Who Won The Mobile Tech Olympics?

John Kirk / February 27th, 2014

Business is a combination of war and sport. ~ André Maurois

The Long Summer Of The Microsoft Monopoly Olympics

Computing was pretty simple for the last 15 years: PC plus a browser. Both are splintering now. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

Once upon a time — long, long ago in 2006 — the Personal Computing Olympics used to be oh-so-simple. First off, you weren’t even invited to the games unless you were bosom buddies with Microsoft. And almost everybody who attended got a medal (but Microsoft took home most of the Gold, if you know what I mean). It was the long summer of Microsoft and we thought that it would never end.

Then along came Mobile. Mobile changed the game as radically as if the Olympics had switched from Summer Games to Winter Games. The world of computing was turned on its head and it would never be the same. Oh, Microsoft tried to play in the new Mobile Winter Olympics, but they were ill prepared. Surprisingly in foresight, but unsurprisingly in hindsight, the new Winter games left them cold.

One Olympics, Two Champions

So much for the old Olympics and the former Olympian. Let’s turn our attention to the New Mobile Winter Olympics and the question of who won them. The answer? Well, it depends upon the question you ask.

It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question. ~ Eugene Ionesco

You see, the Tech Olympics — just like the real Olympics — are divided into two very different types of games:

    1) Subjective Games that are judged by a panel of judges — like Ice Dancing and Half-Pipe; or

    2) Objective Games that are determined by clocks, tape measurers and other quantifiable metrics — like Speed Skating, Downhill Slalom and Ski Jumping.

So who won the Tech Olympics — just like who won the real Olympics — depends on how you score the games. Are you judging based on how the market responded or how the press responded or are you judging based upon objective measurements? Two very different ways to measure. Two very different types of winners.

The Subjective Olympics

And the medalists in the Subjective Olympics are:

Gold: The Google and Android twins walked off with the Couples’ Gold Medal. The Judges raved about their mobile acumen and no one else even came close to matching their exquisite market share.

Silver: Samsung came in a very strong second for the Silver Medal. Some argued that they should have won it all, but Samsung was all strength, no subtlety; all power, no grace. Four years ago, no one even expected that Samsung would be at the games, so they should be grateful just to be standing on the (Android) platform.

Bronze: And the Bronze goes to Amazon, of course. True, Amazon did not have a particularly productive Olympics. They over-performed in revenue, but under-performed in profits. But none of that really mattered to the Judges. Amazon’s coach was brilliant, their business model dazzling and their potential awe-inspiring. The Judges awarded the Bronze to Amazon not on merit but because it was clear to them that Amazon was destined for greatness.

Off The Podium: Apple? As if! Pushed off the podium altogether. All sorts of glitzy performances, but they only entered a few, select events, they had the smallest team at the Olympic Village and they could muster only a paltry market share, to boot. On the whole, a most disappointing performance.

Oh, it was true enough that Apple had its fanatical, cult-like following, but Apple’s fan base was oh-so-tiny in comparison to the other contestants and it was full of pretentious baristas and other obnoxious types. Apple simply didn’t fit the Judge’s image of what it takes to make a champion.

The Objective Olympics

The medalists for the Objective Olympics were a different story altogether. Let’s do them in reverse order:

Disqualified of Did Not Finish: Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, BlackBerry, Palm, Dell, and far too many others to list. Some started too soon, some failed to finish, some did both.

Shut Out: Microsoft talked a big game, but they finished with no medals. However, they vowed to win the next Olympics, for whatever that’s worth.

Bronze: The Bronze? No winner. The podium remains empty.

Silver: Samsung of course, with a strong showing. 309 million units, which represented 39.5% of total Android shipments in 2013.

Gold: In a surprise to absolutely no one who was paying any attention and to absolutely everyone who wasn’t — the Gold went to Apple. And it wasn’t even close.

Scoring The Objective Olympics

I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me. ~ Fred Allen

“Apple!” cried the outraged Subjective Olympic judges. “Apple, the winner? And no medal for Google and Android? Impossible. Outrageous. Unheard of! The fix is in!

“Well, you see,” the Objective Judges calmly explained to their irate brethren over and over again, “in the Objective Olympics, we judge things by objective criteria and Apple walked away with them all — save one.

1) Apple gained mobile phone share.1

2) Apple dominated mobile platforms.2

The Smartphone App Wars Are Over and Apple Won” Yep. If you care about have the best/newest. Ben Thompson (@monkbent)

3) Apple dominated profits. Their profits went UP from 78% to 87.4% in 2013. And just to give you an idea of how much Apple dominated, iTunes — which is their “loss leader” — grossed half as much ($17.5B) as all of Google combined.3

Market share is the right metric for Android’s business model. Revenue is right for iOS’. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. ~ @mtabini4

4) Apple INCREASED their Enterprise dominance. Apple’s iPad took 91% market share of enterprise devices. iOS took 73% overall.5

5) Apple dominated brand loyalty. iPhone owners have “blind loyalty” and will buy anything Apple makes. 78% of UK iPhone owners ‘couldn’t imagine having a different type of phone now.6

Two Different Ways To Judge, Two Different Types Of Olympians

“What, what, what,” sputtered the flustered Subjective Judges. “If the facts favor Apple, then the facts must be Apple Fanbois!”

Yeah, they kinda are.

Android’s increased market share HAS NOT come at any cost to Apple’s iOS

It’s been apparent for years that Apple was taking the high end of both phones and tablets and that Android was taking almost all of the rest. What HAS NOT been apparent to many is that Android’s increased market share HAS NOT come at any cost to Apple’s iOS. As noted, above, despite Android’s massive increase in market share, Apple’s numbers in platform, profits, Enterprise and customer loyalty all went UP.

Did you hear about the guy that lost his left arm and leg in a car crash? 
He’s all right now.

Did you hear about the company that lost all the profitless market share they weren’t ever competing for? They’re all right now too.

In Olympic terms, Apple didn’t enter the most events, Apple didn’t win the most medals, Apple didn’t win any medals in any event that they didn’t enter, Apple didn’t win any bronze or silver medals, but Apple kept its eyes on the prize and they took home the Gold in every event that they participated in.

Market share is the right metric for Android’s business model. Revenue is right for iOS’s. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Not that hard. ~ Marco Tabini (@mtabini)

Using market share alone as the one and only measure for who won and who lost the Mobile Tech Olympics borders on the delusional.

Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid. ~ John Wayne

  1. It’s like awarding the Gold Medal to the hockey team that had the most shots instead of the most goals;
  2. It’s like awarding the Gold Medal to the speed skating team that had the most players instead of the fastest time;
  3. It’s like awarding the Gold Medal to the curling team that threw the most stones instead of to the team with the stones closest to the center of the target.

Never underestimate our ability to ignore the obvious. ~ Po Bronson

The Next Olympics

So what happens at the next Olympics? Well, like former president George Bush, I have opinions.

I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don’t always agree with them. ~ George W. Bush

I’ll save my analysis of the future of Blackberry, Apple, Chinese Android, Samsung Android, Nokia Android, Microsoft Windows Phone and Google for next time.

Post-Script: Join me on Twitter @johnkirk.

  1. Gartner: Apple gained mobile phone share as smartphones overtook feature phone sales in 2013 []
  2. Apple’s control of the app economy stronger than you know;

    The Smartphone App Wars Are Over, and Apple Won []
  3. Mobile phone market hits ‘the great moderation’;

    Including hardware, iTunes grossed about $175b in 2013 []
  4. via ArrAySee @ArrAySee []
  5. Apple’s iPad takes 91.4% share of enterprise tablets; iOS takes 73% share overall

    Apple maintains enterprise dominance; Windows Phone lags

    iOS Dominates Enterprise Market with 73% of Mobile Device Activations []
  6. Study: iPhone owners have ‘blind loyalty’ and will buy anything Apple makes

    78% of UK iPhone owners ‘couldn’t imagine having a different type of phone now []

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?
  • Nangka

    You win a gold medal John.

  • Yep.

  • JKL

    ” “Well, you see,” the Subjective Judges “, shouldn’t that be “Objective”. Also 17.5 billion for iTunes not 175 billion.

    • FalKirk

      Fixed and fixed. Thank you for the heads up!

  • steve_wildstrom

    I have to tell you that my Apple mobile equipment made a huge difference in the hospital yesterday. I guess I could have used an Android phone in place of the iPhone 5s, but the Samsung tablet was not even close to my iPad Air, and frankly, when you are using an iPad as a tablet, its easier to use an iPhone as your phone. Once I got out of bed, I was able to use my MacBook Air, but I needed the iPhone as a personal hotspot because the Wi-Fi connecting in the hospital was official. The key is just how smoothly all this stuff works together.

    • klahanas

      First off… Feel better!
      I use my Android phones as hotspots daily. Smoothly no less. With LTE it’s pretty darn quick, and much quicker than on the phone itself (Intel over ARM perhaps?). Hotspot is a relatively recent addition to iOS. Remember when you couldn’t even tether on iOS? The capability was there, but it was not allowed.

      • normm

        “Hotspot is a relatively recent addition to iOS.”

        It’s been available officially for four years now.

  • klahanas

    “First off, you weren’t even invited to the games unless you were bosom buddies with Microsoft. And almost everybody who attended got a medal (but Microsoft took home most of the Gold, if you know what I mean). It was the long summer of Microsoft and we thought that it would never end.” -Falkirk

    Oh so true, for the most part. I don’t understand the “invitation” part completely. How is Apple different?
    They define the hardware, they define the software. On OSX they have the “bundled” store (IE anyone?) and on iOS they have the only store, with approvals required no less.

    Suggesting a new Olympic sport…Goalpost moving!

    • Kizedek

      It’s pretty simple, it wasn’t MS’ games, it was supposed to be an international games.

      Now Apple participates equally alongside Google and Samsung and Amazon, etc.

      The summer games, where MS dominated, were more like Commonwealth Games, not Olympic Games… You weren’t invited if you weren’t already part of that club of nations.

      You are acting like Apple should let “foreigners” join the team it is fielding at the Olympics. Olympic Games — mobile. Teams — individual companies.

      • klahanas

        That’s the part I don’t understand. What club? I have contempt for MS’s business practices at the time because they were too powerful, and used that power to force sales and squash competitors. Is that what you mean by a club? Again, how is Apple with their lone store not worse?

        Still, MS was open enough where anyone that wanted to build a PC (down to the user) could do so. They were open enough where a struggling company with an MP3 player could write an application on Windows and thus save that company. Where would Apple be if MS forbade iTunes on Windows?

        What you’re telling me is that non-monopolistic market share is what’s saving Apple from an antitrust law suit.

        • Kizedek

          The “club” is everyone dependent on MS. Apple wasn’t dependent on them.

          “How is Apple with their lone store not worse?”
          Because it is a lone store. There are many other stores; there are other platforms; indeed, there are other larger platforms. Apple’s model is vertical. It keeps to itself. How is there any antitrust issue within your own store? If anything, Apple’s store is far more “open” than other stores — Amazon (with far more marketshare, monopolistic tendencies and antitrust issues than Apple) has hardware that doesn’t include apps for iBooks, Borders, or other retail stores etc. yet Apple includes them all.

          Moreover, a store is not a club. There is a difference between the marketplace in the town square, where virtually anyone can open a stall, and the brick and mortar shop next to the square: market stall vendors would not be welcome to camp on the doorstop, let alone inside. You cannot tell the shop owner to open his doors to outside vendors to use his infrastructure, not only completely bypassing his sales channel, but also competing with it under his own roof.

          So much for a store, but what about a supplier? When a supplier (MS) of a vital component needed by a broad swath of the industry (in this case desktop OS) has a monopoly and leverages/abuses it, then pretty much everyone (shop keepers, other producers up and down the chain, distributors) has to fall in line with it horizontally. They are in the same boat together, they are a club, they made their bed…

          “Open enough”? You mean controlling enough to keep all club-member OEMs from using alternatives, if any remained. Like Intel making it difficult for OEMs to use AMD chips or NVidia GPUs.

          It’s horizontal vs vertical. Horizontal is supposed to be “open” (to anyone who wants to subscribe to the rules); that’s the name of the game. Vertical is supposed to be closed (it’s an individual sport)! You can’t have both at once.

          Therefore, you can’t really complain about Apple’s closed store on its own platform (vertical) unless you also ask why MS, with its supposed “open” approach corrupted open standards like the web (IE and active X extensions, etc.), javascript, networking protocols, etc. Apple is ultra clear about what is open or closed — there are no illusions (and Apple also has always played better with open standards and promoted them more, because it has much less to lose horizontally).

          MS’ and Google’s objective is to go “wide” (and look what it is doing for them — creating a race to the bottom); Apple’s is to go deep with its own integrated hardware and software platform — Of course it isn’t “open” to the left and right. But MS thinks it will now give vertical integration a go as well; not only leaving its OEMs with nowhere to turn for an OS, but turning around and competing with them as well.

          • Space Gorilla

            Gruber reports that Office is indeed coming to iOS and it’s actually good. I’ll wait and see. But re: Apple, another commenter (stefnagel?) on a different article made the point that Apple is becoming (has become?) its own market. Apple is now so large and so vertically integrated top to bottom that it is essentially its own market. I haven’t had too much time to dig into that thought, but it strikes me initially as a smart way to approach analysis of Apple.

    • FalKirk

      “I don’t understand the “invitation” part completely.” ~ klahanas

      It’s just an analogy. Don’t try to stretch to too far.

      With the exception of tiny Apple, no one played in the PC “games” unless were running Microsoft’s OS. That’s all I’m trying to say.

      • klahanas

        Thanks.

    • stefnagel

      I’d say Microsoft spent most of its time bumping off opponents before races. Instead of working out, it hung out in dark alleys stalking competitors.

      Microsoft didn’t want to just win races; it didn’t want races to happen at all. Microsoft was never competitive; it was committed to destroying the idea of competition.

      Apple spends most of its time dreaming and aiming at tens (or 10.0s); it hardly thinks about competitors. So it’s not competitive either, oddly.

      The contrast is stunning, however.

      • klahanas

        I can agree, to a point, that Apple is not AS competitive outside it’s ecosystem. Though there are enough fans to do that. Inside it’s ecosystem it is TOTALLY ruthless and anticompetitive.

        • stefnagel

          Let’s say you have a choice of three cruise ships. You choose the Apple ship and off you go. Are you now in a totally ruthless and anticompetitive situation? Is it up the Apple Cruiseline to provide bigger pools or better meals on the other cruise ships? Let’s say you choose the HMS Android. Or the SS Windows. Is it any different a situation?

          • klahanas

            Love that you mentioned Carlin. He could have really had a field day with “magical”.

            I assume that you say MS totally eliminated choice by eliminating competitors. That’s the only way I can understand your statement, If so, you’re right, and it deserves a certain large measure of contempt. At least it’s on the “corporate” level.

            Apple flat out forbids applications, programs, and certain content. When your policy forbids (sometimes seemingly arbitrarily) duplicating functionality, certain coding languages, cross compiling, satire of public figures, and publishers that annoy executives (Wiley) then this is down to the user level, and IMO deserves a larger measure of contempt. The owner of the device should not be so enforcably prohibited.

            No! Apple (or any other company) cannot be expected to create the “bestest of all possible worlds”. That is precisely the reason why open is good. To also quote from the late, great, Mr. Carlin (slightly paraphrased for moderators)…
            Why is their stuff crap, while your crap is “stuff”?

  • jfutral

    But my shoe laces broke. I should get a do over.

    (I have no idea what I mean by that.)

    Joe

  • DarwinPhish

    If you recognized that the Olympics are a world wide event, it would be easy to award a bronze in the Objective category. Huawei sold over 50 million devices and probably made some money doing so. They also sell a lot of networking equipment. ZTE, LG and Lenovo did well, too.

    And how does Amazon win bronze in the “Mobile Tech Olympics”, or did you forget you led with that qualifier?

    • FalKirk

      Amazon won Bronze in the Subjective Olympics. I left the Bronze open in the Objective Olympics although, as you say, there were probably some very qualified candidates.

      • DarwinPhish

        How exactly does Amazon compete in mobile? Amazon easily medals in the Retail and Cloud Olympics but barely qualifies in mobile.

        • FalKirk

          “How exactly does Amazon compete in mobile? ” – DarwinPhish

          Kindle Tablets.

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