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Samsung, Apple, Innovation And Fishwrap

Chris Silva

This post first appeared on Chris Silva's blog Make Mobile Work.

In the wake of the Samsung/Apple trial verdict the news is crawling with hyperbole about how disruptive the verdict will be to the mobile OS ecosystem, specifically Android’s momentum. Nothing new in the world of tech reporting, of course. In reality, life is long and the sea changes predicted rarely amount to more than surface ripples. Will Android and its ecosystem be affected by the recent pro-Apple verdict in its battle against Samsung? Sure, but I don’t think the results will be nearly as dire as predicted.

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Here’s why this isn’t bad news, per se:

  • Momentum is on Android’s side. As I’ve been vocal in stating, Android has some significant momentum around it these days. The sheer number of Android devices shipping has continued to be a force in mobile, based on the data from Digitimes research, it’s put up the strongest growth numbers consistently, only recently trumped (in 2012) by Windows Phone 7. Fact is, there are a lot of Android users out there and more carriers have devoted shelf space to Android devices than any other mobile OS in the past three years. This is momentum that iOS initially had out of the gate and still holds, though to a lesser degree and that Windows Phone is still trying to build, not helped by the fact that current devices won’t be carried forward into the world of Windows 8. Consumers adopt what they can get their hands on, right now that’s most often an Android device by sheer numbers.
  • The verdict can help drive a better Android product. Whether or not you buy the argument that Google’s design of its Nexus devices is aimed at avoiding copyright infringement claims, those devices, with the backing of Google, provide an ideal user experience for Android users through purposeful design and better access to software updates. Ideal, Android and experience are not words you often find in the same sentence when discussing Android devices but that’s starting to change. Google is unlikely to ever take the vertically integrated approach that Apple has taken with its devices, despite its recent buy of Motorola Mobility, but fewer low-tier and off-current-OS devices pumped into the market means a more consistent user experience that’s on par with iOS. Let’s be honest, that’s the comparison that matters.
  • Microsoft Reigns In Enterprise, But Google Is A Formidable Challenger: Much has been made of the potential upside for Microsoft that the verdict brings forth. A new OS on the way, DNA shared with the tools most enterprises thrive on and likely little to be concerned about in the war on patents, it would seem Microsoft is in the catbird seat to take on new smartphone acquirers. Sure, they’re seeing their numbers rise but I suspect that’s a lot of BlackBerry user exodus seeking a similar flavor of enterprise tech. There’s one thing, though, that this analysis overlooks and that’s consumer-driven device preference. It’s what brought iOS into the enterprise and what’s pushing Android adoption though IT has been slower to pick up on the latter. Users want to go with what’s familiar and even if that’s a minor improvement on an Android experience that’s been lacking, at least it’s familiar. Familiarity and and a curated list of apps and tools beats learning a new system and its offerings. Pair that with a continued expansion of Google Apps (especially Gmail) into 5 Million-and-counting enterprises and Microsoft is not the only game in town that plays nicely with the boss’s tools.

So, in the end, is there room for innovation in the mobile space? Yes, there is much. None of today’s contenders – as they now stand – are going to be able to play in the multi-screen, natural interaction, massively pervasive world of tomorrow’s computing, but I hope that this and any future actions don’t quash the potential of tomorrow’s technology in protecting the uniqueness of today’s.

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Years ago I worked on an ad campaign during a brief flirtation with advertising as an intern. The campaign was for what was to become a future employer of mine and stated, “today’s research is tomorrow’s fishwrap.” I’d argue that, at least philosophically, “technology” and “research” are interchangeable.

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