NOTE: This post, originally published in January 2013, continues to be one of the most viewed on the site. As Google and Apple now are estimated to enjoy 98% market share between the two, many of my projections regarding this market appear to have been borne out.
In one of the most interesting high tech scenarios in years, the “smart mobile” OS (operating system) market is shaping up to be a classic Battle of the Titans. Key strategic issues, theories, speculation, and money, lots of it, are making this a great real-time strategy and marketing case study for management students of all ages (smile). So as Dell prepares to fade into the sunset, get yourself a drink of your choice, and some popcorn, sit back and watch it all unfold.
The best metaphor I can apply to this might be a “destruction derby” featuring at least two players, or perhaps a bizarre multidimensional Super Bowl or Rugby World Cup match, with four teams on one playing field with four goal posts at each cardinal point of the compass.. At the moment all four teams are tackling, passing, and running at each other in a confused pile. There are scrums, rucks and mauls in multiple locations. Two competitors, Google and Apple appear to be winning. The other two, Microsoft and Research in Motion, are pretty banged up, but still playing.
The two currently dominant competitors, Google Android with its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, and Apple IOS are rapidly consolidating and expanding their global market positions, via partnerships, vertical integration, and application development ecosystems. Microsoft has publicly committed to spending massively to make Windows 8 the third OS option, but a recent IDC mobile OS market forecast projects Microsoft with only a miniscule share in 2015. Something tells me that Steve Ballmer will go on a rampage if that happens, rather like the video of him screaming and dancing on stage in my post “Extrovert or Introvert, Authentic Presentations Take Practice,” November 30th. http://mayo615.com/2012/11/30/introvert-or-extrovert-authentic-presentations-take-practice/
The key question is whether Microsoft or RIM, will be able to establish a third mobile OS to a survivable market position. It is not at all clear that either can do so at this point. The market is also speculating that mobile hardware market leader Samsung, is possibly considering making its own play by creating its own mobile OS ecosystem. While this may seem far fetched, this kind of vertical integration seems to be making a resurgence as a strategic move, after having been discredited. Then there is the perennial Nokia, who has seemed to be on death’s door, but may be coming back. As a strategic partner for Microsoft, Nokia’s fate may have a huge bearing on Microsoft’s strategy to reinvent itself as the PC goes into atrial fibrillation. Will Amazon enter the fray with its own smart phone entrant, and if so, with whose OS? Will Research in Motion and the Blackberry be able to achieve a survivable market share, or is RIM already a walking zombie?
Finally, in a kind of death dance patent dispute reminiscent of the film, Gladiator, Nokia and RIM are now locked in new lawsuits and counter-lawsuits, as if to say, “If neither of us are going to survive, we might as well kill each other for the entertainment value.”
Here’s a more concise overview of the race to be the third mobile platform:
- The argument in favor of a third platform is straightforward and compelling: A new, robust competitor will prevent the dominant platforms from growing complacent or stifling innovation. Apple and Google are pretty happy with the status quo. Consumers are probably not consciously pining for a third mobile platform. Developers would happily get behind a third platform if it widened their revenue streams.
- Microsoft has a head start: It launched Windows Phone in 2010, and tablet-friendly Windows 8 this year. It is experienced in building developer communities. However, Windows Phone has so far only managed a paltry 3 percent platform market share.
- Amazon has the most potential to upend the market: A smartphone would be a natural extension of Amazon’s distribution empire, and its Kindle Fire tablet play. Unfortunately, the most recent E-reader forecasts show them in sharp decline as growth in full-functional tablets squeeze them out. Amazon has 106 million unique visitors accessing its sites, many of them with credit cards on file.
- Samsung is a dark horse: Its dependency on Android may become a liability and push the South Korean manufacturer into the platform business. Samsung’s strength is its hardware sales prowess — Samsung shipped over 56 million smartphones in the third quarter of 2012.
For Management students, this real time case study offers the opportunity to apply and ponder:
1. The time tested 1976 Boston Consulting Group (Bruce Henderson) “rule of three and four.” In a stable mature market there can be no more than three surviving competitors, the largest of which can have no more than four times the share of the smallest of the three. Here, the question is whether a third competitor can successfully emerge at all?
2. Barriers to market entry. Former Intel Marketing VP, Bill Davidow‘s book, Marketing High Technology, An Insider’s View, still considered the standard on the topic, suggested his own metric for a barrier to a new market entrant, or even a competitor just struggling to survive the market shakeout. The market entry barrier rule of thumb in dollars is three-quarters the most recent annual revenue of the market leader. In this case, that is a very big B number… Microsoft has the bucks, but is it just too late?
3. Vertical integration. Rumors of Samsung introducing its own mobile OS seem implausible, but hey Nvidia just announced its own gaming console to compete with Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony.
4. Resources and capabilities. It is necessary to consider the respective resources and capabilities of each of the many direct players, and those playing in related markets that bear on the mobile OS market.
5. Related markets, new markets, peripherally involved competitors and products which all could play a role in the eventual outcome of this. The integrated Internet HDTV market is only one example. Featuring Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Samsung, and the HDTV manufacturers, it could influence things. What if Amazon were to vertically integrate and introduce its own smart phone?
This is the hairball of this Century so far. Are you all still with me, here?