Phones

Ballmer Unruffled About Android

It's becoming an annual tradition. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is again telling the world that the newest mobile OS is a big mistake. This time around Ballmer suggests Google's Android will be a failure:

Speaking at Telstra's annual investment day, Ballmer said designing Android wasn't easy for Google. "They can hire smart guys, hire a lot of people, blah dee blah dee blah, but you know they start out way behind, in a certain sense," he said.

"Google doesn't exactly bubble to the top of the list of the top competitors we've got going in mobile. They might someday. But right now..." he said.

If you're getting a sense of deja vu, you're not alone. Last year Ballmer made similar comments about Apple's iPhone:

There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a US$500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

He probably regrets that comment now. By the end Q4 Apple had grabbed 28% of the US smartphone market, ahead of Microsoft Windows Mobile at 21%. By June 2008 the iPhone was third in global market share, after Nokia and RIM. And last quarter Apple outsold RIM.

Market share for Windows Mobile is decreasing, seemingly passed over in favor of cooler platforms like the iPhone and Android. That's not the only gloomy spot for Microsoft -- the company has apparently done little to capitalize on its acquisition earlier this year of Sidekick maker Danger.

As for Android, Ballmer's negative forecast neglected to mention early sales. The first Android phone -- the T-Mobile G1 -- will reportedly ship 600,000 units by the end of the year. That's not as big as the iPhone, but it isn't exactly a failure, either.

But Ballmer does have a good question for Google: How is the Android supposed to make money?

He has a point. The excitement over Android reminds me of the early days of Java at Sun. Java was a great language, but beyond licensing it for devices such as mobile handsets, Sun never developed a winning revenue model.

I have no doubt that Android will be successful, and Google won't see it as a financial burden. But in a completely open source model, where carriers still exert control, what steps can Google take to ensure that they will be able to generate revenue from the handsets and devices that use it going forward?

As for Microsoft, Ballmer should be thinking about effectively monetizing and growing its own mobile platforms. Ballmer misjudged Apple's game-changing product, and Android may prove to be another platform that erodes Microsoft's revenue opportunities and market position.

Larry Borsato has been a software developer, marketer, consultant, public speaker, and entrepreneur, among other things. For more of his unpredictable, yet often entertaining thoughts you can read his blog at larryborsato.com.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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