The Year of the Battling Ecosystems

Posted by Kate Jurras on Thu, Dec 27, 2012

john francis resized 600This is the time of year when we reflect on the past, and look to the future. Through the end of January 2013 (2013!) we'll be sharing guest blog posts our the annual Predictions & Reflections series. We asked some of our smartest guest writers to reflect on the past year and look to the upcoming year. This post is by John Francis. John blogs at www.ontios.com and www.platformsconsulting.com on a variety of topics including: strategy, positioning and early stage technology adoption and the evolving role of platforms in technology. John consults to both emerging and established software and technology companies and can be reached at jfrancis@ontios.com.

First, let’s introduce the top players involved in the unfolding skirmish over mobile ecosystem dominance.

iOS: The incumbent heavyweight, driver of enormous enterprise value and reference point for all things mobile, iOS defined the market for sophisticated mobile operating systems and their associated ecosystems. From its launch, iOS swiftly grabbed smartphone marketshare and created the tablet market. With the rise of Android, and its broad support by device makers, software developers and telcos, Android has outpaced iOS to become the dominant mobile OS for smartphones and is closing the gap in tablets. iOS retains a passionate, albeit relatively smaller following, but remember, technical innovation is a fleeting differentiator and the collapsed mobile replacement cycle enables marketshare fluidity. Look for their marketshare slide to slow, but not stop.

Android: This new Olympic sprinting champion has exploded onto the scene and is now a bona fide heavyweight. After a short stint as an irritant, with free licensing and rapid innovation as its hallmarks, Android moved fast, devouring smartphone market share, while powering a myriad of now interesting tablets. The tablet market may ultimately matter more than the smartphone market given its disproportionate impact on media consumption and ecommerce, and look for more interesting hardware permutations to emerge from this sector.

Windows Phone 8: A former top contender that has fallen on hard times after getting out of shape and losing touch with the market, Microsoft has reappeared. Deep pockets buy staying power, and, sometimes, partners (Nokia). With a colorful, re-imagined approach, MS might squeeze back into the discussion if they can rebuild their ecosystem and communicate their unique value. Whether it is stylish phones or productivity oriented tablets, there may be a place for this old-timer, but distribution (who ever thought they would hear this) and channel support remain issues. With Staples (and others) now belatedly carrying the Surface, this issue will subside during 2013. Watch the battle for the bronze between Windows Phone 8 and BB10 to heat up.

Blackberry 10: Another former heavyweight champion, the now mythical Blackberry 10 launches in Jan. While QNX, (their acquired OS), has been in the lab getting transformed into RIM’s corporate savior, BB10 is shockingly late. This re-imagined OS hopes to bring BB back to relevance, though it may do nothing but provide a better exit for RIM stockholders. Early reviews are promising, but the challenge is not technical, it is the lack of an existing ecosystem and a waning distribution channel. Unless BB10 integrates the ability to run Android apps along with better manageability and security, and “Balance” resonates with corporate buyers, RIM’s challenge will be formidable. They need to convince developers of their relevance to justify the support of another OS and as WebOS (now Gram) illustrated, great technology and positive reviews are necessary but not sufficient to accomplish this goal. Without great applications, improved manageability, and a revitalized channel, buyers won’t buy BB 10 devices.

So what will we see by year-end 2013? A more fragmented mobile market rather than the current, bifurcated iOS/Android market with one of the BB/Microsoft group emerging as a third player along with continued innovation in device form factor. And for MITX members, expect an aggressive outreach to developers by each platform eager to prop up their ecosystem by garnering your support.