Opinion: Android’s “iceberg ahead” moment?

Opinion: Androids iceberg ahead moment?

The launch of Windows Phone 8 has thrown Microsoft’s phone efforts back into the spotlight, and how it has struggled to gain market share over Apple and Android. With yet another relaunch of a mobile OS, Microsoft and its embattled partner Nokia (or future purchase), certainly have their work cut out. However I think we’re coming up to a possible inflection point for one of the big boys – Google’s Android.


Google Android has always had two things Apple hasn’t – Adobe’s Flash and Google Navigation – but its about to loose those “unique features”.
(I acknowledge Flash is on the Playbook, but you can’t really count that as competition.)

Flash has always been a bit contentious on mobile devices, whether you believed Steve Jobs assertion that it didn’t work on a mobile device, or watched it fail in demonstrations when Blackberry’s Playbook tried to play it as trump card. It does however work pretty well for most Flash-strewn sites you might try to access on an Android phone or tablet.

Indeed, in our two-OS household I get my wife grabbing my phone because she can’t access a Flash-based site on her iPhone. Therefore Google certainly have a plus point by having it on Android. The problem is, it’s going. I’d say gone, but the BBC seem to have managed to prelong its immediate future, but it is going according to Adobe – HTML 5 is the future, not Flash. I’d love to have seen the faces in Google HQ when Adobe announced that – harder to ignore when its your supplier, rather than main competition, saying that. So soon web-browsing will be equally frustrating on Android and iOS.

I cited Navigation as the other unique point Google had over Apple. There are of course Apps you can get, TomTom probably being the most famous, on iOS, but they’re quite expensive. Google’s Navigation is not only excellent, but more importantly, its free and embedded into the OS. The average phone user is your average person – not technically or even adventurous, and won’t get past a phone’s standard features. Apple know this and have invested heavily in getting a mapping and navigation offering to rival Google’s built into iOS6. If they didn’t think it was costing them business, they wouldn’t have invested so much money in it. Even Microsoft saw a similar gap in their OS, which they neatly plugged with their tie with Nokia – Microsoft definitely get more from their deal with Nokia than Nokia ever will.

 

Wednesday sees the announcement of the iPhone 5, or whatever its going to be called, touting the new iOS6. There is already a ludicrous amount of hype over the device, and it will sweep aside most other tech news to dominate headlines in the mainstream press for sometime to come. These new features, coupled with the demise of Google’s remaining USP, means a much smaller gap between the two platforms, but I would now put the momentum back with Apple.

 

Most people who buy phones are not technical. Some will buy based on fashion, others advertising for instance, and even features. As features converge though, the other factors become more relevant to consumers. Losing unique features from Android, means they start to have to compete with Apple on things like fashion whims and advertising – er, good luck Google!

The end of year will be very interesting, but my money is on Apple gaining a healthy chunk more marketshare and Android starting to struggle by comparison.

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