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WP7 vs Android: a struggle for supremacy

Microsoft must not throw away its best chance to outwit Google

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Is Samsung putting WP7 ahead of Android?

Probably the biggest blow in Android‘s hitherto charmed life came last week from Samsung, which, though never religious about operating systems, is hugely important to the success of any platform because of its market size. It has traditionally supported almost any open OS out there – Symbian, WinMo, LiMO, other Linux flavors, and more recently Android and WP7. But it has been narrowing its focus somewhat as it aims to release a few truly high impact devices, rather than take its usual scattergun approach into the smartphone market. It has backed away from Symbian and LiMO and its belated smartphone push centered on variations of a single handset, the hugely successful Galaxy S. But despite the high sales of that phone, it seems that Samsung will focus mainly on Windows Phone 7, rather than Android, in 2011.

According to a report in iMobile.com, Samsung plans for almost two- thirds of its high end models next year to run WP7, even though senior executives said, just a few months ago, that they would prioritise on Android. At this stage, WP7 had not yet hit the market, and Samsung had decided to move away from Symbian.

Samsung insiders said there was no pullback from Android, but it would greatly expand its smartphone ranges overall next year. It may be that the firm believes it can steal an early march in WP7 and dominate it more easily than Android, though previously, HTC and LG have been the closest Microsoft partners.

However its range balances out, the vendor will continue to use its scale to create a wide range of different models targeted carefully at different user profiles. Its own bada platform is also reported to be faring better than many had expected. When it was launched at the start of the year, single-vendor operating systems seemed to be on their way out, but since then the market has fragmented again, with several new options such as MeeGo and webOS 2.0 on the horizon.

And according to consultant Tomi Ahonen, in his latest quarterly update on smartphones, bada had 1.3 million active users in the third quarter, about 2 per cent of the global base for high-end handsets.

That would make bada the most successful mobile OS launch since the first iPhone iOS, achieved with only one handset, the popular Wave, and without the support of a US cellco. The Wave boasted Samsung‘s Super AMOLED display technology and a friendly, widget-based user interface at a lower price than the Galaxy S. It has now been joined by two further bada handsets.

Android remains in pole position to take second place in smartphones next year, and to usurp Symbian in some markets. But the market is a fluid and uncertain one, and Google‘s CEO Eric Schmidt needs to take a more decisive stance.

At last week‘s Web 2.0 Summit, he had his head firmly in the sand, saying the contracts made with the Open Handset Alliance (the group of Android supporters) were good enough to prevent a splintering of Android Market, and that Market apps would run across all handsets. Netflix and Rovio say otherwise, and Google needs to address the issue before it suffers the ultimate humiliation of losing out to Microsoft. ®

Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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