A common point of contention between fans of Android and iOS is that of market share. The contention seems to arise when analyzing Android’s grasp on the market, and the large margins that it has maintained over Apple’s OS. As a result of the constant bickering, we might even occasionally forget that Apple and Google are not the only players in this game. That’s only natural, but as it currently stands, there are three rungs: Dominant – Android, iOS; Struggling – BlackBerry OS, Windows Phone/Mobile; and the Also-rans – Symbian, webOS.

Conventional wisdom dictates that the also-rans are not long for this world – and I may agree- and that the Struggling OS’s have to change things around or suffer the consequences. BlackBerry OS, and any other OS RIM might be able to cook up, is seen as a sinking ship, and Windows Phone has the reputation of a plane that can’t quite take off. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that a large marketshare is necessary for survival, but that isn’t necessarily the truth.

The answer to how many can survive is quite simple: however many can remain profitable. However, the correlation between market share and profitability is not as strong as youiOS App Store Logo might imagine. One of the most important metrics to consider is that of application purchases. Although comparative data is scarce, there is a telling difference between the Apple’s App Store, and the Android Market. Although the number of Android users is greater, Apple is generating a disproportionately higher revenue in comparison. The differences between the behavior of iOS and Androids users is detailed here, but succinctly put, iOS users are compelled to purchase apps, while Android users are not. This is one of the reasons that makes iOS a highly profitable platform, regardless of the size of the user base. This highlights the point that even if a platform lacks a comparative advantage in market share, as is the case with Windows Phone and BlackBerry OS, the difference is mitigated by users who are more motivated to make purchases.

The size of the user base also favors the support of multiple platforms. By some estimates, the number of wireless subscribers currently exceeds 5 billion. That’s a lot of people. Granted, that is the combined amount of all mobile users, the vast majority of them feature phone users. But that number will grow. Cell phones that were once privy to the upper echelon have invaded all social classes, and the current technology can be expected to trickle down as well. Windows Phone 7 Mango - Windows LogoTechnoBuffalo’s own Adriana Lee recently posted an article discussing Nielsen’s latest assessment of smartphone penetration in the U.S., and the results are stunning. 43% of all mobile users have smart phones. That number includes everyone. Even old people (65+) – who, as Adriana points out, have adopted the technology at a very admirable 18%. Smaller platforms such as Microsoft’s may only control 7% of the current market, but if they hold steady and the rate of smart phone adoption holds true, that 7% becomes a very substantial user base.

However, the key to maintaining or increasing market share might not be so easy. The competition within the industry is cutthroat, and platforms must be dynamic. The market is big enough to support more than Android and iOS, but the less well-established platforms must learn to differentiate themselves in meaningful ways. It’s not just about the phone anymore, it’s about the platform itself being an object of desire.