Unwired Views for 2011. Vlad: Android No.1, new Symbian UI won’t impress, MehGo, WP7 peaks
Android will become the No.1 smartphone OS worldwide
As I’ve said before, I believe that by the end of this year, Android will overtake Symbian and claim the top smartphone OS spot worldwide. The momentum is just too strong for this not to happen.
In 2011, two things will happen in the Android phone world. First, the high-end will get even higher-specced devices. During 2010, Android was the OS that had the newest hardware first, and in 2011, that trend will continue. First dual-core phone? Android. First 1.2 GHz phone? Android. And so on. If there’s ever going to be a 2 GHz phone, chances are that it will run Android. Sure, the new hardware tech will make it onto phones powered by other operating systems. Eventually. It’s just that Android will get every new piece of hardware first.
And that will create something reminiscent of the PC market of yesteryear, when advances in CPU speeds were so big over such short periods of time, that in half a year the brand new PC you bought was already outdated. And while that does seem annoying, it did prompt people to upgrade their hardware much earlier in its lifecycle than they were used to, or, might I say, than they do now, when every advance is evolutionary, and sometimes you do need a magnifying glass to figure out if there’s any improvement over the previous generation of stuff.
This race to get the hardware specs as high as possible will result in great publicity for Android. For even if we all know that the magic number we read before ‘GHz’ isn’t everything, we’re all wired to believe that more is better (and generally it is, especially with regard to how Android performs). So people will keep being alert about new developments, and as a consequence will (though grudgingly) update more often than they used to. Upgrade their hardware, that is. Now that doesn’t mean that every single person that will buy the first 1GHz dual-core phone will also buy the first 1.1 GHz dual-core phone. But many people will keep hearing about all this magical tech, and will be persuaded to get a smartphone, even if they’ve had a feature phone.
The second thing that will happen in 2011 is that Android will truly make it onto the lower-priced smartphones, the entry-level if you will. Some may point to some devices launched in 2010 and say “but it’s already there, and hasn’t sold much”. Well, yes. Because Android (even 2.x, or especially 2.x, depending on how you’d rather look at things) on a 528-600 MHz processor and with 256 MB of RAM is just not worth using.
I’ll say that again. Not worth using. Linux was not made, nor ever properly optimized, for low-power, low-performance mobile chipsets. So while Symbian may perform very well on the 680 MHz that all the recently-launched Symbian^3 devices have, Android chokes. And it’s bad. Trust me. My first Android smartphone had an 800 MHz processor and ran Android 2.1. And it was barely usable. Also, anything below 512 MB of RAM is just not prone to let you actually multitask, regardless of the fact that the OS sort-of supports it. It’s from 768 MB and upward, that Android really is all it’s meant to be. And from 1 GHz up.
So, back to cheap phones. Cheap chipsets will be more prevalent in 2011, and they’ll be more powerful. Which means that we’re going to see 1GHz phones at the mid-end, and the 600 MHz stuff trickle down even more, into sub-$100 territory (that’s a price sans contract, mind). For less than a hundred bucks, and with Android 2.3 on board (which is faster in itself than, say, 2.1), these phones won’t be perfect, but they will prove to be barely usable for a lot of people.
So, Android will sell more at the high-end (thanks to the race for GHz), and more at the mid-level (thanks to phones there being specced like the high-end of 2010), and more at the entry-level, because advances in software (Gingerbread) have made running on 600 MHz barely acceptable. And at that price level, the first thing that counts is price. And the second thing will be to have a cool, hip OS. These cheap Android phones will have both.
Symbian will get a new UI that still won’t make American pundits take back their “Nokia is dead” claims
What Nokia doesn’t understand is that it will never (again) be truly successful in the US market, not unless it does some pretty dramatic things that it will surely not be willing to do. Let me explain. After a decade of being only the source of jokes about its mobile market, the US is finally leading in something – OS development. Think about it. Android, iOS, Windows Phone 7, WebOS – all American in origin. Couple that with the oh-so-prevalent in other domains mentality that the world ends where the US ends, and you start to understand why the American pundits all chant death marches for Nokia. A strange company from a strange country with strange strategies that no one really wants to understand or care about, because hey, look at us, we’re finally doing something in mobile.
So. In 2011, Nokia will not adopt Android for its smartphones. Nor WebOS. Nor iOS (since it’s not possible). As for Windows Phone 7… I don’t know. Regardless of evidence or what Eldar claims, I don’t think that will happen either. And if it does, it will, ironically, not help Nokia’s image perception in the US at all. At all. The titles you’ll see will all try to express the same thing, that no one will actually dare say, but still: “Nokia finally caves and accepts that the US is the king of mobile”. And some may even add “and finally we don’t have to think about that small strange cold country at all”. As I said before, no one will have the balls to outright say this, but it’s what will be the underlying truth to all the silly attention-grabbing headlines.
So, going WP7, Nokia will have thrown away most of its services-based strategy, and not made any advances in their perception problem in the US-led ‘West’. Which is why I don’t think it makes any sense, but then again, huge companies sometimes do things that don’t make any sense, so we’ll have to see on this one.
Symbian will get its long-awaited UI update that will not be named Symbian^4 anymore, because Nokia likes to confuse people with naming schemes (just ponder the C6-00 and the C6-01 and see if you can understand that). So, the new new Symbian (if Symbian^3 is now ‘the new Symbian’, one supposes that that’s what it’s going to be called) will come and leave everyone very disappointed. Again.
Because people are simply expecting too much. Because if Nokia came out with a UI that would be a carbon copy of iOS or Android, people would still be disappointed. Because if Nokia came out with a completely different UI paradigm, like WP7 has, people will still be disappointed. Because, let’s finally face it, being disappointed in Nokia is cool these days. Trendy, even. So the new UI will not help Symbian keep its No.1 position in smartphones globally. It will, however, help its market share not drop below No.2.
One of Nokia’s major mistakes in its Symbian strategy in 2010 has been launching touch-based smartphones at the lower-end that still run S60 5th Edition, a.k.a. Symbian^1. Which would have been OK in 2008, but not now. And what they don’t understand is that the silly UX in there will, for many people, ruin their perception of Nokia. And its brand value will continue to slide downward in 2011 as a consequence.
Because this silly forced-fragmentation will continue in 2011. When the high-end will get Symbian^4, the low-end will probably be stuck either on Symbian^3, or even on Symbian^1. Don’t be too surprised if you’ll see a couple of new ‘affordable’ smartphones being announced during MWC that will still run Symbian^1.
MeeGo will be late, and it will not be mature. I don’t expect to see any MeeGo smartphone on the market before Q3 of 2011, and even then, while the OS may be good, it will suffer from severe lack of applications. And unless Nokia and Intel throw a lot of money at this problem, like Microsoft has for WP7, this is how MeeGo will end the year – an interesting proposition, but hampered by lack of app support. This will all change in 2012, when the platform will mature, and Nokia’s Qt development strategy will finally fall into place. But in 2011? MehGo.
Bada will reach 5% of the total smartphone market. Seeing that, some ‘analysts’ will ‘analyze’ and come to the conclusion that this should be a very good OS, if it has come that far. It’s also the fastest growing new smartphone OS in the history of humanity (already), so hey, it must be very good.
It’s just that it’s backed, and heavily at that, by the No.2 phone manufacturer, and the No.1 electronics company in the world right now. That’s all. Reach. Sheer reach. And think of Bada as a dumbphone software replacement. Wouldn’t you rather buy a Bada phone than a dumbphone? Of course you would. And in 2011 I expect to see it come to even cheaper phones than in 2010, when it was pretty much tied to the midrange. If it does come to cheaper segments, it, along with Android, will quickly eat at Nokia’s stronghold there, especially as both Android and Bada are miles away in terms of UX from Symbian^1.
Windows Phone 7
Windows Phone 7 will get two updates this year, well two new-feature updates, as it may get more bugfix releases of course. WP7 will peak at around 5-7.5% of the smartphone market. Because it is interesting, at least compared to the ‘big two’ – iOS and Android, but not interesting enough. Because the Zune Pass only works in the US and UK. Because who knows how geo-restricted the Xbox Live stuff is. Because Microsoft had some good ideas, but, like Nokia, it’s a company that’s too big to execute anything fast and good at the same time. And once WP7 gets copy&paste, people will realize that the reason they didn’t stick with it wasn’t the lack of that feature. It was the OS itself.
Obviously, the story will be quite different in the US. There, I expect WP7 to battle it out with BlackBerry OS for No.3. The first two will be, in this order, Android and iOS. But I expect a lot more people that have dumbphones to switch to WP7 than people that have other smartphones.
In 2011, Android will really take off on tablets, helped by the impending release of Honeycomb, that will be a version of the OS optimized for tablets. Many people expected 2010 to be the year of the Android tablet, but, in sheer numbers, the truth is that 2011 won’t be that either. For the iPad will continue to have more than half of the market, and easily. But, Android will grow in this space, and its growth patterns will closely match those it has seen in smartphones in 2010. So expect bombastic titles on blogs, such as “Android grows 1000% in tablets”.
2012, though, is another story. That may be the year when Android surpasses iOS in tablet market share, but 2011 will certainly be not. That said, the tablet market as a whole will grow in at least two digits, helped by the new iPad and the myriad of new Android tablets that are about to be unveiled soon.
That’s all, folks – as they say. I know I haven’t mentioned a lot of things, not even in passing, but I’ve only left out the things I don’t feel I can predict even fairly accurately.
Before you go somewhere else, I urge you to stick around and read Staska’s take on 2011, Brad’s predictions and Florin’s gaze into the crystal ball. You’ll see that despite thinking rather different things about this industry, we can still work as a team and have thoughtful conversations with one another (I swear!) – so perhaps that’s something we all need to learn to do more of in the comments, here and elsewhere.