Is Apple repeating the same mistake it made with PCs?

So Many Androids, So Little Time

I went with my friend yesterday to the shiny new AT&T store that opened near my office. He went in looking to get his wife a new iPhone 4. While waiting for an AT&T rep to be available we walked around looking at all of the available phone models.  I was blown away with the diversity in size, price, features and manufacturers of Android phones.

They literally come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Their screens are bigger, sharper and prettier than even Apple's iconic device.  The one thing they all had in common was that regardless of whether they were HTC, Motorolla, Samsung or even Sony Ericsson, they all ran the Android phone system. At the end of the day isn't that the real power of an open source powered platform?

HTC Aria Android smartphone

Yesterday I wrote about billion dollar open source companies. My point was while there are not many companies selling a billion dollars of open source software, there are companies selling a billion dollars using open source.  So it doesn't matter really if you use Linux from Red Hat or Ubuntu or even SUSE, it is still Linux. Apache is under the hood of much of the web hosting platforms and even in the cloud, while VMware is a dominant player in virtualization, many cloud providers are still using open source virtualization software.

It is even more true with Android. Walking around that store yesterday seeing all of those Android phones (knowing that there are many other Android phones that AT&T doesn't sell, too) and even the three or four different models of the new Windows 7 phones, I was struck with a deja vu. Besides all of these other phones, there in one corner of the store was the iPhone display. They had two models. The latest iPhone 4 and the older iPhone 3GS. That was it.

Isn't this a repeat of the PC all over again? IBM invented the personal PC. They made a mistake. They let two upstart companies manufacture the OS and the CPU for their PC. Today we know those companies as Microsoft and Intel.  IBM didn't foresee where that market was going. But what they did do right was let other players manufacture PCs. So companies like Compaq, Dell and Gateway sprung up among literally dozens of others.  Soon the plethora of PCs in all shapes, sizes, configurations and prices just overwhelmed the other personal computer manufacturer that was vying for dominance. 

The PC wave so overtook this other competitor that the competitor nearly went out of business and was never able to get back above 5% of the market share. Who was this other competitor? Apple Computer.  Looking at the AT&T store yesterday I saw the future of the mobile market.  It is history repeating itself.  There will be many makers offering infinite variety of the Android system and there will be Apple.  

Is Apple doomed to be the mobile device for the graphics world like their computers were for so long? I don't know. But I know the openness of Android is going to wash over them like a Tsunami on a South Pacific island. It's not just the phone either. AT&T had the Samsung Galaxy tablet for sale too.  While not priced competitively enough to compete with iPad, it is easy to see how tablets from lots of makers will again drown out the Apple entry.

At the end of the day, it is hard to compete with an open platform. I have seen the future of mobile computing and it is open.

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