Is the mobile platform duopoly too big to fail?

By | 8th September 2017
Android and iOS

Unofficially, the smartphone industry is currently in a platform duopoly between iOS and Android. While Microsoft’s Windows 10 Mobile platform is still available, it mostly exists rather than thrives. Even though two new Windows 10 Mobile devices were introduced during IFA, both were aimed towards business users and had underwhelming specs. Despite the fact that Microsoft has all but exited the mobile market completely at this point, it would appear that they have a “strategy” according to Wileyfox, one of the companies who curiously opted to unveil a new Windows 10 Mobile device during IFA.

However, with Microsoft themselves no longer pushing Lumia and so few OEMs and developers willing to invest in Windows 10 Mobile, it’s hard to imagine that Microsoft has a plan for their mobile platform at all. It’s probably still safe to assume that the only third smartphone platform to exist alongside iOS and Android is living on borrowed time.

Honestly, it’s a little disappointing. It didn’t seem like it was that long ago that we had a lot of platforms to choose from. iOS, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone, webOS, and Symbian were all options at one point or another.

There was once even the possibility of Ubuntu for Phones, or Ubuntu Touch, launching a few years ago, but financial goals to make it happen fell short. The original BlackBerry OS quickly headed towards obsolescence after iOS was introduced and particularly after Android grew into more than just a buggy alternative to iOS. Still, there was a chance for the once revered BlackBerry name to become relevant again with the introduction of BlackBerry 10. As we can see now, that didn’t pan out; the BlackBerry brand is now in cahoots with Android. Windows Phone, which managed to keep some market share but eventually struggled to keep its head above water, eventually evolved(?) to Windows 10 Mobile, which also floundered.

It’s weird to see the hardware side of smartphones thrive, but the platform options have basically dwindled to just two. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever see another viable smartphone platform again. It’s certainly hard to imagine after seeing all other efforts quashed, and it seems especially unlikely considering how much variety exists under the Android umbrella alone.

You can line up four or five of the same smartphone running on Android next to each other, and each one would probably look vastly different from one another. Whether it’s because they’re running different launchers, have different wallpapers, widgets, icon packs, fonts, layout arrangements, or perhaps even a custom ROM, it’s just incredible to see how just one platform can be so varied, especially compared to iOS. Put a string of iPhones together – it doesn’t matter which, any one of them will do – and almost all of them will look identical aside from wallpaper. And that’s fine. The iPhone was never designed to be as customizable as Android.

But it’s Android’s innate ability to be customized, along with its progression of performance stability over the years, that gave it the advantage over other platforms to succeed as much as it has today. How can you top a platform that can virtually has something for just about everybody? It’s very much a case of being in the right place at the right time, and having the right resources to pull it off. The perfect storm, if you will. iOS needed at least one competitor, and although it took Android a few years to really get there, it eventually succeeded.

Now we have two platforms that are extremely polished with years of experience under their belt. Competitors may pop up here and there, but like personal computers, it would seem like this duopoly is here for the long haul. While I think it’s still possible for Microsoft to make a comeback, the probability of that happening seems very, very low. I had always hoped that at least one of the other platforms would have an unforeseen turn of events that would garner them some popularity. After all, competition sparks innovation. But I think at this point we should get used to these two being our only long-term options.