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And Then There Were Four: The Enterprise Mobility Perspective

Wow.  What an absolutely chaotic week in the world of (enterprise) mobility.  We spent the majority of the week digesting Monday’s news where Google announced its intention to buy Motorola.  Not to be outdone by that news, HP announced yesterday that it was cancelling immediately its webOS hardware business and considering its “strategic options” for the future of webOS.  That’s earnings call parlance for saying that webOS is pretty much dead.

I was talking to a colleague yesterday and I asked him a very simple question: “Have you ever seen so many major changes in the mobility landscape as what we have seen in the last SIX months???”  His answer was clear, concise and to the point.

“No.  Never.”

Here’s the quick recap.

  • Symbian and MeeGo get killed off
  • Nokia bets the farm on Windows Phone
  • RIM struggles
  • Google’s market share goes up like a rocket
  • Apple owns the tablet market
  • Google goes vertical a la Apple
  • HP raises the white flag for webOS

What an unbelievable turn of events.  Unbelievable, if only in terms of the rate of change…not necessarily what has happened.  We all knew that SEVEN mobile platforms would not be sustainable in the long run….but to lose THREE in SIX months, is nothing short of astounding.

I come today not to praise webOS, nor to bury it.  (I know, I have adapted that famous line from Marcus Antonius more than once, but it always seems applicable.) I have followed webOS since its inception and always had high hopes for it and the team building it.  The cold, hard truth is that it just didn’t work out.  I’m here today in stead to tell you how the demise of this once promising platform is GOOD for enterprise mobility.

Even though mobility has been around for some time, the reality is that the “Post PC era” is only a few years old.  (Enterprise) mobility is still a nascent market.  By definition, you will have multiple entrants trying to penetrate the market.  Over time, you will see competition increase, see companies make brilliant moves, and others massive missteps.  There is then M&A, divestitures, implosions, “strategic alliances,” etc…. that all point to one thing.  Consolidation.

This consolidation phase is the maturation of a sector.  I guess you can say that (enterprise) mobility is now moving beyond its “teenage” years (assuming we are measuring this industry in dog years) and becoming a young adult.

What this means is that enterprise mobility management vendors can focus now on just four platforms, not paying lip service to a 5th, 6th or 7th.  This means they will be able to provide deeper functionality on a level playing field more quickly.  This also means that organizations will have less diversity….and this is ultimately a good thing.  Now mind you, I’m all for a heterogeneous mobile environment, but IT departments tell me all the time that they would like “less chaos.”  webOS – even though it had little mind (and market) share – was still in the mix.  It’s now completely an afterthought. That’s a good thing.

IT departments can now focus on managing devices and developing applications for (only) four platforms.  That will accelerate the further adoption of mobile applications in the workplace.  Now of course, the other reality is that iOS and Android get the dominant mind share today, with BlackBerry and Windows Phone gunning for the 3rd slot.

I’m not here today to suggest what the rankings will be (IP litigation will undoubtedly play into the mix), but the billion dollar question becomes “How many mobile operating systems can the market sustain? 4? 3? or 2?”

Only time will tell.


  1. Posted August 19, 2011 at 10:07 | Permalink

    The bigger question, to me, is what does this mean for innovation. I think the rapid-fire innovation on the hardware side will start to die out as a need to innovate and for others to play catch-up is over. That (hopefully) means that we’ll see more innovation on software and services as developers have fewer platforms (I’d say we’re at three in tablets) for their attention. The first casualty? Could be HTML5 web-based apps, if you are a believer in the “native apps are richer” camp.

    Time will tell. More thoughts of mine are here.

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    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 10:15 | Permalink

      Actually, I think innovation will accelerate in the short term. Why? As I mentioned, less platform diversity will require people to think “deeper” to find ways to differentiate on a shrinking number of platforms. The casualties in the mobility space are just a natural by-product of the maturation process.

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      • Posted August 19, 2011 at 10:21 | Permalink

        Absolutely a side-effect of maturation, and I note on my blog that I expect innovation, too, just not in the hardware in the apps and services that let us get more bang from the devices we have. Will we see faster processors? Bigger, better cameras? Sure, but those things will be margin notes on what’s news in mobile going forward.

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  2. Posted August 19, 2011 at 17:33 | Permalink

    Very nice summary of recent developments!

    What interests me (among other things) is whether the combination of these developments can be seen as “stepping on the gas” in speeding up the emergence of the post-PC era.

    HP is veering away from PC business too– is that a sign of acknowledgment of erosion of the PC base– whether in the enterprise or elsewhere? (oops..”veering away” — HP-specific pun unintended)

    While platform innovation can focus on applications and services, there still is room for hardware innovation of a “disruptive” magnitude. I am thinking of some kind of convergence of laptops towards tablets/pads. Then, laptops, even the sleekest ones, will go the way of PCs. Laptops are already felt to be clunkier than pads/tablets in many mobile usage scenarios in the enterprise.

    Mobile device evolution, along with cloud technology will be key to confirming that we indeed may be well into the post-PC era.

    A strategic move for the key mobile platform players in positioning for the future will be the reduction of differences if any between platforms for smartphones and pads/tabs.

    RIM’s move away from Blackberry OS towards QNX is a step in this direction.

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    • Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:01 | Permalink

      I read HP’s decision to drop out of the consumer market as much less a sign of acknowledgement than a move by Apotheker to focus HP on a market that he’s more familiar with. Personally, I think its a poorly thought out position given HP’s #1 ranking, but then I’m not responsible for a $100b+ company… ;-)

      I strongly agree that there will be much hardware innovation ahead, as well as software and services. Just look at the massive variety of Android powered phones and Windows powered laptops now. These two platforms alone will provide ample opportunity to hardware vendors to innovate and differentiate on for years to come. And, if history repeats itself, Apple’s ‘go it alone’ approach will leave it choking on the others’ dust once again.

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