There are only three days until Verizon joins the Android invasion. T-Mobile was first to embrace the open source Google operating system, but with the addition of Sprint, and now Verizon, Android is mounting a quiet revolution that could see it squash the iPhone OS and rise to a dominant position among mobile operating systems.
There has been a lot of media attention devoted to whether or not the Motorola Droid, available beginning this Friday from Verizon, is as good or better than the iPhone. Of course, Verizon started that debate by running the iDon't ad campaign that directly attacks the iPhone and compares it to the Droid. The fact though is that neither Verizon, nor Google need the Droid to "kill" the iPhone in order for it to be a check in the win column for them.
For Verizon all that matters is that the Droid is a success in its own right--regardless of the iPhone--and that it generates some excitement and brings in customers. I don't expect iPhone customers to defect en masse. They may not love AT&T, but they are a devoted bunch when it comes to the device itself.
In the meantime though, Android has quickly outnumbered and outflanked the iPhone operating system. It has gone from an obscure new-kid-on-the-block operating system to a preferred OS that is being used as the platform for a range of devices from the Droid, to Motorola's Cliq, to HTC's Hero (and the slightly modified HTC Droid Eris), and the Samsung Behold II.
The diverse hardware options are both a benefit and a challenge for Android. The fact that the operating system is license-free provides manufacturers with a cost incentive for designing handsets around the Android platform. Because Android is open source it is also easier for handset manufacturers and third-party developers to customize the platform and design applications that extend its capabilities.
The downside to the handset and wireless provider diversity is the diversity itself. As Google continues to develop and evolve the Android operating system it has to ensure that changes and modifications work across a range of devices and networks and don't break any existing functionality.
Apple's proprietary hardware and software, and the AT&T exclusivity offer similar pros and cons though. Apple only has to consider one hardware device and one wireless provider network (at least for now) when updating the iPhone operating system, but the success of the iPhone operating system relies on only one device that is available from only one wireless carrier.
The draconian control that Apple maintains over every aspect of the hardware and software contributes to its ability to produce quality hardware and a slick user experience, but it also limits availability and increases costs. The value of the quality and user experience is subjective and varies from user to user. Variety is the spice of life and the iPhone isn't for everyone.
The iPhone also has the benefit of having the most popular app store with the largest selection of apps. The Android Market is better than some other competing app stores, but Apple still has it outnumbered ten to one in app volume, and the Apple iTunes and app store platforms provide a compelling reason to consider the iPhone. Android will have to continue to develop and innovate the Android Market to provide similar value to Android users.
Ultimately, Android will have greater market share than iPhone. It is virtually inevitable. Even if neither the Droid, nor the Cliq, nor any other device end up beating the iPhone as a device, the sheer volume of Android-based handsets pretty much guarantees that Android will pass iPhone as an operating system. Its simply a numbers game.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.