A report from market research firm NPD earlier this week, showing that in Q1 '10, sales of smartphones running the Android operating system outpaced the iPhone by 28% to 21% (though both were behind RIM at 36%), highlighted something that I've been thinking about a lot lately: could it be that Apple is about to replay in smartphones its losing fight from the past against Microsoft-Intel in desktop computers?
While plenty is different about today's Apple, the basic contours are similar. Apple, the vertically integrated and control-oriented hardware/software/service company has a well-loved, but extremely narrow smartphone product line. Meanwhile, smartphones based on the Android OS are sprouting like wildflowers, riding a wave of broad OEM adoption, wider customer choices, heavy purchase incentives by multiple carriers and diffused innovation (note Google is saying its partners are shipping 65K Android smartphones each day). Aren't these some of the main reasons why Microsoft and PC OEMs swamped Apple in desktop computers?
I'm not suggesting Apple is headed for a fall any time soon, but one thing's for sure, Apple's early ownership of the smartphone category is over; the market has caught up. One area where we can expect the iPhone vs. Android competition to be particularly intense is in video. As the Evo's launch (see above) shows - better screens, network capacity and yes format support (i.e. Flash) are going to be pushed as proof points for sexy video apps. Meanwhile Apple has ensnared itself in the ever-escalating battle with Adobe over Flash, which is a huge distraction. It will be interesting to see how these iPhone vs. Android sales numbers unfold in 2010.
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