The mobile market experienced an earthquake when Apple launched in 2007. But it wasn’t felt right away. It was an earthquake that was felt gradually, and increasing in strength as time went by. It took a while for the other manufacturers to realize the implications of the touchscreen smartphone. The leaders in the industry, Nokia and RIM, and even Microsoft, did exactly what I would expect industry leaders to do when they get disrupted – they dismissed the iPhone.

They kept dismissing it for years, until they finally realized that the demand for iPhones is not slowing down at all, but keeps rising, and even their loyal customers might soon start to want a phone like the iPhone. When they realized that, they had 2 choices: join Android, which was positioned as an OS any manufacturer could use, or make their own OS, and try to be as successful as Apple. But the latter had 2 possible outcomes: they could actually be as successful as Apple, or fail the same way Palm (and now HP) did with webOS. And as we learned yesterday about HP’s plans to kill webOS and their phone business, achieving the kind of success Apple had with their own OS, was much harder than anticipated.

Having your own OS is a failed strategy

There have been quite a lot of people who have said Android will commoditize the manufacturers, and it’s not giving them the same kind of profits that Apple is getting on their iPhones, but did the manufacturers even have a choice? Would they have been better off if they made their own OS, the same way Apple and Palm did? The answer is no. If they went with their own OS, they wouldn’t have been better off than with Android. In fact they would experience the same fate Palm had with WebOS.

And this has  already been proven. Nokia failed with Maemo/Meego, and Symbian as well, which was still mostly theirs even if other manufacturers used it until a couple of years ago. RIM is failing with Blackberry OS, and is already failing with QNX on the Playbook. I don’t think moving their new phones to QNX sometime in 2012 will do anything to change that. HP has already failed with WebOS. Bada is still hanging in there, but Samsung is mostly keeping it to have a back-up plan, although if they really decided to quit Android one day, I don’t think Bada could save their business.

Android as the industry savior

So, suddenly, Android doesn’t look so bad at all anymore. It’s helping some manufacturers at the very least remain relevant in an iPhone world, and it’s helping HTC break profit record after profit record, while Samsung is on its way to become mobile king, and displace Nokia once and for all as the world’s largest mobile manufacturer. All this is happening because of Android, and without it, even if they had a great looking OS like webOS, they’d surely fail, because the ecosystems would be way too split up, and none of them would have the same kind of influence Apple has not only on the tech media, but on consumers as well. Google is giving them all an ecosystem just as big as iOS, and they can leverage it to achieve much greater success in the market than they would on their own. That is worth billions to each and every one of them, and it has ensured their survival for the next decade or so.

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