An interesting question from the weekend email bag:
"If you take the data provided by NetApplications as a semi-reliable indicator of market share then Linux has three times market share of the iPhone platform (0.91% for Linux vs 0.32% for the iPhone). Given that Linux has three times the market share of the iPhone, why is the iPhone considered to be a major success while Linux is still perceived as struggling to achieve relevance?"
First off I want to make it clear that it's hard to draw any reliable conclusions between market share as portrayed by NetApplications (or any other stats provider) and actual user base. If you assume that Apple has sole some 8 - 9 million iPhones by now, that doesn't allow you to draw the conclusion that there are around 24 - 27 million Linux users out there. There are plenty of factors that could skew the data. To be honest with you, I haven't got a clue as to how many Linux users there are out there.
With that out of the way, let's jump into the meat of the question - why is the iPhone considered to be a major success while Linux is still perceived as struggling to achieve relevance?
I think I can sum up why in a few bullet points:
- iPhone is an Apple device, and Apple is hot right now
- iPhone = nice and shiny bit of kit = cool = relevant
- The prices that customers have to pay to enter into the iPhone club is quite high (cost of the device itself, plus a contract), and that helps keep many of the customer committed, and this in turn helps increase the relevance of the platform
- Apple has, through marketing and by putting in place infrastructure such as the App Store, has made the platform seem bigger and more relevant that it is
- The entry bar for developers is low - sign up, write apps, get the apps accepted and then the developer can just sit back and wait for the revenue to flow in (or not) - customers are a few finger presses away, and that's very attractive to developers
- At the moment the iPhone is enjoying being a single unified platform (both the first and second generation iPhone and iPod touch devices have virtually identical functionality), while Linux on the other hand is more diverse and fragmented
Personally, I'm not so sure that the iPhone is more relevant than Linux. Sure, if you're a developer and you want to monetize your efforts, the iPhone is an attractive platform to aim for. But Linux is also finding niches where it to is becomming relevant, especially when it comes to mobile platforms.
Bottom line, there's room enough for both platforms! However, don't expect the media to turn their backs on the iPhone just yet - when it comes to column inches, the iPhone will be the clear winner for some time to come.