There has been an interesting little debate going on between two New York heavyweights over which mobile operating system is the best platform on which to build a new business. The dispute reveals the dichotomy between different poles in the tech industry when it comes to the future of mobile.
Union Square Venture’s Fred Wilson wrote a blog post laying out some numbers which show Android is now the number one smartphone OS in the nation, with a 33 percent share compared to RIM’s 29 and Apple’s 25. “I expect (and hope) that iOS will remain a strong competitor to Android. But as I’ve been saying for several years now, I believe the mobile OS market will play out very similarly to Windows and Macintosh, with Android in the role of Windows. And so if you want to be in front of the largest number of users, you need to be on Android,” wrote Wilson.
The big litmus test was supposed to be the emergence of the Verizon iPhone, which put Apple’s premier product on the network that had helped push the Droid mainstream. As Wilson points out, all Apple has done lately is hold steady on market share.
Instapaper developer Marco Arment doesn’t buy the desktop analogy. “We’re talking about Android… which has terrible development economics hindered by severe fragmentation and poor payment integration, and is not generally used by most of the influential people needed to spread the word on new services.” Market share, in Arment’s opinion, is a poor metric for how well a platform will develop as a business for app makers.
And since contracts play such a large role in how users choose phones, and are so expensive to terminate early, it’s hard to say what the migration will look like when big waves of Verizon users can switch to the iPhone for free.
In the end, there seems to be a fundamental divide between how the two men view the competing systems. Perhaps in a way, it reflects the differences in their businesses as well as their personal preference. Wilson is looking at macro trends, hoping to better position his portfolio companies to grab a big slice of the pie. Arment, a boutique developer working solo on an app, is more concerned with finding the platform that gives him the best return on each individual sale.
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