With iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, has America already won the Smartphone Wars?

Smartphones are our most mobile, most personal computers. There are already about one billion smartphones in use. At its peak, PCs were just over a billion units. If you believe, like me, that during this decade smartphones will replace the majority of feature phones now in use, then by 2020 we can expect at least 3 billion smartphones in operation all around the world.

Will they all be controlled by American companies? Has America already won the smartphone wars?

The answer is – it’s too soon to tell.

Right now, nearly every single one of the nearly 200 million smartphones that sell each single quarter are made by Android, which is owned by Google, or iPhone, made by Apple. Canada’s RIM continues to sell about 5% of the total number of devices, though Windows Phone, backed by Microsoft, is catching up. Given Microsoft’s global reach and resources it’s only logical to assume they will supplant RIM for the third-place ecosystem.

This means, Google Android, Apple iPhone and Microsoft Windows Phone will control the operating system of the new personal computing industry – and access to the web. Only, it’s not just operating systems. For content, Apple’s iTunes rules the world. Microsoft and Google are spending furiously to catch up. Apps – this new computing era’s software – are or soon will be accessed primarily via Apple’s App Store, Google Play and Microsoft’s ecosystem. Better still, for America, is that the VC industry and app developer funds are disproportionately concentrated here.

Payments, via iTunes, Google Checkout, Paypal, Square and a few others are America-centric. The mobile search market is dominated by Google. Apple’s Siri possibly leads in voice-based mobile search. Two of the most popular smartphone-centric services on the planet, Twitter and Facebook, are American. Similarly, we can’t discount the global popularity of YouTube, Gmail, Hotmail and other American-led software and services.

Can anyone catch up?

Again, the answer is…maybe.

Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars Microsoft has funneled to them, Finland’s Nokia continues to sell embarrassingly few Windows Phone devices. We must assume that Nokia will be forced to look for additional opportunities, such as a renewed focus on their low-end pseudo-smartphone Asha line, popular in India. South Korea’s Samsung easily dominates the Android market. They sell nearly as many Android devices as the next 10 Android handset makers combined. As I wrote previously, Samsung’s growing clout over the Android ecosystem, and their aggressive desire to mimic the Apple iPhone business model might lead them to take full control of Android.

We cannot overlook Asia’s role in the smartphone wars. Every iPhone, for example, is made in China. Though Apple manufacturing partner, Foxconn, has production facilities in Brazil, and unreliable rumors suggest they may one day build a factory in America, the fact remains that Apple is heavily reliant on China for manufacturing. Moreover, the top Android handset makers are all based in Asia. This includes Samsung, Huawei, Sony, LG, ZTE and others. Controlling the manufacturing of hardware not only gives Asia a prominent role in the ongoing smartphone wars, it affords them front-line knowledge on hardware innovation.

Moreover, the Asia market for smartphones is massive. Just three countries, China, India and Indonesia account for 2.5 billion of the world’s people and they have embraced mobile connectivity. Their unique needs, access points and budgetary constraints will have a stark influence on the ongoing development and success of all smartphone platforms.

Presently, America is dominating the smartphone wars. The odds of any non-American company building an OS and/or crafting a successful ecosystem alternative are exceedingly slim. But innovation, like smartphones themselves, are everywhere. In Africa, feature phones still dominate. So does M-Pesa, a Kenya-based mobile phone payment and money transfer platform. If the smartphone becomes the wallet – and the point of sale — then thanks to M-Pesa, Africa may lead the world in instant, mobile-based payments. There are also extremely popular, if localized services in Japan, Brazil, China and elsewhere. For example, China’s Sina Weibo, with about 400 million users, is nearly as popular as its counterpart, Twitter, with just over 500 million users.

The smartphone wars are not over. The iPhone, which led the global revolution in smartphone adoption, is only five years old. This technology and this industry are moving at light speed. Anything can happen, and from anywhere. It is a truly global phenomenon.


Author: Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about technology, immortality and food for ReadWrite, Techpinions, Unwired View and other publications. His thoughts on the 'smartphone wars' and how these are rapidly de-constructing markets, industries, business models and relationships around the world can be found on his personal site at www.brianshall.com.

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  • Wow

    I expect China to fork Android soon, don’t you? Repeating a strategy they’ve executed in search, wind mills, locomotives, consumer goods, whatever…

    I don’t think China or S Korea have any respect for IP inventions, corporate secrets. Who’s going to enforce the Western corporate law tradition over there?

    What will 300,000 software engineers accomplish with Android? And iOS? Lets see.

    How many Chinese software engineers does it take to own an OS? 300,000; 100 to steal it and 299,000 to manage it.

  • Alex

    Google checkout was rebranded google wallet within the past couple on months…

    Also the narrative that android is still playing catch up to the iphone is a little bit dated, just look at the figures you put up.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    Chinese have already forked it several times. Nothing caught up yet, but its only a matter of time.

    On the other hand – what does it matter what is forked in China? It will stay in China, if only because very few of us speak Chinese.

    On the other hand, if Samsung manages to further increase its Android dominance and then decides to fork it in a few years with Tizen/Touch Wiz on top – things might get really interesting

  • neji

    Its great to look at who’s winning the war but you fail to see how many jobs Asia gets out of the smart phones vs how many jobs USA gets out of it. So what’s better for the people in the country? Having the most popular smartphone is or having thousands and thousands of manufacturing jobs?

  • http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002VH8ECQ Brian S Hall

    Good point. Of course, 20,000 robots just arrived at Foxconn so I’m not sure how much longer those manufacturing jobs are safe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sale.etradesupply ETrade Supply

    Chinese People have good knowledge to clone iPhone, Samsung, HTC……