It looks like the smartphone sector is going through a bumpy patch. Google has closed down its Nexus One on-line store, while there’s disquiet amongst developers over the application store model of distributing and monetising content.
Feels to me like growing pains for a sector of the mobile market that has witnessed massive growth in a relatively short space of time.
Google’s travails in flogging actual handsets simply proves that sometimes you can have a bad idea – namely believing consumers will ditch a rational desire to physically see and touch something before purchase.
The developers bellyaching is a sign of a maturing market in which manufacturers are starting to realise that the distribution models that allowed them to build a business in the first place are not as flexible nor favourable as they once appeared.
However, while we can put these spats down to the mobile phone market’s equivalent of puberty, everyone should guard against a turn back towards closed platforms. Virtually every major handset manufacturer has either developed – or bought – some form of mobile OS and while all the talk is of open standards and interoperability, the temptation to “do an Apple” and try and build a closed platform that locks customers in must be tempting.
That would be massively against the spirit of the age and potentially damaging to the industry.
Consumers are putting a premium on choice while developers thrive on the develop-once/publish-many model. In a market where software is becoming the main selling point, manufacturers and mobile operators are fighting to remain relevant and this makes for a delicate balancing act between, on the one side, innovating on design, functionality, tariffs and service while on the other, ensuring both developers and customers have access to a broad ecosystem of applications and content.
It’s a tough task and there are bound to be more bumps along the way. For the smartphone sector to continue to innovate and thrive however, everyone needs to be kept ‘appy.