The news is abuzz with research firm Strategy Analytics’ call that the Samsung Galaxy SIII has unseated the iPhone as the world’s most popular smartphone. While this is a great headline and one that I’m sure myself and my peers will be fielding calls about, what’s most interesting to me is the proof point that it represents. The fact that Apple could be unseated from its throne atop all things mobile was hard for many to imagine but, if we look at the numbers, it was bound to happen. The story isn’t just about the most popular device, though, these things are cyclical and are likely to change again in Q4. The story is that we’re starting to change in our preferences on what we expect from our mobile computers, and it’s a sign we’re maturing as users.
The end of 2012 is Android’s moment as we see more users explore experiences outside of iOS to try something different, many of them finding the grass a bit greener on the green-robot’s side. As we move ever closer to 3/4 of our mobile phone users here in the US carrying a smartphone – we’re already very close to that percentage among new acquirers – we no longer have a population of neophytes when it comes to apps and touchscreens. If the awe of app selection and “desktop-like” browsing was users’ initial attraction to iOS, many quickly became interested in tweaking the devices to do more. Prior to carrier backing, there was much tinkering to make iPhones personal hotspots. Want to have a quick way to adjust settings? There’s a (not-in-the-app-store) app for that. It was these desired tweaks that became the drive for many users to jailbreak their devices, looking to mine the Cydia marketplace for tools and apps that extended the functionality of their devices in a way Cupertino had not intended, though many of these hacks found their way into the official OS in later releases.
Android Wears The Crown Today, But May Not Retain It For Long
Many users seem to be questioning the need to do all of this hacking when Android offers a native experience with much more customization potential. This is a critical difference between Apple and Google and one that is likely driving the change in adoption preferences. Robert Scoble nailed it when he started the dialogue on the openness of Google’s Android vs. Apple’s iOS. I’m not talking here about the open source, Linux-backed nature of Android – though that has much to do with its speed of innovation – I’m talking about the level of control left to the user in Android. Fact is, we’re adults, and this is not our first smartphone (most of us) so why not let us (and developers) experiment a bit to create applications that are truly “smart” not just skeuomorphic high-design apps?
At Altimeter, we talk a lot about the idea of the Sentient World; what’s that mean? Sentient World is a view of the future – and a major theme in our research – that anticipates the rampant interconnectedness of devices, people and content. Today’s smartphones present users with many hurdles on the way to being useful. For example I need to unlock the device, open an app and interact with it – even if I’m only looking to see who’s nearby. In the Sentient World future, my device will act as a gateway, providing open access through WiFi, Bluetooth and associated apps to talk with others’ devices and even my fridge, which will place a reminder in my calendar to pick up some things on the way home when it noticies I’m running low. We’re not quite there yet, but Android certainly has a leg up in terms of providing context, to Scoble’s argument, though things like Google Now. As a user, my phone automagically telling me when to leave for my next meeting based on calendar info is the first time my “smartphone” has felt truly “smart” to me.
The Sentient World future may seem like a bit of science fiction with the potential to be quite intrusive but, regardless of how we feel about this future, it’s coming and the player with the more open mobile platform is going to be positioned to participate. So, am I surprised that Android is being called the most popular internet-connected OS, and one with 6x faster adoption than yesterday’s darling, iOS? No, it’s simply a sign that we’re maturing, and ready for the next chapter.
What are you carrying, and how do you think it will change?