The meteoric rise of smartphones and tablets has entered our lives with such velocity that it is difficult to imagine what life was like before them, that’s how much of an integral part of our lives they have become. By the time we ring in the New Year for 2014, 6% of the global population will own a tablet and 22% of the world’s population will own a smartphone according to research by Business Insider. The study shows some very interesting stats concerning trends with both devices. Their research also highlights that mid 2012 was the time that global per-capita rate of smartphone ownership beat that of personal computers. I have listed some of the standout stats below:
• In 2009 global smartphone penetration was 5%, by the end of this year it will be 22%, an increase of nearly 1.3 billion smartphones in four years.
• Tablets are showing even quicker adoption rates than smartphones, whereas smartphones took nearly four years to reach 6% penetration from when the devices first started to register on a global scale, it took tablets just two years to achieve the same results.
The reason I have highlighted these astronomical figures is to give us an idea of the playing field that these two technology giants operate in and are currently tussling for supremacy over. The content industry, according to Fred Vogelstein, is an industry now worth $250 billion, that’s 250 billion reasons why this market is so important to two of its main players. Vogelstein, editor with wired.com, is someone who has been following this titanic struggle between these two major players for over a decade.
Vogelstein, who has recently released a book covering the subject entitled “Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution”, firmly believes that this tussle of the goliaths will eventually yield a victor, Vogelstein believes that this will be a “winner-take-all” fight. “History,” he says, “suggests there will be a winner”. A winner of what you may ask? The operating system of your life is the general consensus; whoever ultimately comes out on top will be dominant in the distribution of content into our lives, quite the prize.
Firing shots across the bow
This isn’t the first time Apple have become embroiled in an all-out war with a fellow competitor, one only has to cast their mind back (if you’re old enough!), to their bout with Microsoft in the 1908’s. Only yesterday, Apple won their retrial with Samsung for patent infringement, gaining $290 million dollars in the process. This follows on from the original trial last year when Apple were awarded $1.05 billion but had this cut by $410.5 million by US District judge Lucy Koh after finding the original verdict was flawed due to miscalculations involved in the time period that the infringement occurred.
This has been seen by many as an indirect shot by Apple towards Google with Samsung being the pawn, the theology being that Google are the creators of the android software that drives the majority of the world’s tablets and smartphones. Apple has been hit hard by androids popularity and Samsung is the biggest and most lucrative maker of android products. In an interesting twist, Samsung actually make the memory chips and processors that power Apple’s devices, from this one has to assume that Apple are merely giving Samsung an expensive slap on the wrist while their prime target remains Google.
The quest for world domination
The war to dominate the devices and content that we will use today and in the future actually has a slightly checkered history, much like a lovers quarrel, Apple and Google weren’t always at such loggerheads, in fact they were once close allies, so close that Google chief executive Eric Schmidt was once a presence on Apple’s board and even took to the stage accompanying the late Steve Jobs to aid in the introduction of the iPhone to the world at large, Google engineers are even credited with developing versions of the company’s mapping and search software specifically for the iPhone.
The crux of this grudge match began in 2005 when Google began working on its own smartphone technology; Google’s wanted to create a software suite that could be employed by any phone maker for use with their hardware. One would think that this wouldn’t have riled Apple as much as it did as Google were targeting profit from phone users visiting Google owned internet sites whereas Apple’s main profits are hardware and apps. On paper they don’t share a core market; the late Steve Jobs didn’t see it this way.
Android devices didn’t truly make a ripple in the technological ocean until 2009 when Motorola introduced the ‘Droid’ which proved to be a massive hit; this was the first truly popular Android device and would be followed by many more, especially those bearing the Samsung logo. Jobs saw this as the ultimate betrayal believing that Android was crammed with features stolen from Apple. Another factor attributed to the spectacular fall-out was when Apple became frustrated by Google’s refusal to supply turn-by-turn navigation maps for the iPhone. This data was viewed as hugely valuable both for Apple and Google in monitoring traffic flows to offer information on traffic jams, and determining user location, which is generally fed back anonymously to the relevant companies. Google also uses this information to provide location-related advertising on its search and maps – an increasingly important source of income.
In 2010 there were 7 million Android users, by the end of that year that figure had soared to 67 million and was accruing an extra 300,000 users per day, today Android has a worldwide market share of 80%, while Apple have 14%. By late 2010 Android wasn’t yet making money but it had accelerated the growth and profit of other Google applications such as search and YouTube. The more people that used Google, the more money Google made. The fact that Google doesn’t charge for their software meant Apple had to turn their attention to the tablet and smartphone makers for retribution and a thinly veiled swipe at Google themselves, hence the courtroom wars we have been witnessing in recent times.
It’s clear that this war of attrition is showing no signs of abating anytime soon, perhaps of more pertinence to the world at large is how it plays out and who the eventual winner is. We have to ask ourselves, do we really want the content we receive to be monopolized by one source? Will we lose our right to free online search to seek out the truth in certain situations or will we be destined to be told what is the truth whether it is or not? Will we be governed by censorship or will content be freely available to all who seek it?
Perhaps both super entities can find a way to co-exist peacefully; after all there is a big enough market to go around. Perhaps both companies will find common ground as recent reports are hinting with reports Google CEO Larry Page and Apple’s Timothy D. Cook have been holding back-channel discussions. Surely the world would benefit from these two technology giants pooling their considerable collaborative resources rather than fighting like children in a playground.
One of the few upsides to come out of this is we, as consumers, will benefit from the competition between these competitors in terms of the capabilities of the devices they produce and make available, devices we could only have dreamt of a few short years ago. If it comes at the price of a monopolized content industry and the loss of liberty then it will be questionable whether it was all worth it.