Industry reports continue to show the rapid growth of Google’s Android mobile OS. After reports last week from Nielsen and comScore (U.S. figures), Gartner is out today with fresh data that show Android still outpaces all other mobile OSs in Global sales (Q3).
Though this is not to be confused with overall market penetration (devices in use), current sales is certainly a leading indicator of device penetration through hardware replacement cycles of the next 12 to 18 months.
Driving this are device manufacturers (ODMs) that continue to embrace Android as a powerful, open (and free) operating system. In fact, before the very recent launch of Windows Phone OS, Android was really the only open OS that allows ODMs to compete with the iPhone in earnest.
Carriers are also a key piece of this equation, in holding sway over which devices and platforms see the light of day (at least in the U.S.). This comes down to not only what they carry but also where they throw marketing dollars. Android owes much of its success to Verizon’s marketing blitz for the Motorola Droid.
Back to Windows Phone, it has proved out of the gates to be a well-designed OS — in some respects better than iPhone and Android. However, the consensus among reviewers is that it’s powerful but perhaps not enough to convert iPhone and Android faithfuls — at least in its first generation.
This comes down to a question of whether or not Windows Phone is too late to the market. Android and iOS have built considerable brand equity. Android has also won carrier and ODM loyalties for the reasons above — often at the cost of Windows Phone’s forebear, Windows Mobile.
Meanwhile, Windows Phone deserves credit for designing an OS interface that is very different from the iPhone. Android is in many ways an inferior version of that interface — at least in its integration to third-party devices (not having the vertical integration that Apple has).
If Microsoft had build something similar, it would be the third choice for consumers among OSs with the same design paradigm. Building something completely different was smart. From the perspective of ODMs, there are now two compelling and starkly opposed choices in Android and Windows.
And though Microsoft charges ODMs for each device they ship (Android is free), Windows Phone has advantages in the levels of service that Android doesn’t offer, in addition to a decidedly different OS interface. The former compels ODMs, while the latter applies pressure from consumer demand.
It’s going to have to if Microsoft is to turn things around from falling sales in the face of Android’s rapidly rising sales. Is it too late? The battle will be waged over the hearts and minds of consumers, carriers and device manufacturers, in no particular order.