With a record number of activations for iOS and Android devices, it’s pretty clear that the mobile appliance is here to stay. Given that Microsoft has been little more than a kid with nose pressed to the candy store window in the holiday race, I think it’s also likely that the giant software firm has booted yet another opportunity. If, that is, there ever was an opportunity for somebody starting as late as Microsoft did. But despite this, there’s still one thing that could save Microsoft’s phone and tablet strategy; Ice Cream Sandwich.
Android 4.0 is, according to pretty much everyone who’s seen it, a major step forward in the open-source OS. Not only will it resolve the differences between tablets and phones (or most of them) from a software perspective, it elevates the whole user experience significantly. Given all this joy and love, then, how does it create an opportunity for Microsoft and Windows? By not being offered.
There are already a host of Android phones and tablets out there, and arguably the key Android tablet buyers and phone buyers have already committed. These people have earlier versions, some all the way back to the Android 2.3 and most in the “Honeycomb” version 3 collection. The question for the companies who supplied these gadgets is whether to offer upgrades to Ice Cream Sandwich on their older devices or to try to sell new ones. Do they present users the choice of perpetually out-of-date and increasingly app-incompatible Android versions or scrapping the gadgets they just bought and getting another? The wrong choice—force a new buy—is the easiest to make from a business perspective, but it could kill then whole Android community. Alienate all your early supporters; a great marketing strategy.
Apple’s iOS is going to stay up-to-date on older models of the iPhone and iPad. Microsoft would do the same with its phone and tablet OSs. So Android could be on the cusp of being the only popular OS that strands all its early adopters. Google, Android’s biggest supporter, could do little about this unless it took the dramatic step of building its own Ice Cream Sandwich versions for all those old tablets whose vendors walk away from updates. If Google does that, of course, then no tablet or phone vendor will bother to spend money on an upgrade. Watch the progress here; it’s the big test for Android.