Whatever platform positioning has gone on thus far between Google Android and Apple iOS will seem like pre-game warm-ups compared to the next year. As Google gains massive scale with its fragmented but open model for Android, Apple continues to leverage that special brand-love and the joy of integration.
Google and its OEM partners clearly want to humanize the robot. A mobile handset ad I watched last night in fact features the Android logo literally playing the role of the friendly assistant, helping the lady of the house plan a party. Android is in that awkward position of being way ahead on points but still not finding its way into the hearts of many users. Our own Third Screen columnist Chuck Martin argues in his review of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus that the 4.0 version of the Google mobile OS is the “new state of the art” and may win over hearts.
Too late for my daughter, who was gushing over her new iPhone after years of DROID struggles. The lagginess of her multiple Android units, which also needed frequent replacements after breakdowns, was a constant cause of complaint. After just a day with the iPhone, she bought into the “it just works” gestalt.
Nielsen announced yesterday that Apple continues to have the lion’s share of handset sales. In its latest roll-up of surveys, its list of top-give smartphone device manufacturers in the U.S. has Apple on top with 29%, followed by HTC at 21%, RIM Blackberry at 17%, Samsung with 11% and Motorola at 11%.
Yesterday Fortune did some back-of-the-envelope calculation regarding holiday smartphone sales using estimated and declared activation numbers from both Google and Flurry. Phillip Elmer-Dewitt conjures that on Christmas Day itself Android had about 2.6 million activations compared to 4.2 million for iOS, which would include iPads and iPog Touches. Let the platform wars and the relentless metrics mangling begin.
I expect Apple to get more aggressive in this battle as the year progresses. The brand may have been happy in the personal computer world with a slice of the overall OS market, but I doubt that is the game for it in mobile. Google will be taking direct aim at sexy features like Siri and Airplay with its own similar functionality. Apple will have to start thinking about what kind of handset and tablet versioning will help it counter Google’s unstoppable reach play. Still, the Android brand will have to battle its own fragmentation in the process -- which phones will carry what features? And then of course there is that touchy tablet problem.
As the smartphone penetration rate passes 50% in 2012, the two big rivals will be battling over a next tier of consumer. These targets will be farther afield from early adopters. Many of them probably spent the last few years laughing at the gadget geeks who carried bricks in their pockets. How many of your friends with feature phones still wave them in front of you as you wait for an app to download? “It’s a phone. It makes phone calls,” they boast. Getting these consumers on board may take different tactics. Samsung has already gone negative in its Apple fanboy mockery. Next holiday, the smartphone ads may start looking more like political spots.