Android Rising, Sony Poised to Join the Smartphone Fight

Yesterday Apple (s aapl) announced the arrival date of its much-ballyhooed tablet, the iPad. It will have a staggered release throughout April, beginning on the 3rd in the U.S. Once it does arrive, we’ll see what effect it has on the mobile landscape. But right now, Apple has other things to worry about if it wants to keep its newly minted status as a leading mobile device company.

The recent threats are at least twofold, one of immediate concern and one potentially dangerous down the road. First, there’s Android’s continued growth in terms of mobile marketshare, compared to Apple’s shrinking slice of the pie. Second, there’s Sony’s (s sne) potential expansion of its mobile operations into direct competition with the iPhone.
Web analytics firm Quantcast released figures this week that show iPhone OS is still the dominant force in terms of mobile web usage, but the trend is working slowly against it. It lost 3.2 percent of its market share last month, while RIM (s rimm) and Google’s (s goog) Android both gained ground. Over the past quarter, Android has gained a whopping 44 percent, while Apple has lost between five and 10 percent during the same period.
That’s only market share percentage, though. Apple is still showing positive growth in terms of mobile users and pageviews, but Google is just doing it that much faster. Which should be worrying to the current king of mobile web. The Nexus One may have been a relatively innocuous volley in the ongoing war, but Google is gaining steam, and quickly.
Another competitor is said to be waiting in the wings, too. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sony is gearing up to offer an iPhone competitor that could have one key advantage: the ability to play PSP and PlayStation games downloaded directly to the advice. That would be in addition to music, video and e-book content that it would also offer for sale through digital distribution.
Sony is not inexperienced in the cell phone market, and it already has a successful digital distribution framework operating as the PlayStation Network store. A PSP with smartphone features could be a very attractive proposition for young customers just entering the market.
Long story short, Apple has enjoyed a lengthy head start in the mobile web generation of smartphones, but after many, many failed attempts, a few competitors are beginning to realize exactly what it will take to catch up to Cupertino. And at this crucial point, Apple is focusing on jumpstarting a brand new market that many aren’t sure even has much potential.
The danger is that the iPhone isn’t being given sufficient attention thanks to the iPad’s imminent launch. If the next generation iPhone only gets some minor incremental updates, like the iPhone 3GS did, then I will seriously begin to question Apple’s sense of prioritization. Resting on its laurels for another year won’t help the company widen the closing gap between it and its competitors, whether or not the iPad succeeds.
Related GigaOM Pro Research: Is an iPhone- and Android-Only World the Best We Can Do?