Sunday, March 11, 2012

The new mobile platform wars: It’s time to look beyond iOS vs. Android

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It is shaping up to be a critical year for mobile tech.

If you’re tired of the endless iOS versus Android market share reports, take heart: There are new issues, and new challengers, making 2012′s mobile landscape more complex and more important than ever before.

Windows 8 is emerging as a viable threat to the iPad, while Android tablets continue to struggle. Google and Facebook are continuing to square off for domination of social interactions on your phone. And several mobile payments services, including Google Wallet, Isis, and PayPal’s offerings, are hoping to replace your credit card. More than ever, platforms are fighting to get and maintain a share of what you carry with you every day.

Meanwhile, the years-long iPhone versus Android battle has reached a bit of a standstill. Android continues to dominate in terms of overall smartphones sold (though Apple had a particularly great fiscal first quarter), and Apple remains triumphant in terms of actually making money from its devices.

We’re going to be discussing all of the above, and more, at our second Mobile Summit next month in Sausalito, California. If you haven’t yet scored one of the 180 invitations to this exclusive event, here’s a glimpse of what we’re expecting for the next year in mobile platform wars.

Tablet wars: Episode 3

We’re now three years into the post-iPad tablet generation, and it seems like the competition is finally beginning to get interesting. After suffering through mostly lackluster Android tablets over the last few years, Microsoft has emerged as a surprisingly refreshing tablet competitor with Windows 8. (Check out our in-depth preview with an early Windows 8 tablet.)

As I’ve written before, Microsoft is taking its approach to tablets a step beyond Apple with Windows 8, something that the company made abundantly clear during its unveiling for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview in Barcelona. Unlike Android or iOS, Windows 8 is a full-fledged desktop operating system, not just a souped-up mobile OS on a bigger screen. Microsoft is positioning Windows 8 as its OS approach for all computers in the next decade, not just tablets.

Indeed, Microsoft can show Android tablets a thing or two. Google has said that it’s going to be focusing even more on tablets this year, but I think the bigger problem for the search giant is its fundamental misunderstanding of tablets. They’re not just bigger mobile devices, as Android tablets initially were. Instead, tablets are more akin to PCs, thanks to their bigger screens and support for peripherals like keyboards.

The confusingly named new iPad will likely continue to dominate the tablet market (and the now-cheaper iPad 2 won’t do Android tablets any favors either). But Microsoft has a good shot at snagging the second-place spot this year — if it can keep Windows 8 tablets cheap and keep computer makers from ruining its shiny new OS with bloatware.

Facebook and Google battle for your smartphone

One of the biggest reveals from Facebook’s S-1 filing (its first step towards an IPO) was the huge risk that mobile represented for the social networking giant. Facebook said it had an impressive 425 million users accessing through mobile, but at the time it didn’t have a way to monetize them. To address that problem, Facebook recently revealed its mobile ad plan, and it looks a lot like Twitter’s: sponsored posts within your friend stream (see the screenshot to the left).

Google, meanwhile, is still trying to coax consumers into Google+, but it will likely have less trouble making a buck from them. I expect to see sponsored posts from Google+ as well, but knowing Google’s ad mastery, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had some surprises up its sleeves.

There’s no doubt that mobile is the next big goal for social networking dominance. You can look to the rise of other mobile-only social networks, like Instagram and Foursquare, as one major indicator. And unless you’re Google, you’d be crazy to take on Facebook head-on when it comes to launching a mainstream social network (LinkedIn and Twitter have been successful by focusing on things completely different from Facebook).

Last year, Facebook launched its innovative Timeline feature, and Google officially launched Google+. With the initial ground laying already done on the desktop side, expect both social networks to spend more time and energy perfecting their mobile experience.

Battle for your mobile wallet

After years of hype, we’ll finally begin to see mobile payments become a reality in 2012. PayPal is expanding its payments program to all Home Depot stores, and it’s gearing up to show off its long-awaited mobile wallet app at South-by-Southwest in a few days. Google Wallet will make its way to even more Android phones, and the carrier-backed Isis will continue to piece together its mobile payments platform.

2012 will also mark the first time most consumers get their hands on mobile payments offerings. Many have dabbled in mobile payments with Starbucks’ uber popular mobile app, but that’s a relatively simple solution. It’ll be interested to see if complete mobile wallets — which will not only handle payments, but also keep track of your purchases, loyalty cards, and wrangle special offers — actually take off with mainstream consumers.

More so than the other platform battles, there’s a ton of money at stake in mobile payments. Juniper, for example, predicts mobile payments to hit a whopping $670 billion by 2015 (with about $74 billion of that being NFC payments).

Since we’re at such a nascent stage, any mobile payment success helps to legitimize the field, according to Isis CEO Michael Abbott. In an interview with VentureBeat at the Mobile World Congress, Abbott said he didn’t think the mobile wallet war actually existed, since all mobile payments solutions are fighting against payment options consumers are already used to.


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