Update: John Gruber has “fireballed” another WordPress site indeed. Trying hard to tweak things to keep up. Thanks for the link, John!
Smartphone marketshare numbers today seem to have stirred up a bit of discussion to say the least, including this post by Fred Wilson, and Henry Blodget claiming that the iPhone is “dead in the water.”
Without giving any information regarding its statistical margin of error, the numbers show 7% growth for Android, with a 5% decline for RIM. Apple’s having had held steady apparently accounts for its being “dead in the water.”
I’m not going to enter into this ridiculous conversation between Google and Apple fans about who is bigger, longer, or more uncut. There are a number of ways to measure success, and each company seems to be doing very well differently. Android is gaining in smartphone OS marketshare. Apple wins in profits.
But posts like Wilson’s and Blodget’s aren’t fatuous because they favor Google. They’re fatuous because of the assumptions that are built into them.
First, they are both blatantly linkbaiting. Saying something to touch on the nerves of Apple and Google fanboys and foeboys sure seems to drive traffic. But that doesn’t make it good journalism, nor does it make it true.
Second, there is an assumption that only one of these companies can win. This seems to be based on a kind of popular history of the tech market. According to Blodget:
The Android gains matter because technology platform markets tend to standardize around a single dominant platform (see Windows in PCs, Facebook in social, Google in search).
That’s your evidence? Really? I can come up with three counterexamples. One, gaming consoles. There are three: XBox, Playstation, and Wii. There has almost always been more than one important gaming console. Two, there are several web browsers that people use. If IE were still the only one, standards like HTML5 and CSS wouldn’t matter. Three, is Facebook really the only social platform? What is Twitter then? Maybe iTunes would have been a better example, eh? And as for PCs, Apple seems content with it being the #1 laptop and #2 PC maker with its approximately 8% marketshare, but yet reaping more profits. But the point is these examples are unscientific and don’t explain why technology platforms stabilize that way (if they do) and why that will apply to smartphones.
The third assumption is that this is somehow history repeating itself.
Both Wilson and Blodget seem to think this is deja vu all over again with Apple:
Apple is fighting a very similar war to the one it fought–and lost–in the 1990s.
I believe the mobile OS market will play out very similarly to Windows and Macintosh, with Android in the role of Windows
In what way are these similar? Wilson doesn’t say and Blodget lists more differences than similarities, saying only that this is Apple attempting to keep a “closed” hardware/software system. Blodget admits that the difference is price parity and fragmentation of the Android platform.
Both the similarities and differences are wrong. Apple lost because it could not deliver its next generation operating system, and it fragmented its own platform with a multiplicity of models and even a few clones. In fact, there is strong case to be made that a large part of Apple’s decline in the 90s was linked to making hardware that was too cheap!
<>Apple only exists today at all because of their “closed” user experience. It’s what kept their base of users loyal through the dark years. This is par for the course on this superficial pop history analysis.
<>The only similarity is that it’s Apple and people seem to want to be the first to predict their doom. I don’t know what the attraction is, but tech writers seem to think they get points for saying something without showing their work and being vindicated later for reasons that had nothing–nothing at all–to do with whatever (if any) basis they gave at the time.
<>The fourth assumption is that smartphones will matter for an indefinite amount of time. Why this should be isn’t explained or even directly mentioned. But it’s unclear to me why it should matter if Apple or Google gets a larger installed base in 2016 if no one is using a smartphone by then. Android isn’t doing anything against the iPad yet. I’ll put it this way: imagine the Zune had won as much marketshare as Android is now. Would that have mattered much after the iPhone came along? Nope. We won’t be using smartphones forever and companies won’t be making huge profits on them forever.
<>Absurd you say? Please. You can’t plead the volatility and rapid change of the tech market out of one side of your mouth and then tell me that smartphones are here forever. Apple seems to have a better idea of knowing or inventing what comes next, at least for the time being.