The birth, rise and near dominance of Android is a spectacle to behold. Born with the help of open source software and an established OS kernel (in Linux), Android has seen continuous growth in almost all markets around the world. Recently published figures suggest that Android is now used on some 70 percent of all smartphones sold in Europe’s five biggest markets. The question is, once Android has risen to the very top, then what?
The current Android usage numbers are amazing and even allowing for generous margins of error, it is clear to everyone – even the hardest Android critic – that its total dominance is almost (but not yet) guaranteed.
Across Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, Android’s market share is now 70.4 percent up from 61.3 percent a year ago. The remaining 29.6 percent is taken by iOS (17.8%) and Windows Phone (6.8%). And Europe isn’t the only market where Android is performing strong. In China, Android accounts for nearly 72% of all smartphone operating systems. In Australia Android is used on 62% of all smartphones while iOS is only used on 28% of devices. The only place where iOS is putting up a fight is in the USA where iOS runs on 42 percent of smartphones and Android on 52 percent.
If this growth rate continues and Android starts to account for 80 percent and upwards of smartphone operating systems, it can be declared the winner. But then what? Will it plateau? Will it decrease? Will it stagnate?
Why it could decrease or even stagnate
Once Android becomes the big cheese, the king of the hill and the top dog it could see a period of stagnation and eventual decrease in usage as the lack of competition fosters complacency and dampens innovation. As Android is sitting on it laurels others like Apple and Microsoft could seize the opportunity and release something spectacular. If Google is caught napping, like it was with Android on tablets, the the competition – or even a newcomer – could steal the crown. There could be mass defections away from Android and who knows, in a worse case scenario, Android could be consigned to the annals of history. Don’t laugh, it happened to Palm OS, Web OS, and Blackberry – it could happen to Android.
Another real danger for Android, once it reaches a saturation point, is fragmentation. Once there is no real or practical choice of smartphone OS then the handset manufacturers will need to try even harder to differentiate their offerings over other Android smartphones. This push to differentiate could cross the customization line and fork a non-compatible version of Android. This ‘Android B’ could then become the dominate strain leaving the original Android and Google fighting for survival.
Why it could continue to grow
Since Android is based on Linux and open source components it has the innate ability to adapt. It started on smartphones but (relatively) quickly was able to cope with the shift to tablets. Google are trying to create a cloud only operating system with Chrome OS and it is feasible that future release of Android could incorporate the best parts of Chrome OS. The resulting Android version would be equally as comfortable on a smartphone as it would be on a laptop or even a desktop PC.
Also with the increasing popularity of low energy Bluetooth devices, Android will continue to expand and grow as the OS of choice for embedded devices, even simple ones like sensors and health monitors. If Android does imbibe Chrome OS and succeeds further in the embedded market then it will truly become the common operating system for everything from a Bluetooth sensor to a multi-core desktop PC. Is this possible? Yes, because Linux (as a kernel) has partly already achieved this and Android can easily follow where Linux has gone before.
Last, but not least, is the market for new devices. Android is already seen on a whole gamut of devices which aren’t smartphones or tablets. This includes almost everything from media players to wearable computing devices (i.e. Google Glass). As new devices are designed and launched, the OS which makes most sense in terms of licensing model, existing ecosystem and flexibility is Android.
This mean that although Android could reach a saturation point in the smartphone market, there are plenty of other markets for it to conquer!
What do you think? Assuming that Android takes over 80 percent or more of the smartphone market, what will happen next?