Yesterday’s announcement by Google (NASD: GOOG) of the Nexus One phone dominated the Twittersphere. Some tech blogs immediately anointed it as the successor to the iPhone while Apple fanboys dismissed it for lacking key features like multitouch.
So, how will the smart phone (or superphone) wars shake
out? It’s too early to tell, but here’s how I read it:
For now, the iPhone provides the better user experience. It
offers proven technology, a vast app store and still has the cache of a status
symbol. The Nexus One will appeal to early adopters along with those who’ve
held off on buying the iPhone because they didn’t want to use AT&T. To some
extent, it will be the audience who at least considered buying a Palm Pre last
Already, the Nexus One may be the better web browsing
device, though the lack of multi-touch “pinch” will be a drawback to those over
40 whose eyesight is not what it once was (speaking from experience here). And
Google has already promised full Flash support later this year.
In the coming months, things will get interesting. Apple’s
edge in Apps will diminish, as successful app developers will launch Android
versions for this growing base of users. Over time, developers frustrated by
the iPhone’s controlled app environment may embrace Google as their primary
mobile platform. But, with openness comes the challenge of app overload. Apple
can tout the curation process as a benefit of their App store.
In terms of features, I’d expect Apple and Google to
leapfrog one another in the coming years, which should benefit users of either
platform. Apple may finally have to embrace (and license) Flash and offer
removable batteries, for example.
The differences in their business model will also be a differentiator. While the iPhone is clearly aimed at the top end of the market, Google phones will hit all price points. Rather than having the carriers subsidize the cost of the phones, Google actually is sharing revenue with the carriers, which incents them to push out Google products for the masses. This makes a lot of sense. As Google has stated, their business is not focused on making money from hardware (or software). Their goal is ubiquity. Google wants to be the dominant player in mobile advertising and this helps them achieve that.
So who are the big winners and losers?Google’s clearly a winner, as they have a very compelling strategy to extend their advertising dominance to the mobile platform. The carriers such as T-Mobile, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and Vodafone (NASD: VOD) are also winners in the short-term, though in the long-term, ceding control of the user experience to Google and having Google sell unlocked phones will weaken their position. Manufacturer HTC, nearly lost in the shuffle, is clearly a winner as well.
Consumers are probably the biggest winner, both for the fact that competition in the smartphone market will make all the offerings better (and cheaper over time) but also in the weakening of the mobile carriers. That said, the carriers will still hold some clout. As smartphones drive bandwidth usage, I’d expect to see tiered data plans, which will raise fees for active users.
The biggest loser in this might be RIM (NASD: RIMM). The iPhone has made only slight inroads in the corporate market, but a viable Google platform will provide developers an opportunity to build enterprise solutions, challenging RIM’s dominance in that space. Meanwhile, Verizon, which has been the most active Blackberry partner, will support the Nexus One phone by spring.
Another loser is Microsoft, whose Windows Mobile platform is rapidly becoming irrelevant. Just as in search, where Bing/Yahoo is struggling to remain significant, Microsoft may find itself on the outside looking in as the mobile ad market emerges. I think they have to do something big here and I’d suggest they strongly consider making a run at acquiring RIM.
Despite the burst of hype around the release of the Pre, Palm (NASD:PALM) remains a bit player. I can’t see a compelling reason for anyone to buy a Palm Pre at this point, which hurts both them and Sprint.
Another winner: Twitter, whose servers held up under this volume of Tweets with nary a fail whale in site. This is a good warmup for the Apple Table announcement to come January 27.
What do the experts have to say? Here are some comments, courtesy of Alacra Pulse:
Forrester’s Charles Golvin sums it up with three bullets:
- Google has taken responsibility for driving Android innovation
- Google will be an influential phone retailer…in the future
- Those awaiting another iPhone-like revolution are in for disappointment.
Interpret’s Michael Gartenberg notes:
"Google's decision to sell its own Google-branded phones is "a sea change in terms of Google now owning the customer, making the carrier a little bit less relevant to the conversation and maintaining more control over the hardware and software experience because they realize they're competing with players like Apple and the iPhone"
Sanford Bernstein’s Jeff Lindsay adds that Google “perceives mobile as the next major opportunity” and "It is too big a risk to drive the strategy through their partners. They want more say and more control."
Via AllThingsD, BarCap’s Doug Anmuth offers the first projection on Nexus One sales: In a note to clients this morning, Barclays Capital analyst Doug Anmuth hazards a guess: 5 – 6 million units sold in 2010, based on distribution through T-Mobile at launch and Verizon Wireless (VZ) by spring. And, according to Anmuth, it should allow Google (GOOG) to book incremental revenue of $2.6 billion–$3.2 billion.
Canaccord Adams’ Peter Misek sees the Nexus One driving a rift between Google and the carriers
"At stake is the ownership of the mobile internet and customers who will increasingly use it. Handset makers, on the other hand, feel they may empower a very potent competitor by continuing to use Android."
Gartner’s Nick Jones sees direct sales of the Nexus One to consumers as but a first step for Google:
"So will it stop at Nexus? I guess not... perhaps we’ll see Chrome OS netbooks on the shelves in the future as well"