It would seem Google are not able to “get it”, it would seem they may not truly understand it, pity. Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and it would seem the smartphone market is about to parallel the personal computer market. of the early 80’s.
The first Apple computer was launched April, 1976 as a circuit board, the IBM PC arrived in August, 1981 some 5 years later. In 1984 Apple introduced the Mac and voiced an opinion that it would be the software (now called the App) that would win the day .. in fact Visicalc in 1979 on Apple II led the way to the killer App. So Apple had the strategy, the App and the user interface, sound familiar?
It was 1981 when Visicalc arrived for the IBM PC and IBM PC DOS, however it was not until Lotus 1-2-3 in January 1983 that the IBM PC with MS DOS accelerated into the distance, the combination of word processor and spreadsheet being perfect for the commercial market.
The user manual of the IBM PC included the circuit schematics, and it was not long until a whole herd of clones appeared, something Apple refused to accommodate in the name of quality.
These clones (Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, Toshiba, Compaq, etc.) in time would become the leaders in the hardware, enabling platform choices, although in reality the choices were somewhat limited with Intel taking most of the cpu, chipset and graphics.
In time IBM exited the PC business (handing it over to Lenovo) leaving Microsoft to take the OS with Windows, the killer App with Office and leave all other OS, Application and non-PC hardware vendors far, far behind.
Many complain about Microsoft and sure they have done some things badly, Windows 3.0, Windows 95, Windows ME, Windows Vista but they also do a lot well Windows 3.11, Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows XP, Windows 7 and totally own the PC platform.
When they get it right the volume is huge, and this facilitates significant investment in many other areas making us all beholden to the creativity of the OS and App vendor. Apple, on the other hand, has always been present, showing the way to both Microsoft and Intel. They were the first with a windowing OS, the first to truely integrate the office tools and helping in defining hardware standards. Solutions like WiFi, PCI, USB, SATA and more to help make ease of use and reliability from a a broad hardware base. For instance, the struggle with ISA and its impact on the OS caused Microsoft and Intel to develop PCI and made it easier to add hardware, and caused a whole need buying cycle.
So, how did the success of Microsoft above all others, and more than 5 years after the first to market, happen? It would seem it needs a killer App on a broad base of multi-vendor hardware, even if the hardware is based on the same technology. As suspected, its about useful applications broadly available.
Who has this in the smartphone space? At the time of writingthere is no single vendor.
Apple have iTunes on iPhone (2007), but its on their hardware and no others.
RIM started with a mobile Outlook client, they now have a mobile Outlook client on a phone but yet again on their hardware and no others.
Android has a mess of applications many aimed at geeks, on a broad base of multi-vendor hardware.
Microsoft appears lost, yet has all the pieces needed to secure the final prize.
After a few attempts, if they get Office365 fully operational on a Windows Mobile 8 OS and on a broad base of multi-vendor hardware (Nokia, HTC, Motorola, Sony-Ericsson, Samsung) they could repeat history and again accelerate into the distance leaving the others far behind. To be on the same timeline as the PC that would have to happen by the end of 2012, there is still time.
Who can stop them? It would seem Google is the only chance as they have the breadth of platforms in place already. If Google managed to get Google Apps to an industrial grade and not the experiment that it is right now , they would deliver significant compelling value. In fact if they had done that at the start of Android project then it could have been all over for Microsoft already.
As Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”