HTML5 Gives Microsoft, Apple Two Ways to Skin Android’s Cat

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If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then Google Android is creating a whole lot of friendships among the industry’s fiercest competitors. Google Android is handily beating Apple in terms of market share, with an impressive 44 percent share of the entire smartphone market, compared to Apple’s 26 percent share and Microsoft’s 3 percent share.

Apple and Microsoft, not surprisingly, are responding to Android’s threat in two different ways, but both are using HTML5 to compete on their own terms.

HTML5: Another wall around Apple’s garden

Those who, like I, hoped Apple would dramatically lower prices, increase developer outreach through open source and open standards, and otherwise emulate Google in order to grow its smartphone market share are going to be disappointed. The iPhone’s decreasing market share may be what Steve Jobs expected — or even wanted. Apple, after all, has built its business on emphasizing profit margins over market share. It builds a Ritz-Carlton experience, with no intention of ever competing for Holiday Inn distribution.

Yes, Apple is opening up to HTML5, but this is not at attempt to open up its system. Apple will continue to jealously guard a premium iOS experience for those developers willing to write in Objective C. Its adoption of HTML5 was purely a tactical move, meant to counter Adobe’s lock on web content. In order for Apple to maintain its control of its own ecosystem, it needs to keep other proprietary standards out.

Open standards open doors for Microsoft

Microsoft is taking the opposite tack, wanting to replicate its desktop dominance in mobile. While Windows OS is finally losing a little market share to Mac OS X, according to Gartner, Microsoft recognizes the need to win in mobile, which initially means catching up with Apple. The fastest way to gain app parity with Apple’s iOS is not by forcing developers to toe the Silverlight line, but rather by embracing an open web through HTML5.

Microsoft can always lock in customers down the road through proprietary cloud services that deliver data and more to otherwise open devices. But for now, unlike Apple, Microsoft needs a relatively open app story to make Windows 7 look less like a laggard. HTML5 provides a compelling means to this end, a more open approach than RIM’s attempt to quickly add apps to the BlacBberry by supporting Adobe’s AIR and its 3,000-plus ready-made applications.

Time will tell, however, if Microsoft can use HTML5 to wrest the mass-market crown from Google. Microsoft has already taken to the courts to try to slow Android’s momentum. Perhaps it should instead focus on besting Google’s developer appeal of openness. It’s not really in Microsoft’s DNA, but it may be the only way to make its HTML5 love-fest sound sincere enough to work.

Disclosure: I work for Canonical, a Linux vendor.

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