When it comes to mobile platforms, there is little doubt as to who the Big 2 are. Both iOS and Android entered the market quickly, and proceeded to tear the incumbents to shreds. In only a few short years, the mobile landscape changed (and continues to change) making what was once a more open field of challengers, into something more akin to duel between the two big players, while everyone else is clawing for scraps.
At the moment, the trend seems to be a battle for #3. Who else can stretch out and cut the third biggest slice of the mobile pie? Challengers have come and gone (WebOS, Meego, Bada) others have fallen sharply (BB OS) while others have clawed their way up for every fraction of a percentage point of market share they can get (Windows Phone). The results have been anything but pretty.
Right now, in terms of market share, Android has a very commanding lead. iOS comes in second (though their strategy seems to be more one of profitability rather than trying to own market share), and Windows Phone in a very distant third place, having surpassed Blackberry, whose BB10 offering has been poorly received by the public. But even in this, Microsoft has poured an incredible amount of money into Windows Phone, first with their exclusive partnership with Nokia, and with the subsequent potential buyout of the Finnish company. Even with the massive resources at their disposal, Microsoft has had to claw their way into a very distant third.
So then, what chances do other groups have in pushing their new platforms into the limelight? With offerings in the form of Firefox OS, Ubuntu Touch and Sailfish either recently being released or about to be released before year’s end, what kind of market share can they expect to gain? If a company like Microsoft is spending oodles of dollars to buy their way into 3rd, what kind of success can much smaller companies hope to achieve?
The answer is probably a very simple: not much. I don’t think they’re immediate goal is to really take on Microsoft for that third place spot. For example, Firefox OS seems to be geared towards the low end and emerging smartphone market. In this way, they are not taking on Microsoft in terms of market share overall, rather they are taking on Microsoft’s success with the super low cot Lumia 520 series of devices. With iOS pretty much ignoring the low cost market, and Android struggling to put a great experience on lower end models, there may be a lot of room of other options here. Blackberry has traditionally done well in these markets, but their stagnating market share hasn’t helped them in this regard, and without a true low cost model in their BB10 lineup, the door has been left open. So there is a possible entry point for Firefox OS here, but they may find themselves in direct competition with a much larger company, that has shown a strong willingness to pour money into the mobile division to get what it wants.
And that’s just one of the new incumbents. Sailfish (by a startup called Jolla, which is a group of ex-Nokia employees) is the spiritual successor of the Nokia N9/Meego pairing, which Nokia shelved when they joined up with team Microsoft. Thus far it seems to be a niche product, that while interesting, may not have much in the way of actual traction. Ubuntu Phone is in a similar position. Being made by Canonical (the company behind the very popular Linux distribution, Ubuntu), it takes some very interesting approaches, but as of yet hasn’t produced an “angle” for where they hope to target their devices. For current smartphone owners, there may be limited appeal for new products with limited ecosystems, especially when compared to the Big 2.
Of course, choice and options are good. No doubt. But at the same time we aren’t just buying a device when we make a mobile purchase, we are buying into a platform and ecosystem. When our options are a fully fleshed ecosystem like iOS and Android with the hundreds of thousands of applications available and tight integration with some of the most popular online tools available, it becomes difficult to justify the purchase of a device with a small amount of apps, who may be missing some of the prime apps we are expecting. Gaining traction here is a massive challenge, just ask Microsoft. Keeping traction is just as difficult, just ask Blackberry. And staying afloat when the competition is much bigger than you can be nearly impossible, just ask WebOS.