I know a number of people that switch between mobile phone operating systems more quickly than they change hair styles. While I’ve read commentary about people saying that “they need an app to be available before they’d switch platforms” – for the most part people only use a very small number of apps and those apps tend to be available on mobile platforms. Which is why people who were iPhone users one week seem to be Android users a week later.
There are enough users in the three largest mobile phone ecosystems that it makes sense for the creators of popular apps to publish to all platforms. It’s the same reason why you see games available for PlayStation and Xbox. Sure there are exclusives to each platform, but if you look at the most common mobile app activities, you can do them all whether you’re running an iPhone or a Galaxy, or a even a Lumia.
What this means in the medium and long term is that this is a race that won’t be won in the same way that the dominance of the desktop was won by Microsoft in the late 80’s and early 1990’s. The conditions aren’t the same. Mobile device operating system creators need to make the barrier for entry as low as possible. This has the follow on effect of reducing lock in. People are able to switch because the cost of switching these days is so low. The majority of people use only a small number of apps, and given that each app only costs a couple of dollars, repopulating a new device with the same apps that you had on your old device with a different operating system is likely to cost less than a night at the movies.
As long as the makers of each platform continue to want to create the devices and the software, they’ll still be in the game. If any of them get complacent and try to cruise on their current success, they’ll probably find themselves in the same position as BlackBerry.
So when you hear that device A is leading device B in the latest round of stats, remember that the champions of yesterday (for example Motorola, HTC, or BlackBerry) didn’t have a lock on success and there is little reason to believe that today’s champions will remain in the lead if they take their eye off the ball. Mobile is very much innovate or die and today’s current model “device of the moment” is unlikely to be even owned by the most die hard evangelists of the product in a couple of years time.