The great Android misconception

Lately I have read a growing number of articles on how Android has been growing its market share very rapidly and how it has beaten Apple’s iOS in the US.

When I read this for the first time it seemed a bit odd as it considers all phones from all manufacturers summed up as one competitor to Apple’s iPhone. Now that isn’t just silly, it’s dumb.

Apple manufactures pretty much a single model of smartphone, storage capacity differences notwithstanding. They do continue to sell at a low price the previous year’s model as an entry-level unit but, all focus is on the latest model.

This one phone, has sold over 14 million units just in the last quarter alone.

This one phone, has sold over 14 million units just in the last quarter alone. Is there any other phone in the market that comes close to that? Sales of the iPhone have accelerated dramatically since the introduction of the iPhone 4 and show no sign of slowing down.

Last year, I wrote a post which touches on the reasons for the current Android growth spurt. It is quite simple in fact. Android is the only alternative for those that have no alternative. This is true in many levels.


The Phone Manufacturer’s Perspective

Let’s start by looking at phone manufacturers. There you are, merrily going along, producing myriad designs every year and pitching them against competitors that are doing pretty much the same as you.  Then, comes along Apple with a revolutionary phone which is totally different from what you do and has the audacity of only producing a single model a year.  What’s worse, people love it!

What do you do now? Well, you copy it. What else?! You’ve been copying one another in the phone industry right from the start, so this should be business as usual.

Damn! That didn’t work. People didn’t want to buy your phones just because they had a touch screen and icons. The problem is the software. You never really thought you would have turn your phones into computers. The comes along Google and offers to provide the software for free as long as you follow its licensing guidelines. Without another viable choice but to write an OS from scratch, you take the deal.


The Mobile Carrier’s Perspective

Now let’s look at it from the point of view of carriers. Apple has an exclusive agreement with another carrier to sell that accursed iPhone. What will we do? They are sucking up smartphone users left, right and center.

Hey these other manufacturers are introducing some phones that look like an iPhone. Let’s get behind and push to see if we can get some Android smartphone sales too. Better yet, let’s on these new smartphones and forget about old style phones al together or we will look bad compared to the carrier that sells the iPhone.


The User’s Perspecitve

Last, but certainly not least, we can look it from the user’s point of view. My carrier doesn’t carry the iPhone and I don’t want to change carriers. What can I do to get email and browsing on my phone? Oh, the carrier is offering a two for one promotion on this phone which looks just like the iPhone. Maybe I’ll get those.

Oh, the carrier is offering a two for one promotion on this phone which looks just like the iPhone. Maybe I’ll get those.

Android is and has always been the choice for people and companies that don’t have the option of getting an iPhone.

A good example of just how little choice was left to phone manufacturers is Nokia’s recent partnership with Microsoft to release Windows Phone 7 smartphones. Nokia seems to have concluded that their own Symbian OS had no future and that they couldn’t wait long enough for their other OS initiative to bare fruit. I won’t go into whether or not this was a good decision now, because that is a whole other post. This should, however, be a good measure of just how desperate phone manufacturers are getting.

Why are phone manufacturers getting desperate if Android is growing fast? Because individually, they aren’t really selling that much and they are not making that much money.

The overall question about the future of Android should be whether or not manufacturers will be able to make money from phones which are based on it.

The overall question about the future of Android should be whether or not manufacturers will be able to make money from phones which are based on it. The fact is that apart from a few hard-core geeks, everyone I have met that uses an Android phone, bought the phone, regardless of the OS, not because of it.

When all this is considered I find it hard to swallow this whole Android is winning over iOS story.  iOS is, in fact, being used as a platform by Apple and independent developers, while Android is fulfilling the role that the simpler phone OSs used to, when regular mobile phones (not smartphones) where still being introduced in large numbers.

We will have to wait and see how things evolve in 2011, but I seriously doubt we will see Android really “winning”.  Android’s market share will probably continue to grow until all manufacturers without a credible alternative have switched to it.  Whether this growth will represent a win for anyone, including Google, it is still to be seen.

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5 Responses to “ “The great Android misconception”

  1. Great post, I couldn’t agree more. Most of the users on Android are not buying an Android Phone, they are buying a reasonably priced smartphone, the majority of these users are not app users and probably use a small fraction of the functionality of the Android OS.

  2. Joe says:

    Actually, I think a lot of people would purchase an Android phone for the OS. People have a lot more freedom with it, as Google do not keep a tight leash over the OS as Apple do with the iPhone. The software is open source, the phones are rootable, and the app store does not require apps to be approved, allowing a potentially phenomenal wealth of apps available to users – Dave, this is also contrary to what you said about the majority of Android users not being app users. Surely an unscreened app store is an attraction to app users?

    In addition, the interface is far more customisable. Users can set their own wallpaper, widgets and change virtually every aspect of the interface and, as the software is open source, phone manufacturers can include their own interfaces to the Android software. With an iPhone, you’re pretty much stuck with how it comes out of the box.
    Additionally, buying an Android phone means you are not limited to one (relatively poor) hardware option – the user can choose one which most suits them.

    Saying that comparing Android to iOS is an unfair comparison is like saying comparing OS X to Windows is unfair. Yet it is a comparison that is often made (including sales figures), and does not seem unrealistic to me. People don’t buy the iPhone because of the hardware. You implied yourself that people buy the iPhone because of the software, so making a comparison with Android certainly seems logical.

  3. Mauricio Longo says:

    I did not mean to imply that the comparison between iOS and Android is unfair. What I meant is that Android is taking up the space of the existing non-smartphone OSs when all phones are changing to being smartphones.

    For the Android to have won over iOS, Apple’s sales should have been shrinking, instead of growing. In choosing to sell its own phones which runs its own OS, Apple declined to being in competition to license its OS to other manufacturers, which is what Google is doing with Android. I certainly don’t expect that Apple will one day have the majority participation in the mobile phone market as a single phone model will certainly not appeal to everyone.

    Of users that have chosen Apple, however, more have done so because it is their first choice and some times they are willing to pay more to get it, than is the case with Android. A lot of Android users get an Android phone because it is a cheaper alternative.

    I agree that Android is more customizable, but iOS does allow you to choose your wallpapers as well. 🙂

  4. Joe says:

    I see your point now – you’re saying that where there previously were several different competing OSs, Android has now replaced most of those, so by comparing the two it would be like comparing iOS to the rest of the market at once. Perhaps a fairer comparison would be iPhone versus Google’s Nexus range, for example. I agree that Android hasn’t ‘won’, I think they would have to pull something seriously inventive out of the hat for that to happen.

    I agree that many users choose Android due to it being a cheaper alternative, but I don’t think it is fair to say that people only choose Android because an iPhone is not an option. Yes, the iPhone was revolutionary and the original smartphone, but that does not mean everything else should be rated on a scale of one-to-iPhone, or that people won’t prefer alternatives that offer different or better features.

    Personally, I much prefer the Android interface and features. However, despite this, given the choice I would probably choose an iPhone purely for the advantage in stability alone. And it’s been a while since I used an iPhone, I didn’t realise you could change the wallpaper. 🙂

  5. Mauricio Longo says:

    I think we’re pretty much in agreement now. 🙂 I concur that the scale should not be from 1 to iPhone. Personally, I think the combination hardware+OS+Apps of the iPhone provides the best “package” for those that are heavily into mobile computing (on the phone). Again on a personal level, I might buy an Android phone, but would not make it a platform for applications as I would not rely on the apps porting well to other devices I might purchase in the future.

    On the other hand all my iPod Touch 2nd Gen Apps run on my iPad and many have moved with me through 2 major iOS updates. Because of this “stability” and “reliability” I’ve got 200 iOS Apps. Btw, my iPod Touch still can’t change wallpapers, but all newer iOS devices can.

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