Last week, we took an in depth look at which platform we thought would win the battle to become the third major smartphone operating system. Ultimately, we gave the edge to BlackBerry 10, which has left us with much more excitement than our experience with Windows Phone 8 garnered. With BlackBerry 10 launching this week, we will now ask a few more difficult questions about the market itself, and whether it’ll actually bear a third platform vying for consumer pockets.
BlackBerry 10 will launch this week in hopes of vaulting RIM back into smartphone relevance. To say the company has a long, uphill battle ahead would be a massive understatement; Android and iOS now make up nearly 90% of the smartphone OS market, with Windows Phone failing to gain traction above 5% and BlackBerry continuing its monumental slide from its former days of glory.
The biggest question weighing on everyone’s minds lately is “Can BlackBerry and Windows Phone be successful? Is there truly a market for three or four major smartphone operating systems in the mobile arena?” Read on to hear our take on this important question.
By all accounts, the market is fairly saturated already. As previously mentioned, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS platforms already account for nearly 90% of the smartphone market, according to recent surveys from Strategy Analytics, IDC, and others. Overall, customers are fairly satisfied with their smartphone OS, with Apple’s iOS leading the way at over 70% of customers (via NokiaRevolution) giving Apple a “Very satisfied” ranking in ChangeWave‘s survey.
Android users are somewhat less satisfied with their smartphones, with less than 50% of Android users giving the platform the top score. Windows Phone boasts a 53% satisfaction ranking, though this has yet to translate into the platform gaining more customers. Clearly, consumers are relatively satisfied with their smartphone choices, and many existing smartphone owners will likely stick with their operating system of choice when it comes time for a new smartphone purchase. This leaves Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10 fighting with Android and iOS for people purchasing their first smartphone.
How successful will Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10 be in attracting these non-smartphone owners? All the usual signs suggest that they’ll have an extremely difficult time attracting these types of buyers. With over 50% of all cell phone owners in the US owning a smartphone, the types of customers who’ve yet to purchase smartphones are known as being either in the ”late majority” or “laggard” categories in the diffusion of innovation theory. These types of purchasers tend to wait for all the kinks to be worked out in technology before making that purchasing decision, and often rely on information from friends and family members before making a purchasing decision.
So what are these friends and family members going to recommend? Well, 9 out of 10 of them have either an Android or iOS smartphone in their pockets, and are fairly satisfied with their choice in mobile OS. Sure, there may be a handful of Windows Phone diehards out there who’ll convert some more Windows Phone users, and I’ve already argued that BlackBerry 10 is a shoe-in to make a resurgence in the enterprise arena, but at the end of the day, people in the late majority or laggard categories are most likely to adopt technologies recommended by people they trust, and a majority of the time that’s going to be Android (or, Samsung) or iOS.
One exception to this rule could be in developing markets, where low-priced Windows Phone, Android, and BlackBerry devices have ruled the smartphone roost. These markets are under-saturated compared to the likes of the US and the UK, with a recent Nielsen study showing that India and Russia, by far the largest developing markets in the world, have smartphone adoption rates of just 20% and 49%, respectively.
But troubling news for Windows Phone and BlackBerry in this arena came by way of an IDC report from December 2012. The report claims that though BlackBerry and Windows Phone have opportunities in these markets fueled by previous success of the BlackBerry platform and low-cost Windows Phone devices like the Lumia 610, Android phones will likely lay claim to a significant amount of the market in these regions. And if Apple starts working on lower-cost iPhones for emerging markets, it may be game over for Microsoft and RIM.
Another potential growth strategy for Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10 would exist if these platforms had a differentiating factor that made them stand out from the competition. Unfortunately, though some relatively minor advantages in key areas may be offered by these platforms, our experience with Windows Phone 8 and what we’ve gleaned thus far of BlackBerry 10 suggest that while they may be compelling alternatives that are up to par with what Android and iOS can offer, the platforms don’t have a compelling feature to put them head and shoulders above the rest. And with application developers focusing their efforts on where the market is today (Android and iOS), Google and Apple will likely be in a good position for the foreseeable future.
We’re hardwired to love choice when it comes to nearly any decision we make. Offerings from Microsoft’s Windows Phone and RIM’s BlackBerry 10 certainly offer that level of choice, but ultimately Android and iOS will reign supreme for the time being. This may change as the platforms develop further, but the combination of market saturation, consumer satisfaction, and the lack of true differentiating factors in these mobile platforms will likely see Windows Phone and BlackBerry on the outside looking in as consumers rush to adopt the more stable platforms.
Time will tell, of course, but don’t expect to see Android and iOS’s combined market share fall below 85% in 2013, and perhaps well beyond that.
Image Credit: BlackBerry Fans (CH)
This article was written by Anthony Domanico
Anthony is the Editor in Chief of Techgress, and a big mobile and gaming geek. He's covered mobile technology for the better part of three years, and gets excited about shiny, new things. He currently uses an iPhone, iPad Mini, and Nexus 7, but Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry devices are never too far away.