In what seemed like two separate, overnight explosions, both iOS and Android took the market by surprise, making the past three to four years especially hard for newcomers and even the veterans in the mobile realm. Mass adoption and rapid growth of these two smartphone platforms has proven to be problematic for the likes of smaller, up-and-coming firmwares such as webOS and Windows Phone. And even the platforms that used to run the show – most notably, BlackBerry OS – have found themselves scouring the bottom for remaining scraps of market share.
Despite the large chunk of the market that Android and iOS share, neither are perfect and there is space for improvement, possibly accompaniment. Coming from TechCrunch, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam certainly thinks so, stating, "The carriers are beginning to coalesce around the need for a third ecosystem," and over "the next 12 months I think it will coalesce and you will start to see one emerge as a legitimate third ecosystem."
Of the current crop, which platform could possibly be the third ecosystem? Well, there are several possibilities, and the outcome depends on the actions of a handful of companies and their willingness to stay afloat. Quite frankly, I have to agree with MG Siegler of TechCrunch. Research In Motion and Microsoft are going to be duking it out over the next few months, fighting tooth and nail for every piece of market share they can snag. But I'm not necessarily saying Windows Phone will outgun QNX. It isn't as black and white as comparing apples to oranges; there are a million other factors to consider.
BlackBerry has been around for ages; and their market share, stock prices and support from investors and shareholders has been fading with each passing moment. They just issued a temporary fix to hold customers over until QNX is ready for prime time. So far, it has been met with limited success. When Kevin Michaluk, arguably the biggest 'Berry addict of them all, begins to doubt RIM's future, things begin to seem fairly bleak. Granted, he as also started the "RIMPIRE STRIKES BACK" campaign in an attempt to kindle a little extra excitement for the arrival of QNX. RIM has one shot left before everyone writes them off entirely.
QNX being the third ecosystem is entirely possible, but the Waterloo-based firm will have to dig deep, shell out tons of cash into a decent marketing campaign and convince the disinterested consumer that things have actually changed – that QNX isn't the same ol' BlackBerry OS with a fresh face. Sure, we know that, but the vast majority of consumers will have no clue what QNX is. It's RIM's duty to be convincing and make that very clear. If they can succeed at this, BlackBerry has a chance at coexisting with the two dominating platforms.
Currently, Windows Phone has only a mere one percent of the smartphone market share in the United States. In comparison to Android's 40 percent, Apple's 28 percent and even RIM's 19 percent market share, Windows Phone's footprint is meager. But Microsoft has everything they need to compete – even in its current state. It has strong development support, rapidly growing application support, smooth-operating and very user-friendly software, and support from some of the strongest partner Android manufacturers. On the verge of a major update and new hardware (lest we forget the Nokia deal), the majority of the outstanding issues with the platform will be solved.
The biggest problems for Windows Phone to date is support from the carriers that supply their phones and marketing. Slim are the chances of you walking into a carrier store, asking for a Windows Phone device and not being hammered with "Have you considered Android?" That is, if you can even make it to the neglected far corner of the store before being averted by some mesmerizing Android device on a plinth. And that's just it. Marketing for Windows Phone is lackluster at best, shadowed by Android. Their "A phone to save us from our phones" campaign was flawed at best. People don't want to be saved from their phones anymore, they want something easy and fun to use – something they won't grow tired of after a few weeks of use. Microsoft needs to regroup, brainstorm and launch an entirely different marketing campaign. Getting carriers on-board with their mission and actually figuring out what that mission is will be the life or death of Windows Phone.
Although their odds of success are much greater, Windows Phone and QNX are hardly the only two candidates. HP has yet-to-be-determined plans for webOS, and with rumors of Apotheker – who never truly wanted Palm or webOS – being nixed, the software could easily thrive with the right partners. Based on existing popularity alone, a Samsung- or HTC-made webOS device would practically sell itself.
Not to mention, HTC is in talks to buy a smartphone platform to call their own. Intel is holding on to slim hopes of another partner since Nokia has redirected their focus to Windows Phone. And Samsung may be looking to open-source their in-house Bada OS, which has been the recipient of more success than Windows Phone overseas. All of these straggling platforms are great software hanging in limbo, waiting on the success of a single device to bring them into the limelight.
If I were to choose one that I hope accompanies Android and iOS, it's QNX, solely because I have a small place in my heart that will always be dedicated to Research In Motion. I want them to turn things around and rebound. The odds are slim, but this market is volatile and the slightest change can send you flying to the top. Likewise, the wrong move can turn you into a bottom feeder. Here's to hoping RIM can pull things together and succeed. Who knows, maybe more than one platform will pull through and we'll have four major smartphone ecosystems. Anything is possible.
Tell me, readers, who do you think will join Android and iOS as the "third smartphone ecosystem?" Does RIM have what it takes to make QNX a success? Will Mango and new hardware increase Windows Phone's appeal? Or does a pair like HTC and webOS or MeeGo sound like a match made in heaven?
Image via IntoMobile