Microsoft continues to humiliate Apple in both the desktop and server markets, with Apple’s market share stuck stubbornly below 5 percent in the former, and hovering a fraction above 0 percent in the latter.
But when it comes to the mobile operating system market, it’s Microsoft that’s eating humble pie — of a brand with a distinctly Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) flavor.
That’s because despite its domination of desktop and server room operating system sales, Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) attempts in the mobile arena have been lame, lame, lame, to say the least: After years of laboring, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile managed a smartphone OS market share of just 9 percent in the second quarter of this year, according to Gartner. By contrast, Apple’s iPhone has already bagged over 13 percent in just two years – and that figure is rising fast.
So the obvious question that comes to mind is this: Why does a company like Microsoft — one that is so successful at selling desktop and server operating systems — do so dismally in the mobile arena, and why does a company like Apple — one that is such a dismal failure in the desktop and server operating system market — do so well in the mobile arena?
One reason the iPhone has succeeded so remarkably is because the competition’s OSes are so bad. Symbian? Blackberry? Windows Mobile? Oh please! These fiddly little mobile OSes might have seemed acceptable until Apple burst onto the scene, but once the iPhone was released the game was over. Apple’s mobile OS is so easy to use that anything else looks ridiculous in comparison. Even if it’s not quite ready for enterprise prime time, it’s changed the game and sent the other mobile OS makers scurrying to follow Apple’s lead.
Will that stop the iPhone? Probably not. If we take a look at the desktop market, a major reason Microsoft’s Windows has protected its position as top dog for years is because of the huge range of applications that run on it, including old, bespoke apps that won’t easily run on anything else. Linux and OS X may be “as good” or “a little better” than Windows, but that has proven not to be enough to erode Windows’ market share significantly.
So even if the other mobile players do manage to make an OS “as good” or “a little better” than the iPhone OS, they’ve probably missed the boat. It’s the plethora of iPhone apps that are out there — and that are still coming in droves — that will likely ensure that the iPhone continues to thrive. Apple’s App Store has tens of thousands of apps to run on the platform, while the numbers offered by the competition are laughable.
Market leader Nokia’s market share is dropping rapidly, and if you’re wondering why and want a laugh go visit Ovi, Nokia’s app store. You’ll find a few wallpapers and ringtones, but apps? The paucity of what’s on offer beggars belief! Microsoft hasn’t even gotten around to building an apps store for Windows Mobile yet, and Blackberry’s App World is little better than Ovi.
What this means — and you have to love the irony — is that Apple’s iPhone OS has become the Windows of the mobile world, the OS of choice for developers of consumer apps. But what must be troubling for Nokia, Research in Motion and Microsoft is that despite the considerable work they have put in over the past few years to establish their mobile OSes in the enterprise — with centralized management and provisioning, encryption, remote device wipe, and so on — Apple is also already attracting considerable enterprise user interest despite having done comparatively little in this regard.
A quick look at Apple’s App Store shows plenty of business apps from the likes of Oracle, Salesforce.com, SAP and others that demonstrate that enterprise users are being wooed by big business.
What all this goes to show is that if you build an OS that blows away the competition in terms of looks and ease of use, as Apple has discovered with its iPhone OS, users will adopt it and developers will come. As Apple has learned to its cost in the desktop OS arena, being as good or a little better than the market leader simply isn’t enough to avoid humiliation.
Paul Rubens is an IT consultant and journalist based in Marlow on
Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally
sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a
DEC PDP-11 in 1979.