Is Android the New Windows?

on June 26, 2015

For most of my career as a PC analyst, I have followed and chronicled the evolution of the PC. My first project when I came to Creative Strategies was to work with a new group formed inside IBM that created the original IBM PC. By the time I was asked to be involved in some design strategies and retail projects, the IBM PC had just become a hit and was in the process of solidifying the role of a PC in business.

A short time after the IBM PC became successful, clones started hitting the market. The most successful one of its day was the Compaq computer. I was privileged to attend the first ever Compaq analyst event in which all (four) PC analysts at the time were invited. In the early days of the PC, there really weren’t any PC analysts per se and those who had the title had been covering mini-computers — PCs were added to our research roles.

During the visit we spent time with Compaq Chairman Ben Rosen and Compaq co-founder Rod Canion to learn about their new PC clone and why they thought they would be successful. IBM had become a force with their PCs and I found it curious an upstart like Compaq would even challenge them. In fact, I asked Rod Canion during that visit why he decided to put up his own money and go after funding to take on IBM. He told me when he was at Texas Instruments, he learned early on that whatever IBM did, it would become a standard. He saw the success of the IBM PC and understood it was created with off the shelf parts and placed what he called a “sure bet” to create a competitor, knowing full well that IBM’s PC would become the standard for business computing. Not long after, Dell and others brought out clones too.

However, the one constant for all of these computers was an OS created originally for IBM known as MS-DOS. Since it was not proprietary, it was also licensed to Compaq, Dell, Acer, and about a couple of dozen other PC vendors in the heyday of the PC. MS-DOS eventually became Windows and this OS has been dominant for PCs and laptops for over 30 years. Of course, Apple created a computer OS for the Mac but Apple’s OS is proprietary and, even though it has done and is still doing very well, PCs running Windows out sell Macs exponentially.

It is interesting to note that, for most of Windows’ life, it was a local PC and laptop OS but Microsoft had visions of this OS becoming a standard for use in tablets and smart mobile devices as early as 1990. However, due to a lot of infighting inside Microsoft and a huge emphasis on productivity, they were never able to really establish Windows as a dominant OS beyond the PC. This opened the door for Apple and Google to create new operating systems designed just for mobile computers and IoT.

While Apple’s iOS is a huge success in its own right, like OS X, it is proprietary and used only on Apple products. On the other hand, Android has a lot of the original characteristics of Windows in that it is a licensable OS that can be used by any PC, tablet, smartphone and IoT vendors in the world. Indeed, if you look at the number of mobile devices on the market today running Android, it makes up about 75% of all products shipped.

At Googles recent I/O developer conference, Google’s leadership clearly stated they want Android to be the dominant OS for connected devices and IoT. Like Windows, Android is hardware agnostic and can easily be applied to any mobile or IoT device. Even more important is that Android serves as Google’s OS/UI to their overall cloud vision and are building most of their worldwide ecosystem of products and services channeled through Android.

Almost from the beginning, Bill Gates and Microsoft wanted their OS, and especially Windows, to be dominant on devices around the world. I still see that as their goal but, due to various choices and infighting, they are far behind Google and Apple in this quest — I don’t see that Windows outside of the PC could ever become a dominant device OS worldwide. Apple, with their proprietary approach, has made major strides in their quest to dominate the device market and with the iPhone, iPad, HealthKit, HomeKit, Car Play, Apple Watch and Apple TV they have emerged as a serious powerhouse of their own in this space. However, while in the past their main competitor was Microsoft and Windows, this time it is Google and Android and Android has become the Windows of our generation.

The big difference between Microsoft and Google is Microsoft still has to protect their legacy devices as well as try and move everything to their One Microsoft strategy. That is not easy to do. When it comes to mobile devices, their Windows mobile phones are a very distant third in the overall market of smartphones. As for IoT, iOS and Android clearly have an edge and momentum over Microsoft. Market projections from most research houses see Android basically dominating the market for mobile and IoT because it is device agnostic and is a free license for anyone that wants it.

From where I sit, it really does seem Android is the Windows of our day and Google is in a place to broaden their lead in mobile and IoT barring any serious missteps. Apple will be a worthy competitor and I don’t expect Microsoft to rest on their laurels and let Google dominate this space without a fight. However, Android’s lead in these two markets is quite huge and, if Google keeps moving in this direction and keeps their customers happy, I suspect Android, at least from a numbers viewpoint, will continue to be the dominant mobile and IoT system for many years to come.