Why can only two platforms succeed lately?
A lot of self-help books will teach you that things don’t always have to be “either – or”, since there can always be an “and” to everything. Sadly, it depends on what you’re talking about for this fact to apply when it comes to technology. As we discussed yesterday, the world of mobile technology is not only unique when it comes to its ability to grow and reinvent itself, but also unique in the fact that the key players or even the platforms that once defined it, don’t necessarily belong at the top of the food chain in this day and age.
If we looked at platforms, for example, things were dramatically different just seven years ago. We had the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile in two separate flavors, Palm OS, Symbian (in lot’s of OEM customizations), and then a ton of feature phones in the market that were powered by J2ME. What’s even more interesting than those numbers is that the size of the market was hundreds of times smaller than it is today.
Sadly, even if the market numbers have grown in immense proportions, it’s funny to see how companies lately are dropping like flies. You could say that even if Palm had a much smaller market share than it did before they called it quits, that doesn’t mean that their remaining market share was any smaller than the record numbers they had a few years before they closed. You could say that even though the adoption of smartphones is more of a standard today, a small piece of the pie wasn’t enough for many of these companies to survive, even if the piece summed their previous-year’s budget.
So why is it? Why is it that all these huge companies like Palm and Motorola have died, and why is it that giants like Nokia, BlackBerry (both which would be an exception to the previous paragraph) and HTC struggle to stay afloat lately? Why is it that Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10 don’t seem to grab enough traction to grow along the new market leaders? They’ve all done a great job in re-inventing themselves, innovating and delighting, and still, people choose not to buy them.
Here are a couple of my assumptions as to why I believe this is happening:
If you’re not “in”, you’re not
Funny, being “in” has always been a style statement. This decade is different when it comes to dressing styles and hair cuts, but if LMFAO would’ve released an album in 1990, everybody would be wearing long hair and striped bikers. It’s just funny how the 70s, 80s and 90s were, but back then, people really dressed to imitate the artists or movements they admired.
Today, even though we’re not all dressed to make a statement with our attire, we do with our gadgets. BBM was one of the first examples of a product that drove another product into success, in the case of BlackBerry. When it came to the iPhone or Android, it was something as funny as Angry Birds. Once it became popular, everybody wanted it, but you could only have it and play it if you owned a phone that was capable of that, and that was just an iPhone or an Android phone.
Yes, chuckle all you want, but the fact that Microsoft used Angry Birds as one of the key announcements for one of the launches of Windows Phone gives you a clear idea of how important one product can be to define another. Surely Angry Birds isn’t the only app that did this, but it’s a key example of how defining apps have been to iOS and Android.
One single game, or a combination of popular titles was all that two platforms needed to be “in”, and they did it so well.
It’s not about your product or platform but about your ecosystem
Just days after being named CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop rounded his troops to a new beginning with a famous memo that got leaked to the internet called “The burning platform“. In it, he explained that Nokia needed to jump the burning platform to survive, but that the future they faced was an even more complex situation due to a war of ecosystems. His memo was more accurate than I’m sure he ever wanted it to be.
Because of how timely iOS and Android have been to create their ecosystems, many of us are tied to them. We didn’t only adopt an iPhone or an Android phone, but we also adopted everything that’s offered by them, and most of us have paid a ton of money to enhance our experience with them. As a result, as much as I would love to move to another platform today, it’s not like if I want to lose my three-digit investment in iOS or Android. And in the case of Android, given that most of its popular apps are free, why would I move away from it and pay for these same services elsewhere?
Today it’s not just about the cool design, or the cool gestures, or the cool and unique camera. People ironically value Instagram more than they value the great low-light performance of the Lumia 920. Yes, this sounds ridiculous, but it should tell OEMs enough about why iOS and Android keep winning.
The bottom line
Will this ever change? Honestly I don’t think it’ll happen any time soon. An analyst predicted a couple of years ago that Windows Phone would dominate the market by 2015, and given the fact that we’re just 1.5 years away from that, it’s honestly almost impossible for the platform to go from 4% to even 35% in that little amount of time. Why? Well, because the competition hasn’t stopped evolving on top of its own success.
Today, every phone is a slate, every phone has a touch screen, ever phone has app support, good cameras, etc. Unless one OEM or platform is capable of bringing something different and better to the table that can dwarf the ecosystems that already dominate the market, I don’t see them catching any additional market share. Even BlackBerry’s support for Android apps hasn’t proved to be favorable to them, so it’s clearly more than just about supporting apps now. It’s about which company is able to create the next “in” product for the future, which sadly for many, can still be something that only the incumbents get right.
What do you think? What factors do you think keep Android and iOS at the top, or what factors do you think keep the others at the bottom? Leave us a comment.