Dell’s announcement they are going to exit the Smartphone business – for the second or possibly even third time – comes on the same day Nielsen release a survey showing smartphones are now the bulk of US mobile phone purchases.
For Dell this shows the problem they have in being locked into the commodity PC business, what was once a lucrative business is now suffering softening margins and slowing sales. In desperation they are looking to other product lines but struggle to differentiate themselves in other markets.
The difficulties of doing this in the smartphone sector is shown in Nielsen’s analysis of what phones are selling.
Of those sold in the last three months, a whopping 43% were Apple products while 48% were Google Android devices.
Even more frightening in those Nielsen figures is Blackberry’s collapse where the Canadian product has 12% of the market but only 5% of sales in recent months. It’s little wonder Blackberry’s owner RIM is laying off senior managers.
For Microsoft, that only 4% of phones were “other” than Android, Apple or RIM show just how tough the task of selling Windows Phone is going to be, something that won’t be helped with dumb marketing stunts.
Google’s apparent success in mobile isn’t all that it seems either; while the Android platform has nearly half the smartphone market it doesn’t appear to be particularly profitable.
The Guardian’s Charles Arthur looked at a number of legal cases involving Google’s mobile patents and extrapolated the claimed damages to get an estimate of how much Google earns from Android.
Arthur estimates Android has earned Google $543 million dollars between 2008 and 2011 which, given Google’s mobile revenues last year were claimed to be $2.5 billion last year, indicates Google makes more money from Apple devices than it does from its own products.
While Arthur’s estimates are debatable, they show how Apple’s profits dominate the smartphone market. Google, like Dell in computers, are locked into the commodity, low margin end of the market.
Just as Dell have learned that entering new markets doesn’t guarantee success, Google may have to learn the same lesson.
To be fair to Google, at least management are aware of being too dependent upon one major source of revenue.
Whether mobile services built around the Android platform can provide an alternative cashflow of similar size to their web advertising services remains to be seen.