Google Android seized some 36 percent of the worldwide smartphone market in the first quarter, according to new numbers from research firm Gartner. That was enough to topple Nokia's Symbian from its perch as the world's leading smartphone system.
But Symbian's a dead operating system walking, anyway, thanks to Nokia's abandoning it in favor of Windows Phone. Meanwhile, Research In Motion saw its share dip to 13 percent, continuing the slide of the once-ubiquitous BlackBerry franchise; and Microsoft, with 3.6 percent of the market, is still fighting for an increased presence among consumers and businesses.
That leaves Apple's iOS and Android as the heavyweight smartphone operating systems of the moment-and consumer and business ardor for smartphones show no signs of slacking, at least according to Gartner's numbers.
"Smartphones accounted for 23.6 percent of overall sales in the first quarter of 2011, an increase of 85 percent year-on-year," Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner, wrote in the May 19 research note. "This share could have been higher, but manufacturers announced a number of high-profile devices during the first quarter of 2011 that would not ship until the second quarter of 2011."
The current advantage lies with smartphones that offer a broad apps ecosystem. "Every time a user downloads a native app to their smartphone or puts their data into a platform's cloud service, they are committing to a particular ecosystem and reducing the chances of switching to a new platform," she added. "This is a clear advantage for the current stronger ecosystem partners Apple and Google."
Certainly Apple finds itself locked in a hard battle with Google. In turn, that begs the question of what steps Cupertino could take with its upcoming releases to ensure its iOS devices don't end up totally swamped by the Android Army. Here are five suggestions:
A Cheaper iPhone
Apple has a habit of offering the previous version of the iPhone at a cheaper price. That attracts consumers interested in, say, the $49 iPhone 3GS over the iPhone 4 at $199 and $299. However, the cheaper device also represents previous-generation technology.
Should Apple introduce a "mini iPhone," invested with the latest technology, and offered at a price point lower than their premium or flagship iPhone, it could help drive consumer adoption in ways that, while perhaps not fully capable of overcoming Android's sizable activations per day, would certainly make it more of an even game. Rumors of just such a cheaper, smaller iPhone have been circulating for months-but Apple being Apple, the company would likely need to convince itself that such a device meets both its high quality standards and need for high margins on every unit sold.
Cloud Services for iOS
According to Bloomberg, Apple has signed deals with Sony, EMI Group and Warner Music Group "to let users of its new music service access their song collections from handheld devices via the Internet." Users could access their music via Apple's servers instead of storing it on a hard drive. Universal Music Group is also apparently in talks.
At the same time, the blog Apple Insider reports that Apple is exploring means of faster music streaming, by having its devices locally store a tiny portion of each song. That would songs to begin playing without a "buffering" pause, not to mention freeing up storage space.
More to the point, an iOS with robust cloud-media features is an iOS that could attract more consumers who plan on using their smartphone as a multimedia hub-especially if some of those features surpass what's available on Android.
Why not? Although Sprint has put on a brave face in recent months about pushing their own line of Android-based devices, the chance to carry a bestselling device like the iPhone is a no-brainer business decision-especially if T-Mobile is absorbed into AT&T, which would leave Sprint the only U.S. carrier without Apple's smartphone in its stable.
Keep Filing Those Lawsuits
In April, Apple filed a lawsuit against Samsung in the U.S. District Court of Northern California. That suit alleged that the look, packaging and user interface of Samsung's smartphones and tablets closely copies that of the Apple iPhone and iPad. Apple also has patent-infringement suits filed against Nokia, HTC, and Motorola.
Clearly, Apple isn't a company shy about aiming as many lawyers as possible at its rivals. Intellectual-property lawsuits might not affect consumer adoption of Android, but they could create speed-bumps in the creation of still more Android devices to flood the market. At least, Apple likely hopes so.
Microsoft Is Your Friend
Apple and Microsoft might be rivals in many ways, but they have a common enemy: Google. The more Microsoft invests in its Windows Phone, and encourages developers to build apps for that platform over Android, the more Apple could benefit. Stronger rivals won't necessarily blunt Android's competitive momentum, but they could help slow it down. The enemy of one's enemy is one's friend, after all.