Q&A: Why Android is poised to conquer Europe

While Android has been running rampant in the smartphone market over the past year, it has still been projected to trail Nokia's Symbian operating system as the world's market leader.

Also read: How Android conquered the mobile world in just three years

That may be about to change in Western Europe, according to new research by IDC that projects Android to be the top mobile operating system on the continent as soon as next year. IDC says Android-based phones have accounted for 16% of the mobile operating system market in Western Europe so far this year, an increase of 12 percentage points from the 4% of the mobile OS market Android held in 2009. Although Symbian is still the overall market leader, it has fallen from holding 51% of the Western European mobile operating system market in 2009 to 38% of the mobile operating system market so far in 2010.

In this question-and-answer session with IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo, we'll explore why Android has been such an instant hit and what Apple can do to keep up.

What's been the secret to Android's success in Western Europe?

The iPhone really changed the mobile phone market in Western Europe so that consumers started expecting a lot more from their mobile devices. And really until Android phones started to hit the market, Nokia wasn't able to launch a successful Symbian device that could compete with the iPhone. But ever since the Droid and the HTC Android devices were launched we've seen some very good Android devices that can deliver a similar experience as the iPhone. For instance, the Android apps market is very well-developed and consumers can use it to find apps comparable to what they can find on Apple's App Store.

Why have mobile operators in Europe been so keen to support Android-based devices?

Operators three years ago were saying that they needed some new operating systems that could diminish the power of Symbian and balance out Nokia's power. Mobile operators were too dependent on Nokia. When an operator is so dependent on one specific vendor, they will lose power when it comes to negotiations. So operators needed other vendors to compete and now they can go to Nokia and say they're getting better prices from Android phones.

Android was a very good platform for this because it was open-source and was seen as a good Symbian challenger in Western Europe. HTC, Samsung and Motorola all launched devices and a lot of consumers started saying, "This is very similar to what I can get with the iPhone." So a lot of things came together to make Android so successful.

Symbian is an operating system that has traditionally been quite popular in Europe but not so much in the United States. What sorts of things have attracted users to Symbian over the years and how is Android matching or besting them?

The basic reason that Symbian was so popular was because of its user interface. Nokia's operating system was very good three or four years back in terms of its ease of use. Touchscreen devices hadn't really hit the market yet and Symbian is a very good OS for devices that don't have touchscreens. But once touchscreens became popular, Symbian couldn't compete as well because it wasn't ready that new type of interface.

One of the reasons we've seen Android rise so quickly here in North America is that it's free for device makers and is thus appearing on a wide variety of different device types. Do you expect Apple to respond to this by releasing different iterations of the iPhone, such as an iPhone tailored specifically to enterprise users or an iPhone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard?

In my opinion something like that will happen at some point but no one knows if it will be next year, over the next two years or even later than that. But a company can't keep growing forever if it doesn't increase the number of products it sells, and Apple would have to move the iPhone to new operators and new regions if they don't increase the number of products available. I don't want to speculate but I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple release a cheaper version of the iPhone that has weaker specs but lower pricing. That way they can keep up with Android devices from companies such as LG that are cheaper than the iPhone and that are appealing to people who can't afford premium smartphones.

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