android

It’s hard to imagine any operating system presenting a real threat to Android. It represents a vast majority of the smartphone market, and too many companies rely on it for that to change any time soon. But the model it represents, through which many manufacturers are able to make products with the operating system, isn’t quite so defensible.

Kantar Worldpanel ComTech reported this morning that Windows Phone is becoming increasingly popular in Europe and Latin America. The platform still represents just 10 percent of the European smartphone market, but it’s continuing to grow as more people purchase the Nokia-built smartphones on which it runs. Given the $7.2 billion acquisition offer made by Microsoft and accepted by Nokia’s shareholders, this could mean that virtually every Windows Phone device sold will soon be made entirely by Microsoft.

That would make Windows Phone much more like iOS, which is controlled entirely by Apple, than like Android. Microsoft attempted to make the model through which it made Windows so popular on the desktop work on mobile — now that Android has beaten the company at its own game, it seems that the company is changing its strategy. (Whether that’s by choice or by necessity, as manufacturers have abandoned Microsoft’s operating systems in recent years, remains up for debate.)

As Farhad Manjoo wrote when Microsoft’s acquisition offer was announced:

That’s why the Nokia purchase signals the end of Windows as a standalone business. There are now only two ways to sell software. Like Apple, you can make devices that integrate software and hardware together and hope to sell a single, unified, highly profitable product. Or, like Google, you can make software that you give away in the hopes of creating a huge platform from which you can make money in some other way (through ads, in Google’s case).

Now, Google doesn’t seem much more enthused by the current way in which Android operates. The company has started to reclaim the operating system by making its own apps available directly to consumers and continuing to sell smartphones it designs in the Google Play store. Instead of relying on manufacturers to produce compelling hardware that complements its software, Google has taken to making its own products or forging partnerships with manufacturers that will allow it to exert more control over the devices on which its platforms will be built.

Android has become a mobile behemoth that other platforms have little chance of competing against. Its European marketshare is almost seven-times that of Windows Phone’s, and iOS isn’t much closer. Other operating systems continue to search for new niches they can sell to, but for now Android is the undisputed king of the hill.

But it seems that the idea of creating software and allowing manufacturers to use it willy-nilly is becoming an increasingly unattractive proposition for large companies. Apple never really embraced that model; Microsoft is abandoning it by trying to acquire the only manufacturer that truly matters to Windows Phone’s success; and even Google is starting to focus more on its own products than on creating platforms through which other companies (ahem, Samsung and Amazon) can get rich.

[Image courtesy Skakerman]