Browser Warz: Smartphone and Desktop Edition

August 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

My hard-on for Google related news continues.

There have been a few articles recently about the staggering growth of Android’s market share in the smartphone arena. The BBC reported Android phone shipments increasing 886% compared to last year, while in the US alone Nielson reports that in the last six months Android market share has risen above the 23% held by Apple to 27%, thereby overtaking their most important competitor. However, it’s also worth stating, for the sake of balance, that Symbian overshadows both OSs in the worldwide market, claiming 43.5% of this lucrative pie, and then that’s followed by RIM, the Blackberry OS, trailing way behind at 18%, followed closely by Android at 17.1%, with Apple at 13.5%, and so on.

However, Google shouldn’t be celebrating just yet, says MG Siegler from TechCrunch, claiming that the handsets sales aren’t really that impressive considering how many phones now carry the OS and how many mobile carriers sell those phones – compared, that is, to the iPhone, which only has two models available on one mobile carrier. He concludes that the comparison is unfair, that it doesn’t take into account iPhone 4 sales, and that we should wait to see the iPhone on at least one other US mobile carrier before making any kind of real assertions.

Now, to be honest, it reads a bit like an Apple propaganda piece, especially when he states “most shocking thing about the news today that Android sales overtook iPhone sales for the first time last quarter is that it didn’t happen sooner”. However, he does raise a couple of good points – that iPhone 4 sales aren’t counted; and the iPhone’s limited availability. That’s all true, but unfortunately I think it points more to Apple’s straight-up unwillingness to make partnerships and instead rely on exclusivity agreements. I don’t think people need to be reminded about this, but this is a very similar path to the one they trod when Microsoft took the desktop OS market by storm, leaving Apple their very small, but pretty, niche.

Anyway, irrespective of the issues of comparing market share in the US, GfK reported a “staggering” 350% increase in handset contract sales in the UK, and that was over a three-month period between Q1 2010 to Q2 2010. This being the UK, the iPhone is out on all the major handsets, so MG Siegler’s criticism doesn’t really stand up to much over here. The fact is that all these stats point to a massive surge in the uptake of Android-based handsets and that this trend is likely to continue for a while yet. Frankly, whether it’s 886% or 350%, Google should feel very pleased with what they’ve accomplished, even though they’ve got a long way to go.

Onto a somewhat related topic, Gizmodo, among others, has reported that Microsoft quashed radical privacy features that it was planning to integrate with IE 8, and it was prevented from doing so because of internal company conflicts. The privacy settings in question would have blocked third-party trackers by default, essentially cutting off advertisers from the anonymous, personal information that would normally be disclosed in the background while users surfed the Web. For Microsoft, that’s a pretty big step towards giving users more control over what information they wish to disclose – which is why Brian McAndrews, senior VP at the company, previously a CEO of web advertising company aQuantive,  put the kaboose on the whole thing. Long story short, the IE dev team lost against him, and it resulted in one feature being dropped altogether and another that users would have to manually turn on every time they booted up the browser – in other words, making it absolutely bloody useless.

The reason I’m talking about this story is because people care about their privacy. Sure, they might eventually compromise on it – if, for instance, what is offered in return is substantial enough to warrant it – but it’s still an issue. The point is, Microsoft and Google, for all the money they can put into desktop browser development, are beholden to certain stakeholders who hold a massive interest in online advertising. For Microsoft, less so; but for Google, that just about counts everybody in the entire company.

Google’s Chrome OS has made impressive strides in the browser marketplace, currently holding a 7.1% share against Firefox at 22.9% and IE (all versions) at 60.7%. Pretty good considering how “young” it is, and I truly believe it has already surpassed the latest Firefox build in certain aspects. However, unlike Google, one thing the Mozilla Foundation doesn’t have to worry about is advertisers, which means they don’t have to design their browser with them in mind; and in fact, all they need to think about is the core user experience. This is the single greatest advantage Mozilla has over its rivals, and if they can compete in terms of offering more speed, functionality, better UI and integration with third-party plugins, then it will almost certainly keep them ahead of Google, if not Microsoft as well.

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