Popping the Android-iOS/Windows-Mac OS Bubble

It has been bandied about a lot lately that the fight between Android and iOS is the same as the fight between Windows and Mac OS. Conventional wisdom says they are the same; my gut tells me they are different. To make the historical connection, one can compare operating systems or one can compare device manufacturers. Today I want to look at device manufacturers. For that, let’s use a chart from Horace Dediu’s excellent blog, Asymco:

As you can see, Apple trails only Nokia as the leading manufacturer of devices and this chart is now acting as a data point in my historical perspective.

At the height of the Mac OS/Windows wars, the largest hardware vendors were not Apple. The last time Apple was in the top 5 PC vendors was 1996 and even then they accounted for only 6% of all computers sold. It is also important to note that over the past 15 years the percentage of the market dominated by the top 5 went from about 35% to almost 60% and those five all bundled Windows. Since all the revenues (and, presumably, the vast amount of profit) were flowing to only a few leaders, I would expect that the rise in total market share percentage from 35 to 60% also correlates with the demise of many PC manufacturers. (Source is here.) This also leaves me with a second conclusion: the “war” between Mac OS and Windows was primarily imagined by those of us who cared about Mac OS. Windows and its vendors collectively dominated operating system units, hardware unit sales and the top five were mostly profitable to boot. There was no war.

Now let’s look at the smartphone market today. Apple has been in the top five for four years and took over the number two spot from RIM last year, continuing to grow leaps and bounds. Apple will likely pass 20% of the devices sold this year, which matches the anecdotal data that Apple is dominating the #1 (iPhone 4) and #2 (iPhone 3Gs) best selling smartphones worldwide. Three of the top five worldwide hardware vendors have, to this point, been built with proprietary operating systems and those three combined control over 60% of the smartphone market, the same percentage as the top five PC manufacturers, again all Windows systems. The rest of the market is predominantly Android.

This analysis is not an attempt to say that iOS will be bigger than Android or Apple devices will outnumber Android devices. I actually don’t think either will come to pass. The entire point here is to continue testing whether iOS-Android is the same war as Mac OS-Windows. Clearly, it is not. Does that mean it will turn out the same? This analysis tells me that it won’t be the same outcome. Apple will never be an also-ran like it was in the PC market.