On Jan 31st, RIM launched Z10 handset to much fanfare – rebranded the company, introduced Alicia Keys as the new Creative Director, showed off the new BB10 OS and even spent as much as $3m for a 30 second Superbowl spot. Everyone was left wondering whether BB10 would save the newly christened BlackBerry from near doom.
The world now has four modern mobile operating systems –the dominant two being iOS and Android, the fairly new Windows Phone 8 that is yet to make a dent in the incumbent’s market share, and now BB10. That is definitely an improvement over the number of operating systems available for PCs – Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8. Vista is intentionally left out while OS X, Linux, Chrome and DOS are, at best, a tiny fraction.
The PC market suffers from the ‘Me Too’ effect where nearly all PCs bear similar specs and prices where OEMs and retailers rely heavily on vendors to differentiate their offerings. The question is: will smartphone and tablet manufacturers follow the same route? That is, will the market come to a stage where nearly all devices running Windows Phone 8 and Android will bear similar specs and prices? And in an effort to grow, will the only differentiation be price that will similarly lead to a downward spiral with no clear winner.
I excluded BlackBerry and Apple as both are part of a vertically integrated system where the hardware and software are owned by BlackBerry and Apple respectively. If BlackBerry was to license BB10 to third party device makers as recent Lenovo rumors hinted at, it would also get lumped with Windows Phone 8 and Android – but that is a question only time can answer. Maybe my purchase of the Z10 device could be the tipping point to salvage the fortunes of BlackBerry.
Coming back to how successful tablet and smartphone makers using Android have differentiated themselves thus far – Amazon and Barnes and Noble were listed by IDC (Source: 4Q12 Tablet Tracker press-release ) in the top 5 device makers for the volume of tablets shipped. Amazon’s Kindle Fire, based on Android differentiated itself from other Android tablets by marrying a modified OS with its content rather than differentiating merely on price.
The other participant in the IDC list was Samsung – Samsung’s Galaxy Note merged the concept of a phone and tablet with its size and stylus features. The stylish designs of the Tab and Galaxy series accompanied by the legal wrangling with Apple have seen Samsung’s share sky rocket. In fact, Techeye recently noted that some consumers equate Android and Samsung’s Galaxy brand which is akin to when Google became a verb synonymous with web searches. Asus, which is featured on the list too, differentiates its Android offerings with some unique designs such as the Transformer, PadFone and Google Nexus.
Viewing the situation with academic lenses, it can be a simple case of ‘Differentiate or Die’ for tablets and smartphones. But then again, in this still burgeoning market where the markets of India, China and Africa represent huge opportunities, there is plenty of room for competitors competing on price. It won’t be long before we see the low cost device manufacturers either existing the market naturally or being absorbed by the bigger players.
What do you think?