used in tablets and PCs. this could slow the ability of Asus to deliver product to a rapidly growing market. Nonetheless watch for Linux/Android to become the PC OS of choice for a huge market segment.

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