Shifting Mobile Market share keeps Nearshore Developers on their toes

When you consider today’s smartphone operating systems, a handful of software environments lead the field. They haven’t always been in their current positions. Software and hardware innovations may eventually dislodge them. The software engineers at Tiempo Development are deeply involved with the Android and iOS platforms, both in terms of development as well as anticipating what comes next. As the industry changes, we will be ready with our skills and resources, so our clients can continue to profit from high-value apps and solutions we create on their behalf. Here is an overview of industry leadership and market shares in the recent past, the current moment, and the likely near future.

Past: Early leaders yield the spotlight

Almost 20 years ago, Palm devices and the Palm OS were an important milestone on the road to modern mobility. Palm first combined digital technology and paper in a portable device that appealed to consumers. Starting in 2000, Microsoft began releasing mobile versions of Windows, rebranding them repeatedly until Windows Phone arrived in 2010.

But it was Research In Motion (RIM) that made the biggest splash in the mobile arena with its family of BlackBerry devices. Popular in many corporations, the BlackBerry was mostly used for checking email and making phone calls in business environments, but with BlackBerry Messenger and decent internet navigation it also became a fun tool to connect with friends and colleagues. BlackBerry was the leader in the early smartphone market until a series of unfortunate decisions tipped the balance to Symbian, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

The Symbian OS, supported by major phone manufacturers such as Nokia, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, and Motorola dominated the consumer market for smartphones, starting around the last third of the first decade of the new millennium, especially in Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia. In 2008, Nokia acquired Symbian Ltd. and became the owner of the Symbian OS. However, when Samsung, LG, and Motorola migrated to Android and its cool interface, this was devastating for Symbian with its more old-fashioned look. In 2011, Nokia dropped Symbian entirely in favor of the Windows Phone operating system. Effectively, it was all over for Symbian at that point.

Present: The ubiquitous, app-driven smartphone

Smartphones as we know them now, along with the huge fascination they have for millions of consumers, did not really come into existence until 2007, when Apple launched its first iPhone. The device offered a fabulous user experience and successfully combined a phone, an iPod, and the internet. The multi-touch screen almost instantaneously made unacceptable the small keyboards widely in use until then. The iPhone also had excellent screen resolution and a multitude of other features that endeared it to smartphone users. The momentum of the iPhone peaked in 2009 with close to 42 percent of global market share, and declined in the years since then with the rise of Android and the many companies that support that operating system. An element of consumer fatigue with the many subsequent iPhone releases, along with cost considerations, probably contributed to this as well.

Most of us today don’t remember that Android was originally developed as an operating system for photo cameras back in 2003. Its inventors, Rich Miner, Andy Rubin, and Nick Sears, likely never dreamt that Android would ever become the dominant operating system for smartphones, with close to 81 percent of global market share currently. Of course, none of this would have happened without Google. The company acquired Android in 2005 and provided the financial backbone to evolve the operating system with an interface and a user experience comparable to the iPhone. Then, phone manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, and Motorola abandoned Symbian and adopted Android in hopes of besting Apple. The completely unforeseeable result is that a software product with an open-source background has become the world’s first choice when it comes to smartphone operating systems.

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Future: Another upset will happen, but probably not very soon

At this point, it’s tempting to anticipate what will happen to the leading smartphone operating system platforms, especially if one is in the business of building apps and solutions to run on them.

There is no good news to report about BlackBerry. Canadian investors have attempted to save the company, which continues to focus on enterprise tools, but also tries to increase its presence in the consumer market. Unless a dramatic, unexpected turnaround happens, BlackBerry will eventually fade out and leave many of us with great memories.

The future of Microsoft Windows Phone depends on a number of factors, including whether Microsoft can win adoption from phone makers such as LG and Motorola, or whether it will remain exclusive to Nokia. Microsoft is largely ignored because of its corporate image by the millennials who own most of the world’s smartphones, but it is very possible that the usability and cool interface of the Windows Phone environment win over more and more users, especially as many more apps are created. Windows Phone may also gain more momentum as markets understand what a good job Microsoft has done with mobility elsewhere, for example, in the Surface tablet series. I believe Windows Phone, third in the market today, has the potential to surge over the next few years.

Apple iOS, I expect, will solidly continue in the second place. Both the high-end consumer market and the corporate segment are strongly loyal to the iPhone because of its reliability, usability, and controlled environment. As long as Apple remains successful, and product lines like the iPad carry on generating substantial revenue, the iPhone will remain a safe choice for many smartphone users. It may lack the excitement of the early days, and, ironically, eventually be seen much like Microsoft’s entry was perceived until recently.

Android, the currently leading contender, enjoys the powerful support of Google and Samsung, but it also needs to cement its relationships with LG and Motorola, which means keeping them away from Microsoft. Performance, usability, and user experience are in Android’s favor, certainly while there are thousands of free apps with cool and valuable capabilities that people want. I expect that Android will remain in its position for some time, certainly the remainder of the current decade. Today, I do not see any up-and-coming industry giant poised to topple Android’s lead with amazing, innovative hardware or software.

In the meantime, our nearshore developers at Tiempo are evolving their skills and continuing to build apps and solutions for Android and iOS environments. One of our next blog posts by my colleague Luis Guardado will talk more about the decisions that companies need to make as they think about native, mobile app development and weighing that against the advantages of responsive design.


If you would like to talk about what our nearshore development can help you accomplish on the Android or iOS platform, please contact me at jfuentes@tiempodevelopment.com, or get in touch with Tiempo at contact@tiempodevelopment.com. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. You might also find our case studies and other services interesting.