The Biggest Winner from Google/Motorola Is… Microsoft?

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Two years ago I facilitated a competitive brainstorming session for a leading pre-paid wireless service provider, with the goal of identifying the threats to incumbent brands. One of the ideas we discussed – but dismissed as too far-fetched – was Google becoming a disruptive provider of free wireless services. Not just free software, but free everything: hardware, software, apps and connectivity – the entire value chain.  After all, if Google can build and monetize (via search advertising) free applications like Gmail and Google Docs, why can’t they build and monetize wireless connectivity?

Two years ago this scenario was too far-fetched to be considered a serious threat, but with Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility Monday, it is now tantalizingly closer. The future of mobile will look very different than its present.

The biggest winner then – at least in the short term – is Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. Carriers are already wary of a smartphone OS duopoly – and like any company worried about the power and leverage of too few suppliers, they are eager for a viable third OS ecosystem. With Google’s power in wireless increasing and the small number of alternative platforms shrinking by the day (see HP’s announcement yesterday that it would discontinue support for WebOS), carriers are going to do everything they can to support WP7. This is despite limited consumer interest in the WP7 devices released to date and despite the fact that – according to our Q4 2010 and Q1 2011 Smartphone Intelligence Survey – Windows is actually losing ground to Apple & Android when it comes to consumer perceptions of ease of use, value, technological sophistication, and so on.

Consumer Associations of Mobile Operating Systems

(Q: Which one operating system would you associate with each of the following statements? Asked of current smartphone owners. n= varies.)

So here’s my prediction: I believe that one of the big OEMs without a proprietary OS (LG, HTC and Samsung) will soon shift its smartphone focus from Android to WP7. This development, combined with Nokia’s more carrier friendly and aggressive marketing-lead approach to the US market, will lead to a less concentrated OS marketplace in 2012.

About Christopher Collins:
Chris Collins leads the Technology & Entertainment Practice for Millward Brown Digital. In this role, Chris provides data-driven insights and strategic guidance to leading retailers, telecommunications carriers, consumer electronics manufacturers, and their marketing partners. Prior to Compete, Chris was a senior member of the Consumer Wireless team at Yankee Group Research and worked as a management consultant for Monitor Group and IBM Business Services. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn.