Apple may appear to be on top of the mobile world thanks to the iPhone
and iPad. But according to analysts at Gartner, Apple iOS market share
will peak at 17.1% in 2011 and drop to 14.9% by 2014.

At the same time, Android, which had just under 4% of
the mobile OS market in 2009, will rise significantly this year to become the
leading mobile operating system in North America. By 2014, Gartner
believes Android will be just about neck and neck globally with Nokia’s
Symbian OS. Combined, Android and Symbian will have control of
approximately 60% of the mobile OS market in 2014, leaving Apple and iOS
in the dust.

But unfortunately for Google and Nokia, bigger isn’t necessarily better, and for Apple, less is probably more. The reason: it’s not market share that counts. It’s what portion of the market you have and what you do with it that does.

On that front, nobody is in a better position in this space than Apple. And that will likely be true in 2014, even if Gartner’s crystal ball is telling the truth about the mobile OS market share figures.

Why? The iPhone is not only the device of choice for some of the most desirable (read: high value) mobile consumers, it’s increasingly working its way into the lucrative enterprise market because companies are finding it hard to resist the phones their employees prefer to use when they get off work. Furthermore, the ecosystem of applications and content that has been built around the iPhone is the most successful in the space; consumers love their iPhone apps and for developers, the iPhone has in turn provided a veritable gold rush.

There’s no doubt that Android has gobs of potential, and in my opinion, Google has done a fantastic job pushing it. But it’s still unclear what Android will do for Google’s bottom line. Right now, the Android application and content ecosystem doesn’t rival that of the iPhone and for most developers looking for a bona fide revenue opportunity, Android is not nearly as attractive as the iPhone. Could that change in the next four years? Certainly, but Google will face plenty of challenges, like payments, because of the approach it has taken with Android.

Symbian may be the leading mobile OS, but Nokia’s market is incredibly different than Apple’s. Specifically, Nokia’s bread and butter is handsets that target the mass-market and developing world. That’s not to say that Nokia is poorly positioned for a future dominated by mobile, but which company would most of us rather run or invest in right now — Apple or Nokia? One need look no further than the stock market for the answer.

Obviously, Apple shouldn’t simply ignore market share. It does risk making some of the same mistakes in the mobile space that led to the dominance of PCs running Microsoft Windows. But it is worth considering the possibility that some of Apple’s ‘mistakes‘ haven’t really been ‘mistakes‘. That’s because Apple has proven to be an reliably innovative company. Sure, 90% of desktop computers today might be Macs had Apple adopted a more Microsoft-like strategy. But despite its ‘mistakes‘, Apple is worth nearly as much as Microsoft today because it evolved and pioneered entirely new markets. Would that have happened if Apple was Microsoft? Perhaps not.

At the end of the day, we should remember that the mobile market is an expanding pie, not a shrinking pie. There’s plenty to go around. Android and Symbian might get the biggest pieces, but it’s quite likely that four years from now, Apple will still have the best pieces. And that means this pie is quite literally Apple pie.

Photo credit: L. Marie via Flickr.