HTC Google T1 Phone - 2008
T-Mobile T1 phone, the first Android phone sold to consumers.

It held the title for two decades. But there’s apparently no stopping the juggernaut known as Android.

Google’s ubiquitous operating system surpassed Microsoft Windows. According to Statcounter at least,Android is now number one with 37.93% market share worldwide.

“Milestone in technology history and end of an era” as Microsoft no longer owns dominant OS

And Apple, despite all its success, still finds itself in a distant third with about 12% OS share.

“This is a milestone in technology history and the end of an era,” commented Aodhan Cullen, CEO, StatCounter.  “It marks the end of Microsoft’s leadership worldwide of the OS market which it has held since the 1980s.  It also represents a major breakthrough for Android which held just 2.4% of global internet usage share only five years ago.”

This news isn’t terribly surprising.

Microsoft has been on a slow downward trajectory for quite some time. In 2007, the introduction of the iPhone heralded the mobile era. Bill Gates and Steve Balmer, in particular, were slow to adopt a touch and app mentality. Consequently, Apple and Google gained early. Those leads look to be near impervious at this point. Still, this is tech, and companies boom, and they, often, bust. Under new CEO Satya Nadella (Feb 2014), Microsoft though has seen its fortunes dramatically turn, for the better. It will be interesting to see how far he can take his approach which favors high-end design (SurfaceBook) and unified platforms (Windows 10). And, let’s not forget, Microsoft still runs on about 8 out of 10 laptops and desktops.

Meanwhile, Google adopted a philosophy of openness, licensing its software to others. As a result you can find laptops, mobile phones, set-top boxes, car infotainment hubs, and gadgets in just about any category you can think of, running some flavor of Android.

OS Market Share Worldwide
OS Market Share Worldwide. Source: StatCounter.

Apple, famously, is vertically integrated. It makes its own software and its own hardware. Though it means less reach (and, as we see here today, less market share) it does have several benefits. For one, because the hardware and software are designed hand-in-hand, within one company, the user experience on Apple products is usually best-in-class. Thanks to that, Apple is known as easy to use. The resulting reputation earns management the right to charge a premium. Hence, fat profit margins. And a booming stock.

Can anyone stop the ascent of Android?

The big question becomes:

Can anyone stop the ascent of Android?

It probably won’t be Apple, for the aforementioned reasons of control and integration and margins.

Perhaps a company we haven’t heard of before will come out of nowhere and take share in dramatic fashion. It would be hard to fathom that scenario, however. Tech companies looking to establish major platforms need lots of developers. Apps power modern-day devices. Without them, we have nothing. It reminds me of the failed attempts of GUI-driven operating systems of yesteryear such as BeOS. They were functionally fantastic. But they lacked software. So you could point and click, look at pretty icons, and move files around. Productivity? Nope. Well, aside from taking notes in a notepad or computing a few things using the built-in calculator. Devs wouldn’t jump on board — they were too busy making gravy, at the time, with programs running on Windows.

For now, it seems as if that little green robot will continue to dominate. How well Google is able to control a quality user experience and margins remains to be seen. Android Wear (its OS that runs on smartwatches) is shaping up to be quite a cautionary tale. Apple Watch is destroying it in share. Albeit it’s a small market, but perhaps an indication of some of Google’s vulnerabilities when it comes to attempting to win new platform markets.