First, let me set the scene. Last week, Oracle filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming that the Android mobile OS infringes on Oracle's Java copyrights. MediaPost offered an excellent compilation of related commentary -- with the headline, "How Oracle's Legal Challenge To Google Benefits Microsoft."
Am I missing something here?
Of course I am not casting any aspersions whatsoever on MediaPost, as ever the preeminent destination for information, industry news, and world-class blogging (wink, wink). I am just wondering why, specifically, ZDNet's Mary-Jo Foley identified Microsoft as being the one who will come out on top in this scenario: "Microsoft likely will benefit from the fallout of the suit to some degree as developers and customers wonder and worry about the fate of Android-based phones."
Perhaps. But that's like saying that the Barking Spider Resurgence Party (yes, there is such a thing) will benefit if the Republicans get hit by a scandal. After all, according to the latest issue of Australian tech mag T3, there are currently only 2,500 apps for Windows Mobile, as compared to 200,000 for iPhone and 50,000 for Android. (As of this writing, AndroLib puts the number of Android apps around 110,000.) Even Blackberry and the Nokia Ovi store have more apps than Microsoft, with 6,000 and 10,000 respectively. I'd never even heard of the Ovi store until today.
To rub salt in the wound, more than one of those iPhone apps actually come from Microsoft: Bing's Chicktionary, Windows Live Messenger, and Seadragon Mobile are just a few of them.
No, the battle for dominance of the mobile developer space is a two-party fight between Google and Apple -- and, for the moment, Apple's winning. Not only does it have four times the number of apps, but its stricter controls make for a higher quality inventory. As Jared Newman at PCWorld points out, "Android's situation differs from the iPhone because Apple restricts developers, but Google does not. So while Apple cuts down on apps built from templates that merely pull content from the Web and purges 'overtly sexual apps,' the Android Market can grow in any way it pleases, for better or worse."
Microsoft doesn't fare any better on the ubiquity of its operating system. Worldwide, Nokia's Symbian holds the top spot, with 41.2% of the market, followed by RIM (18.2%), Android (17.2%), iOS (14.2%) and, finally, Windows Mobile with 5%. (For the algebraically inclined, Linux and "other" make up the remaining 4.2%.)
It's also worth noting that it's developers, not end users, who are more likely to change their behavior because of the lawsuit. End users usually don't pay attention to this sort of thing until it directly affects them, while developers have to make a long-term bet on the uptake of their chosen platform and the size of their chosen app market.
No, if anyone is to benefit from a Google stumble, it's Apple -- which is precisely why Apple should be particularly wary of waking up the executive brain. My friend Neil is one of the millions of people who view themselves as "Apple people," people whose purchase of Apple products is embedded in their dinosaur brains. Until recently, he wouldn't have considered buying anything else, but the company's sloppy handling of Antennagate has Neil consciously evaluating his options and, as TechCrunch points out, Apple seems to be keeping the issue right up there in the collective conscious.
We're a long way from knowing how the legal battle between Google and Oracle will shake down, and whether Apple will be able to leverage the situation to its advantage. But, in the meantime: Good night, Microsoft, and good luck.
Comments welcome as always, here or via @kcolbin.