Will Everyone Have an Android Phone in the Future?

an image of Android smartphone

Android smartphone | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Android and iOS don’t have any real competition when it comes to mobile operating systems. Just about everyone you know probably has either an Android smartphone or an iPhone, while a very small minority might use a Windows phone or a BlackBerry 1o device.

Sure there are a few alternatives, like Firefox OS, Sailfish, Ubuntu, and Tizen, but if you’re going to Best Buy, Target, or your carrier’s store to purchase a new phone, you’re most likely choosing between Android and iOS. But Matt Heiman reports for TechCrunch that Android commands over 80% of the mobile OS market worldwide, and just under 60% in the United States. So is there any way that, in the future, we’re all going to be using Android phones?

Heiman posits that in the next five years, Android could account for an even greater share of the mobile market, and could even become the platform of choice in the United States (where many people still believe outdated myths about iOS and Android and how the two operating systems compare). One reason, he writes, is that while Apple effectively locks users in to its ecosystem with the appeal of features like iMessage and its seamless integration with iOS’s native Messages app, there’s no reason to believe that users will have to stick with iOS to use such features in the near future.

In the case of iMessage, there are plenty of great messaging apps that replace your phone’s default SMS app, and offer benefits like easier media sharing, the ability to know when someone is online or writing back, and the capability to continue a conversation when switching from desktop to mobile or vice versa.

Heiman compares iOS and iMessage to BlackBerry and BlackBerry Messenger, and notes that even the appeal of BlackBerry Messenger wasn’t enough to keep people on BlackBerry once third-party app developers created cross-platform messaging apps like WhatsApp, which now has a billion users.

Between the rise of messaging apps and the migration of SMS to Rich Communication Services (which could bring all of the benefits messenger apps to texting), Heiman writes, “the network effect of iMessage would be significantly diminished, greatly lowering the barrier for those wanting to leave the Apple ecosystem. iMessage is not invincible.” The hold that similar features exert on users to keep them on iOS could be weakened in the same way. “The emergence of Google Photos as an application across Android and iOS significantly reduces the lock-in of Photos,” Heiman notes, “the emergence of Spotify reduces the lock-in of iTunes, and the emergence of Drive and Dropbox reduces the lock-in of iCloud.”

Another factor that keeps iPhone users on iOS is the fragmentation of the Android operating system. While every iPhone owner gets the same interface and apps, the calendar, texting app, email app, and keyboard are just as likely to come from Samsung or Verizon as to be as they are to be from Google’s suits of apps and services. And while iOS users can update their phones’ operating systems as soon as Apple releases an update, Android users have to wait not only for Google to issue an update, but for that update to be tested and tweaked by hardware manufacturers and wireless carriers.

Optimistically, Heiman posits that Android fragmentation could be diminished over the next few years. Some smartphone manufacturers, like Motorola and HTC, are reducing the amount of software customizations they add to their new Android phones, bringing them closer to stock Android. And if Google succeeds in popularizing its Nexus line of devices, which are made in partnership with third-party manufacturers but come with stock Android and only Google apps, that could help to mitigate some of the problems of fragmentation. Heiman writes, “Nexus could also represent an opportunity for Google to build a brand cache around its devices, making them more competitive with Apple at the high end of the market.”

As the move away from subsidies and two-year contracts makes shoppers more aware of and sensitive to the price of their smartphones, more people are likely going to opt for more affordable smartphones. Because Apple doesn’t really offer any inexpensive iPhones, users searching for a great phone at a great price are more likely to opt for an Android device, since many Android manufacturers specialize in budget-friendly smartphones. Additionally, Google’s move to unify Chrome OS and Android could make Google’s a dominant desktop OS in the future, as desktop software takes a back seat to applications the tare housed in the cloud.

It may be difficult to imagine a world in which everybody has an Android phone, but Heiman’s predictions demonstrate that as the world of consumer tech evolves, no platform or product is guaranteed anything. But as more people, including Google’s Sundar Pichai, think that hardware is going to recede from view, it may prove true that more consumers will opt for an operating system from the world’s largest internet company instead of one from its foremost hardware company.

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