As of this writing, Google’s Android operating system has captured 33 percent of the U.S. smartphone market share through February, according to comScore.
That’s one third of the total market in less than three years since the T-Mobile G1 appeared in late summer 2008.
Research In Motion, Microsoft Windows Phone and Nokia Symbian abroad are all falling by the wayside as Android and iOS combine for 58 percent of the smartphone market.
The new market positioning has some, including VC guy Fred Wilson, repeating their earlier predictions that the mobile market is matching the desktop market, which starred Microsoft Windows and Apple’s Macintosh.
Android with its multiple devices and distribution channels across smartphones (and tablets, TVs and God know what else) is taking Microsoft’s role in mobile, while Apple with its iPhone is patiently following the business model CEO Steve Jobs hashed out with the Mac: strong, premium quality at a premium price.
Microsoft today is still the dominant desktop platform, so forgive folks who feel Android is headed in the same direction. Indeed, IDC and ABI Research see Android gobbling 45 percent share over the next five years.
Wilson explained the reason for his Android bullishness: “Google is not attempting to monetize its mobile OS. It has created a business model for Android that is very attractive for handset manufacturers and allows these OEMs to drive down their costs rapidly while continuing to deliver a top quality smartphone experience.”
Another VC guy, Bill Gurley, explained in a post last month that Android can be “free” because Google has built this great, unshakeable search castle and can extend Android, Chrome and Chrome OS as the moats.
I appreciate the heady giddiness over Android as much as the next Android smartphone owner, but what Wilson’s and Gurley’s posts fail to account for are the numerous threats to Android.
First, if you accept Google’s search as the castle, the castle appears about to be rocked by lawsuits in Europe an in the U.S. Expect the Justice Department to gun for Google if Europe puts the screws to the company with massive fines. But there are a lot of what-ifs, ins-and-outs and what-have-yous before we get there.
Second, the big elephant in the room versus Android directly is Oracle’s lawsuit against Android for copyright infringement of Java code. Now Android is too massive an ecosystem for Google and its comrades to allow it to come screeching to a halt because of a lawsuit.
If found guilty, Google will likely pay Oracle to settle and license Java code from Oracle, or rewrite the code so that it doesn’t infringe anymore, which is why I think Google hired Java creator James Gosling.
The third thing Google is clearly concerned with is the gross platform fragmentation. Hence, why it has locked down Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” code for the time being and why it is increasingly hedging its bets with developers, as my eWEEK colleague Nicholas Kolakowski explained, via an enterprising BusinessWeek piece.
According to BusinessWeek:
“There will be no more willy-nilly tweaks to the software. No more partnerships formed outside of Google’s purview. From now on, companies hoping to receive early access to Google’s most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans.“
My feeling is developers for LG, Samsung, Facebook and the rest will get over it. What are you going to do? Abandon Android for Apple iOS, whose footprint is much smaller? There is no zero sum threat here.
The net-net is that while Android has chomped share and appears unstoppable, it’s important to take into account issues that have yet to be resolved and how those resolutions will impact the platform going forward.
Android is mighty, but not invulnerable.