Will a third major platform benefit Android users?

by: Mike AndriciApril 6, 2013

Google and Apple are the two companies that provide the dominant operating systems in the mobile industry. Microsoft and BlackBerry (formerly RIM) are struggling to regain some relevance, while companies new to the game, such as Amazon, Ubuntu, and Mozilla are also aiming to take a bite of this ever growing pie.

In this context, we look at the benefits and drawbacks that a third strong mobile platform would bring to the average Android user.

Meet the Challengers

By now, it’s clear that Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are the only two major players in the mobile platform game. Recent reports indicate that nine out of ten smartphones sold globally are running one of these two operating systems.

In the tablet market, after a long period of almost complete Apple iPad domination, Android made some great progress, mostly thanks to the excellent Nexus 7.

We should note that Amazon’s Kindle Fire line-up, which is especially successful in the United States, is running a forked version of Android. Technically speaking, Amazon has created a new platform, although its roots are still with Android.

BlackBerry has recently launched the BlackBerry 10 platform, probably the last chance the Canadian company has to regain its lost relevance. However, it remains to be seen if the new features introduced with BB10 are enough to draw customers in.

One company that you can never rule out in the mobile sector is Microsoft. No matter how many times it fails, Steve Ballmer’s team will still have enough resources to go at it again. With all the resources and money the Redmond-based company has been splurging, there’s a chance Microsoft will gain some relevance in the mobile industry at some point.

One new competitor in the mobile platform wars is Ubuntu for phones (not to be confused with Ubuntu for Android). The Linux-based operating system promises to bring all the things people love about the Ubuntu desktop OS on your smartphone.

And just when you thought that the mobile platform market couldn’t become any more crowded, the Mozilla Foundation announced that they’ve already signed partnerships with hardware manufacturers that should soon materialize in the first batch of budget-friendly Firefox smartphones.

Analyzing the chances that each of these platforms has to gain real traction would require an inordinate amount of time. For the time being, we’re more interested in answering a different, but related question: will the rise of a third powerful player benefit Android users?

More Competition

The first thing that comes to mind when discussing the possibility of a third powerful platform is increased competition. Just as with any other markets and products, quality is driven by the number and competence of the big players in that market.

This could translate to more features and content being added to each one of the platforms, as the parent company needs to find more ways of topping its competitors. In addition, adding a third player would automatically motivate both Apple and Google to focus on being more creative and innovative.

Unfortunately, I believe that an enhanced competition would also mean that exclusive content availability will become a major focus point for the platform owners. From an end-user perspective, this could mean that an increasing percentage of movies, shows and music tracks will be available on one platform and one platform only, contrary to the principles of an ideal world where all the content is available on all platforms.

The App Factor

Currently, a mobile app developer really needs to focus on developing for iOS and Android only, but if a third popular platform would bite off the combined market share of the dominant players we have at the present, app developers would have to develop a native app for the third platform as well.

So you see, the rise of a third major mobile platform would mean that companies that specialize in mobile app development will have to invest more time, effort and money into their apps. Users will experience this phenomenon working against them in one of several ways: an increasing number of apps of paid apps will arise, the average price for paid apps will increase, while the average quality will decrease.

This whole app problem could be avoided by focusing more on cross-platform HTML5 apps instead of native apps, but although the new standard will surely gain traction amongst app developers who want to keep their costs down, I believe that it will take a few years before HTML5-based apps will start yielding a quality level justly comparable to that of native apps.

When it comes to app availability and quality, users of both Android and iOS will have to lose once a third platform eventually appears with a double-digit market share.

A Premature Conclusion

Unfortunately, I find that it is yet too early to draw the line and say for sure that the rise of a third major platform would be profitable for the Android platform and for end-users. I’m sure many will disagree, but there’s a voice in the back of my head screaming “app quality” when analyzing this scenario. Sure, with increased competition, new and cooler features will surely be rolled out by Google. But the reality is that the most important component of a mobile platform is comprised by the apps that are available and properly optimized for the respective platform.

What could this scenario bring about? If, for instance, BlackBerry 10 would take off, will Android users have more to benefit from this than they will have to lose?

  • Benjamin Collins

    The rise of a third, and fourth significant player would also create independant software start ups and already-players to make their products smooth for each, at the same time nudging the phone platform developers to perhaps agree to a HTML5-esgue standard, though far more robust and fluid. Competition begets innovation, we all win.

  • symbolset

    I’m kind of excited about an Android Fridge that can organize my shopping list by the aisles in my favorite supermarket for my shopping convenience or maybe arrange delivery of the goods when it knows I’ll be home, Android lightbulbs I can control from my smartphone, Android security cams I can monitor from wherever I happen to be. I’m not real keen on the advantages of a third ecosystem, as I’m not going to participate in it.

  • MasterMuffin

    Sailfish Os!

    It’s going to be hard for devs if there is 3 or 4 major platforms. Like “Guest” here said, maybe devs will have to start making HTML5 apps

  • Java

    If only the was some kind of cross platform language. A language that was free and well used. A language that could be used to build apps for all platforms. Oh well, we live in hope.

    • Jelly Bean

      Yes, it’s called C.

      • williamworlde

        Pay attention to what you’re reading! It’s a rhetorical statement! Look at the writer’s name too; therein lies a clue! I’m just saying. Hmmm…..

        • Jelly Bean

          Java in a virtual machine in Android is, unfortunately, more hardware intensive than C in iOS, which requires almost half the hardware power to leverage the same performance. In this sense, C is (as much as I hate to say it) a better choice.

          • RealDev

            C code is reusable between platforms but its absolutely not platform independent, and compilers are very much platform dependent. Dont know where you got this crap from but i an tell that you never done professional programming beyond PHP or CSS lol

          • Jelly Bean

            lol @ your name. I’m a professional developer, actually, so I think I know what I’m talking about.

  • Simon Price

    I like options they are great… Good morning son what would you like to wear today your black or grey jumper, can I wear a yellow one mum….. What’s yellow son?… Do ya get me

  • hoggleboggle

    a third platform would be brilliant, ideally with an even 1/3 split between them. the only platform i can see doing that though is windows mobiile.

  • JFS Coertzen

    Problem with making HTML5 based mobile apps is that the core components in the OS that the app is interfacing with has to be re-written for that specific platform. An example is when a mobile application wants to write files to the sd-card. You can use frameworks like Phonegap but the “plugin” to write the files has to be ported to the individual platforms. This makes it increasingly difficult and I vote for 2 major platforms at max. The other guys that wants to jump on the bandwaggon is just too late.

    • nishantsirohi123

      But this is much simpler in terms of programming, even a single person can do it
      porting apps from iOS to android or vice versa is in fact much more complicated.

  • williamworlde

    I think multiple ecosystems are good. That way, there is no monopoly by any one organization and there is healthy competition obviously meaning a better experience for consumers. Right now we have:

    Apple iOS: Closed and haven’t innovated anything in smartphones for 7 years! Don’t confuse improvements with innovations. Of course, I’m being a bit glib here, but hopefully you’ll get the point.

    Google Android: Very open, but I trust Google the least of all because though I like “free”, Google’s free comes at an exorbitant price! Google was built as an advertising company. If you don’t know ANYTHING about advertisers, at least know this: They’d sell their mothers to sell their products! Just imagine what they’d do to you!

    Microsoft Windows: This company just keeps reinventing itself with its seemingly bottomless wealth of resources. I think they are capable of good things. They MUST listen to their customers though. We have advanced too far in our grasp of technology to accept, “Here, take this, it’s good for you.” anymore.

    Ubuntu: Developers/Extreme Power Users/Power Users?

    One or Two more: From anyone; it doesn’t matter to me.

    More than 5 or 6: Like Symbian, etc., they will fall by the wayside.

  • th3d

    I have faith in Firefox OS for lower end devices, that could be the big third. Sony has already said they will launch devices, if they make a reasonable specced device with an LED flash then i will buy, for sure. Not for my main device, just additional, from what i seen of FFOS i am sure i will enjoy it and it will see some usage.

  • nishantsirohi123

    This is essential as competition is always a good thing

    Yes WP, BB10, firefox…all these should thrive(don’t know about Ubuntu but it sure looks pretty on mobile)

    I got the whole idea behind the web apps used in firefox OS, best part is you can actually get lightweight apps in it.

    I wonder if it will support whatsapp and other apps

  • madjr

    monoply is bad, but doupoly is not that great either.

    imagine just the playstation and xbox….

    glad there’s also nintendo.

    in the desktop we had only windows, but Mac and now Linux is gaining a lot of users who are not afraid to try new things.

    In fact indies and games are now doing very well and gaining a lot of popularity within linux users.

    Also look at browsers. we have 3 big players now and that has kept all of them with their feet on the ground.

    So yes, I believe a third platform. Am specially excited about Ubuntu-touch and the work they’re doing for a cool converged future where mobile devices will be able to do much more.

  • Cal Rankin

    Why are Ubuntu Touch and Tizen not mentioned? They have as good a chance as any

  • nishantsirohi123

    Competition kills monopoly

    provides more choices

    sounds familiar

    Android users should be happy about the “others”

    Windows Phone has a completely distinct user interface which is uniform and yet dynamic

    BB10 have given in all and the UI of their OS is amazing (hate their high price, which is despite them not sourcing the OS from third party)

    This shows the amount of efforts invested

    WP and BB10 deserve to be there with the others

    The Firefox OS while a good concept are counting highly on the low end market, which is something the Chinese makers have already flooded with low priced, decent spec devices(media-tek dual core processors and even the intel lexington processor runs really well )

    so users might opt for the affordable mainstream plateform than a significantly new plateform

    even nokia got things right in terms of price with the Lumia 520 (it is sold 150$ unlocked in india) and it runs really smooth with a 4 inch display and dual core

    while low end devices on Gingerbread ran horribly (galaxy ACE)

    but i have seen the galaxy music run on jellybean and it runs really well for most part

    as for Ubuntu, it looks pretty but i really do not know what are its potential in terms of Apps and other thing