CES shows few contenders for mobile value

As the Consumer Electronics Show wraps up, the week uncapped numbers that might give a small business user concern about choosing Apple’s solutions: the iPhone, the iPad, perhaps even the Mac itself. Estimates now show more phones using Android, Google’s phone operating systems, than Apple’s iOS iPhones.

The developments can be parsed to show Android is moving to a dominant position in the market. One marketing analyst I know thinks Android’s wide-open structure for app development is the key to making Google’s Android Number 1, and adds that it’s a ranking that will draw more interest from developers. That might translate into fewer apps for the iPhone/iPad user. It’s a horse race mentality, this analysis, one designed for the short attention span.

Is this really all we want? “Wow, we’re selling the most!” Because our lives seem littered with stuff that’s top-of-the-charts, but sucks to own. There’s got to be a higher goal to aim for than “We sell more than anybody else.” Great for the vendor, and a real home run for the marketeer. Not so great for the buyer of products to run a small business, where there’s less room for a mistake in acquiring these tools.

A Google exec said in Walt Mossberg’s WSJ column that today’s Android is a product for early adopters. Maturity is still in the future for this iPhone/iPad alternative. Google gives away the OS, while Apple sells its app technology. There’s accountability for quality in the Apple model, and virtually none in Google’s.

But my analyst friend Guy Smith of Silicon Marketing Strategies believes that when a lot of companies start to use something that’s free, “that is an indicator of an acceptable level of maturity.” This all smells like the Windows dog-pile of two decades ago, and I do mean smells.

Once we finish dubbing Android the best — because it sells the most — can we recall how swell Windows has been as a user experience? It’s the last OS that tried to make itself look like the best by just being dominant.

You’ll never be able to offer a product for sale — like iOS — that can maintain a numbers lead against something that’s a giveaway (Android) from a company that’s in the business of retaining eyeballs (Google). Sure, more Android phones will be sold by companies paying nothing to develop the OS. The same companies that tied their innovation to Windows are now trotting down the Android path, expecting different results.

(And why do analysts drop the link between Google and Android so quickly? Just try doing a search and replace of “Android” with “Google” and see how you feel. It’s not like Android is some kind of open source treasure. It’s the creation of one company with inscrutable aims. Support one, and you support the aims of the other.) Once they’re done wallowing in the glory of trumpeting Google’s handiwork, have a quick read of the blog article “The Unbearable Inevitability of Being Android,” a story that ties Google’s aims (market dominance) with its “be everywhere” mantra.

“For Google, nearly all of whose profits depend on advertising revenue, dominance expressed as clickstream traffic is the currency… So what happens when one company ties its market destiny to another’s rate of innovation? The movie “One OS, Many Partners” that we’ve seen before in Wintel theaters didn’t have a happy ending. Having secured a very fat market dominance, Microsoft displayed an embarrassing level of paternal indifference and inability to innovate.”

“Even Microsoft’s biggest partners complained: Acer about lack of proper tablet OS support, Dell about better server support against Linux, HP about media center innovation, and nearly everyone about getting burned by the WMP/PlaysForSure/Zune debacle. At the end of its inevitability run, most of the Microsoft “partners” were left holding the bag — of stalled innovation, disappearing margins and market irrelevance. That’s the leitmotiv of the “One OS, Many Partners” screenplay. It’s a classic dominance play, and Google is perfecting it in its rerun.”

In the meanwhile, the article adds, Android’s ascent gives Google more eyeballs to do the following, all in the name of Don’t Be Evil:

–Go into business in China despite all evidence of rampant human rights violations
–Get into bed with the worst phone carrier to rape net neutrality
–Let its “walled backlot” search become a cesspool of SEO swindlers
–Collect unauthorized data via illegal WiFi mapping all over the globe
–Risk exposing private email account data in hopes of capturing social graph info by default
–Favor its own properties in search results in surreptitious ways.

I still favor the enterprise of innovating, developing and nurturing a product for a price, rather than giving away products with zero accountability for innovation or future compatibility. Yup, there’s a great market for the people who want “good enough.” It won’t make anybody paranoid who sells well, and sells a product with a superior consumer experience. This isn’t the crippled Apple of 1992 that Google is attacking, an Apple adrift and confused about how to enrapture buyers. It’s the second-largest company in the world by market cap.