Over the last few days, the news hasn't been good for RIM - the company that created the BlackBerry. The Australian MD has quit
and they've been forced to pay over $140M in a patent stoush
. Throw in a dwindling market share - down from 40% to 4% in just a few years - and you see a company in dire straits.
So what else is out there? What are the differences between the major mobile platforms?
1. RIM and BlackBerry
BlackBerry was the first smartphone platform but the last major entrant to tablet computing. RIM's focus with the PlayBook is security - the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) of the Australian Government has approved the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet for use in government agencies.
Over recent years, RIM has seen significant competition on two fronts. The increasing penetration of Microsoft ActiveSync has hurt BlackBerry with sales for their Enterprise Server and Apple and Google have smashed them on the handset front. As a result, there have been management upheavals and the bankers have been called in with rumours persisting that they are looking for a buyer.
Problems with lawsuits over patents and concerns that RIM has had to bend in order to accommodate some foreign governments means that without a significant change, the platform is in serious trouble.
2. Apple and iOS
Apple's play has been heavily focussed on consumers but they've used that as a backdoor with iPhones and iPads now finding their way into businesses.
Although iOS isn't the number one seller any more (Android has overtaken them by some counts) it commands lots of hype and mindshare. Given Apple has about $100 billion in the bank, there's little chance of the platform being orphaned any time soon.
In short, Apple has a clear strategy with their mobile platform that covers software and hardware. They have plenty of money in the bank and are committed to developing and supporting iOS.
Our only concern is that Apple has a reputation for making changes to their software that can break connectivity to enterprise systems. In large businesses this can be painful but may not be an issue for smaller businesses.
3. Google and Android
Google is probably the most innovative player in mobility software but they rely on hardware partners like HTC, Samsung and others. That means that there are lot of Android devices on the market covering different form factors.
The most recent release of Android, Version 4 or Ice Cream Sandwich, is an excellent mobile operating system on both smartphones and tablets. Just watch out if you're buying cheap devices as they may be running older versions of Android and not all devices can be upgraded.
Android's star is rising with recent figures suggesting it's outselling iOS with products that aren't just like Apple's but often better.
4. Microsoft Windows Phone and Windows 8
Microsoft has two, separate operating systems for people who need portable computing.
Windows Phone 7 was totally redesigned for mobile devices. The tiled interface is finger-friendly and the handsets are far more attractive than the previous generation. As you'd expect, Microsoft Exchange compatibility is excellent, it integrates with the most popular social media sites and has the best out of the box integration with Microsoft Office.
Microsoft recently struck a deal with Nokia. That was significant enough deal that Gartner now thinks Microsoft will be number two in the smartphone market behind Android by 2015 relegating Apple to third place, with a shrinking share.
On the tablet front, Microsoft was clearly surprised (as was everyone) with the release and success of the original iPad. After more than 10 years pushing Windows based tablets, they saw a new player enter and totally redefine the market. Previews of Windows 8 show a very tablet-friendly operating system that could see Microsoft regain market share in the tablet market.