The Next Round of Platform Wars

30 04 2010

We have had lots of platform wars in the past and they are always difficult for software developers until the ultimate winner is determined.  For example:

  • PC Desktop.  Wintel won this one fairly early but there were a lot of entrants in that race.  And, remember OS/2?
  • Server Market.  It looked like Sun/Solaris was the emergent winner in the late 1990’s but I think we have to declare Linux as the winner in this one.
  • Smartphones.  The race is on.  At stake is control of the definition of the winning software development platform in that space, which is THE big growth platform of this decade.

ComScore Smartphone Market Share

Top Smartphone Platforms

Market Share as of February 10, 2010

Platform Share % Y/Y Growth %
RIM 42.1% +3.1 %
Apple iPhone 25.4% -0.004 %
Microsoft 15.1% -26.5%
Google 9.0% +137.0 %
Palm 5.4% -25.0 %

Reading the Market Share Numbers

This is a classic “confused” market from a software developer point of view:

  • RIM is the leader but growing slowly.
  • Apple showed little y/y growth, but has undoubtedly accelerated since these numbers were reported. The iPad will add to the platform numbers even though it is not a smartphone.
  • Microsoft and Palm are in sharp decline
  • The leader in growth is Google, but they are coming from a smaller base.

This is far from over.  Another view is by applications on the platform.  I don’t have the growth numbers on these, but the growth in applications has been red-hot for both.

Current Applications

  • Apple reports 185,000 apps
  • Google reports 38,000 applications

Alternatives for software developers

  • Apple and Google are both hot.  Port to both.
  • Port to Google first as there is a better chance of being the first in the application category.
  • Port to Apple first since it has the largest potential audience of app buyers.

The news on Wednesday of this week that HP would acquire Palm looks a little strange. In most network-effect markets, the market leader gets the vast majority of the profits.  In this case, the top two might be successful.  There is no #3 in a market like this.  It’s hard to figure what HP is thinking with this move.

The question is: Why would a software application developer spend resources porting to the Palm platform when they could be enhancing the competitiveness of their applications on Apple or Android?

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