Smarter Than Phones

The phone business is changing at a rate so fast, and on such a curved path, that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle comes to mind. Where it is and where it's going may be conjugate variables, but trying to reconcile the two is kind of futile.

In November 2008, the research firm Canalys released its Q3 2008 report on “smartphones”. Worldwide sales were up 28%. Nokia still held the lead with a 38.9% share of shipments, but that was down 3.5% from a year earlier, and the number of phones shipped was down too. Apple meanwhile moved into second place with a 17.3% share, with unit numbers up 523% over the year before. And, that's with just two generations of a single phone—not a fleet of phones such as Nokia's...and everybody else's.

Among operating systems, Symbian was first and Apple second. Following were RIM, Microsoft and Linux, which had a 5.1% share and 49% growth. But that was before Android.

T-Mobile's Android phone hit only last October 17, 2008, early in Q4. Here's a telling quote from the report: “Motorola, currently holding onto fourth place in smartphones thanks largely to its Linux-based models, recently announced it would move away from using the Symbian OS and focus more on Android.” Which is also Linux.

Both the iPhone and the Androids are platforms for running countless applications, only one of which is voice telephony. I know lots of people whose day-to-day digital lives are moving from their laptops to their iPhones, BlackBerries and, yes, Androids. Although the “war” between iPhones, BlackBerries and Androids will attract the most attention, all three will win the battle of computing over telephony in the mobile world.

Still, it's hard to do serious computing apps on networks built for routing calls and charging out minutes. It'll take longer for that battle to be won, but it'll happen too. The phone system will become a data system. It will be borged by the Net.

What happens next is up to developers. For more about that, see this month's EOF column in Linux Journal, “Net Development”, on page 80.

Doc Searls is editor-in-chief of Linux Journal, where he has been on the masthead since 1996. He is also co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto (Basic Books, 2000, 2010), author of The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), a fellow of the Center for Information Technology & Society (CITS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an alumnus fellow of the Berkman Klien Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He continues to run ProjectVRM, which he launched at the BKC in 2006, and is a co-founder and board member of its nonprofit spinoff, Customer Commons. Contact Doc through [email protected].

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