I’ve been writing about Android since the release of the first smartphone to run the OS, the HTC Dream (those of you from the US might know it as the T-Mobile G1), back in October 2009. At the time, I must have read about a hundred articles by authors of all calibers, all arguing why Android didn’t stand a chance to become what it is today: the largest smartphone OS in the world by market share.
But despite the fact that I'm a big Android fan who honestly believes that Android is the best mobile OS out there, I’m not going to make the same mistake that all those writers did back in 2009. I am not going to let my preferences get it in the way of observing how other platforms evolve. And neither should you.
Although I wouldn’t call it a slow start, I would say that the past 12-18 months have definitely been a lot kinder to the Android ecosystem than its first couple of years. It is during this period that we’ve seen Android provide an overwhelming (just ask Apple snobs, they’ll tell you) variety of top-class hardware, combined with a first glimpse of what some call maturity (yes, I’m talking about Android 4.0 ICS).
In this context, it was to be expected that Android’s market share will eventually soar past that of iOS, and so it did. But being king of the digital hill doesn't mean Android is fault-proof. Moreover, some developments, such as ongoing privacy issues, over-fragmentation, and a recently evolving piracy problem pose more of a threat than ever to the health of the ecosystem that Google worked so hard to grow.
In addition, a recent rumor talks about a number of unhappy Android manufacturers that plan to fork the OS in the future. Sure, it will still be Android at base, but the end experience will become even more fragmented than it already is. That's obviously not a good sign, since a smoother overall experience is exactly what Apple is marketing about their iPhones and, let's face it, one of the biggest drawing factors for the smartphone buyer.
Although the iOS and Android seem to complement each other perfectly, in a mobile OS ying-yang way, I can't shake the feeling that there’s room for a much more powerful third OS, now that RIM is breaking one negative record after the other. And that’s exactly where Microsoft, the main competitor to both Apple and Google in a number of other markets, steps in with its Windows Phone OS.
Since the Windows Phones that came out last year were just slightly modified versions of Android smartphones (in terms of hardware), there were few reasons to believe that Microsoft’s re-born mobile OS was anywhere close to taking a stab at Android and Apple.
But then came the surprise announcement of the Nokia-Microsoft partnership, and WP’s chances started looking a lot better all of a sudden. Now, just a few days after the massive US launch of the AT&T Nokia Lumia 900, we have major reasons to believe that Windows Phone has finally reached an inflection point:
Obviously, although Nokia and Microsoft seem to finally got their act together, it doesn’t mean the 2012 Android smartphone line-up will disappoint. On the contrary, we’re just 1/3 into the year and we’ve already seen a couple of major releases from HTC (the flagship One X and the more-than-mid-end One S are both very attractive smarphones), while Motorola’s and Samsung’s response is expected to arrive during Q2, in the form of the highly-expected Samsung Galaxy S3 and the rumored Droid Fighter. A new Google Nexus smartphone is also expected to come by the end of 2012, as are a number of low-cost high-end smartphones from Huawei and ZTE.
In the meantime, it's highly unlikely that Apple won't do their absolute best to top both of its competitors. After all, until recently, the US manufacturer was able to best all Android smartphone manufacturers combined, so expect the iPhone 5 to sell an impressive number of units, as was the case with all previous iterations of the iPhone.
Back to Windows Phone, even if the recent rumors that claim Microsoft will buy RIM in the near future don't turn out to come true – a vision shared by many (myself included) – it is likely that WP will gain some momentum and start gaining market share points. Thus, an obvious question arises: who will lose the points that Microsoft will win? Will all of them come from RIM's moribund BB OS and the half-dead Symbian? Or will Apple and Google suffer as well?
By the looks of it, 2012 will bring even more heat to the scalding-hot smartphone market. No matter if you are an Android fan or an iOS fanatic, as the end user, this should only make you happy. Competition is what drives companies to come up with better solutions at lower prices. It's what makes technology evolve.
So, if WP takes off, who will lose market share?