Who Wins When Android Wins?

Fred Wilson argues that current trends will likely continue and Android will emerge as the dominant operating system for mobile devices, outpacing Apple’s iOS:

Obviously straight-line trend projection is a mug’s game, but the basic logic seems compelling. But of course this is a reminder that competition in the mobile marketplace is multifaceted. On the one hand Apple makes an operating system that competes with Google’s operating system. On the other hand Apple makes phones that compete with phones from Motorola, HTC, Nokia, etc. If a whole bunch of different device-manufacturers all use Android, they may all end up with thin profit-margins and giant combined sales totals, even while Apple earns high margins and relatively modest sales.

The question I suppose is who winds up as the Microsoft in this scenario. In the PC business, Apple the computer-maker ultimately ended up pretty successful compared to other computer-makers, but Apple the OS-maker was a failure compared to Microsoft the OS-maker. So in mobile does Google play the role of Microsoft? Maybe, but Microsoft wasn’t (and isn’t) giving Windows away for free.

Instead it seems to me that in mobile devices the people who end up extracting the bulk of the monopoly rents will be the people who own the broadband spectrum — Verizon, AT&T;, TMobile, Sprint, etc. — since that’s the limited commodity. Which is a roundabout way of getting to the reminder that regulating this sector in an appropriate way is a key task of 21st century policymaking. There’s competition among wireless service providers, but it’s an inherently limited form of competition because it’s extremely difficult to have new entrants.