Remember all those years ago, when people laughed at the first Android phones (which were, to tell the truth, pretty clunky, but still...). Remember how Apple fans have always insisted that however well Android did in the smartphone market, it would always be second best, and never seriously threaten Apple's dominance? Well here's what actually happened:
Global smartphone shipments reached 251.4 million units in Q3 2013, up 45 percent from 172.8 million units in Q3 2012. Breaking those numbers down, Google's Android secured a whopping 81.3 percent global share, Apple's iOS fell to 13.4 percent, and Windows Phone took third with 4.1 percent.
So does this mean that Google's dominance is now inevitable? I don't think so – and not because of a certain patent lawsuit that has just been revealed, about which I shall be writing next week. No, the real threat comes from elsewhere:
Chinese domestic mobile producers are cashing in on the smartphone craze as they eye a bigger slice of the market which is dominated by Apple Inc. and Samsung Group.
At the on-going biannual Canton Fair, held from Oct. 15 to Nov.4, in the country's economic hub of Guangdong Province, producers are showcasing their self-developed gadgets.
"Manufacturers like Huawei can produce very advanced smartphones, and their core components are self-developed. The low-end products now just take up a smaller share in Chinese exporters' portfolios. The whole market has changed," said [a representative with French retail group Auchan].
Huawei is already becoming a familiar name in the West, but most people are unaware of just how big it is:
The Shenzhen-based company is the world's second largest telecom equipment maker after Ericsson. It is the sixth largest phone maker in the world, with shipments of handsets totalling 12.9 million in the second quarter.
The company has research and development centers in the UK, Sweden, France and Italy, and employs 70,000 researchers. It provides hundreds of new models for European operators each year. But very few are branded as Huawei phones.
So you may already be using a Huawei smartphone without realising it. That's likely to change soon, as the company starts to offer its own-brand models. And it won't be alone:
Analysis from ABI Research, in New York, showed that in the second quarter of the year, Chinese companies ZTE, Huawei, TCL, Lenovo and Coolpad were ranked as the world's fifth to ninth branded phone makers in terms of sales shipments, surpassing Sony, Blackberry, HTC and Motorola.
The five companies together took up a 15-percent share of the global market of branded cell phones.
Many of these phones use Android – or rather their own variety. And that's the real problem for Google. As these Chinese manufacturers begin to offer their own brands, so they will start customising Android even more – after all, differentiation is crucial if you are trying to convince the public to buy your model rather than someone else's. And so whatever Android fragmentation there is today, tomorrow it is likely to be far worse.
That's going to be a problem for Google, but not necessarily for Android – provided any changes to the underlying code are released as open source. That's an area where Chinese manufacturers have not always followed the rules, but there are signs that's starting to change. Here's one up and coming company doing just that:
Xiaomi have promised to release the kernel code to their phones opening up Xiaomi devices to 3rd party ROM developers.
Xiaomi are following in the footsteps of Oppo and are making the kernel code for their phone open source. Under GPL agreements all manufactures using Android should make their source code freely available, but this isn't always the case especially for Chinese phone makers who like to keep things to themselves.
To summarise, then: watch this space, since a lot is happening here that could have a major impact on the smartphone market (and after that, on tablets...)