The Ever Changing Mobile Landscape

The mobile landscape is constantly changing forcing those that develop mobile applications to always be adapting to those changes. As things change, trends become visible which define the mobile world. Here's our take on the mobile landscape as it stands today. It may be different tomorrow, at which time we'll reevaluate, adapt, and change. Most of the mainstream media doesn't understand the current mobile landscape. They write article after article about Google, HTC, Motorola, and etc wondering if their next device is going to be an "iPhone killer" or an "iPad killer." I almost cry every day when I see and read articles like that. Not because they're wrong but because they miss the point. Actually I believe that they don't understand the point. The goals in the mobile world are different depending on the company. What is important to Apple isn't important to Google and isn't important to Microsoft and vice versa.

For Apple, success is defined by popularity of individual devices. This means being number one in every category they're in but not trying to be number one at everything. They want the most popular phone. But they don't care if they have the biggest market share. For them having 25% of the market with one line of phones is more important than having 35% of the market with a whole slew of lines. They've built their whole revenue structure around that. Apple makes both the operating system and the hardware. This allows them to tightly integrate the two together to create and sell very beautiful very easy to use devices. The side affect of that is that there are not a lot of options as far as shapes or sizes go because that's not what they care about. They care that the options that they give you work well, work consistently, and look wonderful. So Apple makes 1 phone at a time not 10. The only thing that will vary on an Apple phone is the storage size and the wireless radios that they use.

For Google its quite different. They're not a hardware manufacturer. They make software, whether it's the Android operating system, Google search, Gmail, YouTube, or their calendar. Success for them is defined by reach within the market. This is because their revenue structure isn't built around margins on phones. Their revenue structure is built around integration, search, and advertising. The larger their reach the greater the likelihood that you'll be clicking on one of their ads or be searching using their search site. So for them getting GMail, Google Maps, the Android Market, etc. into most people's hands is what defines success for them.

For example, if Apple had 40% of the mobile phone market between their iPhone line of phones (iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S) but their current phone had 10% Market share while the HTC Evo had 20% they would consider that failure. Their goal isn't to get 40% of the market (though they'll gladly take it). Apple's goal is to have their phone be the single best on the market. If you don't believe me just look at their laptop, desktop, and tablet strategies. It's the exact same strategy. And it works for them because they've spent years and years building their business on that strategy. Apple has the most popular phone on the market by a landslide.

On the other hand if the HTC Evo was the most popular phone in the mobile phone world but there were more iOS, WP7, or other devices on the market Google would say they're failing in the market. That's because their goal isn't to have the most popular phone on the market. It's to have the biggest share of the market. That's not how their business structure works. They need reach. They need eyeballs looking at their products and fingers touching their products because they don't make the physical phones. They make things that eventually lead you to search and advertising. In order to help get this reach they give away their operating system. They want it on more phones in the market than anything else. And this strategy works for them. Android is the most popular OS (in the US) on a smartphone by a landslide. Android is also really catching up in the "beauty" field as well. They still have a ways to go to be on par with Apple. But they're making tremendous strides. Look at what you get with Honeycomb verses what you got with Eclair. It's a world of difference from a UI standpoint.

What that means is that both Google and Apple are winning in the mobile landscape. How can that be? Because they're not competing in the same game. Yes they're both in the same arena and it is possible for one to affect the other. But for the most part they're playing different matches.

At Subsplash, we're aware that the mobile landscape is being defined by multiple paradigms. It's not a one size fits all world. We need to be conscious about the platform we're building but even more conscious about how the design plays out on any particular platform. The moment we stop doing that is the moment we stop being useful to our clients.