Most people are thinking that the smartphone market is going to end up just like PCs. Microsoft won that war with 90% of the market, and Apple’s Mac hangs on with 5-10% depending on who you ask. This time back in 2007 Apple did kind of the same thing and released the first iPhone which was heavily marketed and finally brought smartphones to the mainstream public. Microsoft was already in the smartphone market at the time and practically invented it back in 2002 or so. That didn’t stop Google’s Android from doing exactly the same thing Microsoft did to Apple during the early PC wars. Heck, Android even copied Microsoft’s existing plan for Windows Mobile. They enlisted numerous hardware manufacturers to release huge numbers of various smartphones, just like Microsoft did with PCs and for that matter, smartphones from 2002-2009. From our point of view it looks like Android is poised to dominate. There are a lot of similarities to Windows PCs actually, Android’s got the malware, pop-up error messages, and wide degrees of varying hardware quality, yet much more power and potential capabilities than Apple’s offerings.

Anyway, I was reading this Business Insider article that wondered whether the smartphone market might not be more like the gaming console market than the PC market.

“In the time that Microsoft came to dominate the business computing market since 1980, the lords of gaming have been: Atari, Commodore, Nintendo, Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and again Microsoft.”

That actually sounds a bit like the smartphone market before Apple. The Palm Pilot was very popular at one point. Nokia’s Symbian OS had a huge percentage of market share for a long time. Windows Mobile was climbing the charts before the iPhone came along too. Even with non-smartphones, Motorola was king with its RAZR flip phone for a long time. Then they were down in the dumps big time just before betting on Android and reinventing themselves.

It seems like there’s really not as much lock-in with smartphones as there is with PCs. With PCs, IT departments need to manage them and the best way to do that is with a single operating system and a single set of applications. Windows makes managing huge companies of computers much easier than the Mac ever did.

When it comes to smartphones, consumers buy those in a similar way consumers buy gaming systems. Although often people will buy more than one gaming system and just play whichever one they want. I’m not sure we’ll see a lot of people sporting multiple smartphone platforms just so that they can use the different features at different times. (Although some of us do.)

Of course, the real goal of Apple, Microsoft, RIM, or Google, etc. would be to make that lock-in possible. RIM has been fairly successful getting their “lock-in” with the business IT departments who have been running Blackberry servers for years, but that’s starting to fall apart now that practically all smartphones can connect directly to Exchange ActiveSync. Apple might be able to get a lock-in with their iTunes monopoly as that is where many people expect to buy their music, although now that iTunes purchases aren’t DRM protected anymore, that’s not really a big deal. Microsoft has certainly been trying to get Windows Phone locked-in with some Sharepoint server features, Office Mobile, and Xbox LIVE tie-ins. Google has been strongly integrating their mobile operating system with their myriad of cloud based apps like Gmail, Google Maps, Docs, Goggles, Books, etc., etc. so if you use those a lot you’re going to lean towards staying with Android. Are there any ways that the smartphone OS purveyors could further increase the lock-in effect to engender a level of loyalty as high as it is with personal computers? Or is the lock-in effect bad and you’d rather see smartphones continue to leap-frog eachother just like gaming consoles?

Reference: Business Insider

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