Ladies and gentlemen, a monumental shift is happening in the battlegrounds of mobile technology -- and you don't have to look any further than Android fan fights to see the effects.
We'll get into the nitty gritty in a moment. First, we need to take a quick trip back in time: Not long ago, the emotion-packed debate among smartphone fans revolved almost exclusively around the "iPhone vs. Android" comparison. Just a couple short years ago, in fact, the main argument I heard from readers was how ridiculous it was that I dared suggest Android was in many ways more advanced than iOS.
Even the fact that I looked at ongoing trends and -- way back when Android accounted for a single-digit percentage of the global smartphone market -- had the audacity to point out that the platform was on its way to global domination was largely laughed off as blasphemous nonsense. I got called more bad names than I can count back then, and the number of people on the Android side of the fence was tiny compared to what it is today.
My, how things have changed. The latest numbers from ComScore show Android holding about 54 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, with Apple trailing behind at 34 percent. Globally, the disparity is even greater: According to IDC, three-quarters of all smartphones shipped worldwide in the third quarter of 2012 were Android-based, compared to just 15 percent for iOS. And remember, Apple launched its heavily hyped iPhone 5 within that very window.
The shift I'm talking about today isn't about those numbers, though -- not directly, at least. What's more interesting to me is how the effect of that market change is starting to trickle down to the broader user perspective.
Allow me to illustrate: Over the last couple weeks, I wrote a series of stories sharing my pre-holiday recommendations for the top three Android phones both in general and for the various U.S. carriers. All of a sudden, I noticed a virtual bar-room brawl breaking out about my choices -- people passionately arguing about how I could possibly pick Phone X over Phone Z, even insulting me because I didn't recommend the particular phone or manufacturer they preferred.
Stop and think about that for a second: I'm now getting heckled for recommending one Android device over another Android device. The heated debate -- the one that gets people's blood boiling -- is now over a perceived snub to someone's Android brand of choice.
How cool is that?
That changing level of loyalty is a testament to how much the mobile landscape has evolved. This particular anecdote is just one example, of course; you can see the effect in plenty of places, ranging from similar intraplatform arguments to the iReminiscent levels of hype and rumor surrounding some Android device launches. Heck, we even have Android manufacturers pushing out attack ads against each other these days (seriously -- who woulda thought?!).
So what's it all mean? Simple: The game is no longer merely about working to grab attention away from the iPhone. Sure, that's still a factor -- and the mobile market is in a constant state of flux -- but look at the numbers. For the moment, at least, that battle's been won.
And let's be honest: At this point, it doesn't take much to one-up Apple (or at least significantly differentiate from it). The real challenge now is to win over hearts within the ever-expanding and competitive Android ecosystem -- to stand out from the other Android manufacturers and stake a claim in this crowded realm of dessert-flavored delights.
That means LG has to keep stepping up its efforts if it wants to steal some of Samsung's share. HTC has to figure out a way to expand its availability and punch up its marketing if it's going to stay relevant. Motorola's gotta fight to rebuild its reputation as a first-class handset-maker. And Samsung -- much like Apple two years ago -- had better not rest on its laurels if it wants to hang onto its crown.
The best part? No matter how it all plays out, we, the consumers of Android products, invariably win. In terms of technology and innovation, Android is moving at a breakneck pace -- and it's no small wonder.
When you compare this to the Apple-centric state of the mobile tech ecosystem a few short years ago, it's really just mind-blowing. And it makes me more excited than ever to see what new competition-driven innovations -- and competition-fueled discussions -- 2013 will bring.
[Android battle image courtesy Vu Viet Anh (aoisora9x).]