A bunch of figures travelled all over the web this past week regarding Android’s remarkable growth. Its growth is indeed remarkable – bigger than the iPhone, bigger than Research In Motion’s BlackBerry (in the US, at least). However, as impressive as those figures are, isn’t it about time we start comparing platforms instead of devices?
I won’t go into these figures too deeply, but the general gist is this: smartphones powered by Google’s Android operating system are incredibly popular, with massive growth figures and ever increasing sales. NPD, for instance, states that during the second quarter of 2010, 33% of smartphones sold in the US were were running Android, compared to 28% for RIM, and 22% for the iPhone. Another research firm, Canalys, came to the same conclusion. Nielsen has a very telling graph, too.
So, the inevitable is occurring right before our very eyes. Not too long ago, several people declared me crazy when I said that Android phones will – without a doubt – overtake the iPhone in sales figures. This is what I wrote:
Sure, Apple will most likely still make far more money per sold iPhone device than competitors will per Android phone, but the trend is clear: as much as I love my iPhone, it will be relegated to a ~10% market share figure within a few quarters. Apple didn’t launch the iPad just because it wanted to – it launched it because it needs to. They see the writing on the wall.
So, yeah, unicorns might not be real, but the popularity of Android sure is. Still, there are a number of possibly mitigating factors here that could possibly work in favour of Apple. For instance, the iPhone 4 leak was well-documented, and some claim this has caused a massive sales dip for Apple in Q2. The NPD data only covers 7 days of the iPhone 4 being available, so for a fairer comparison, we might have to wait until the results from Q3 are in.
But isn’t that kind of part of the problem here? We have several high-profile companies churning out Android phones at breakneck speed – Motorola, HTC, Samsung – and Apple, a single company, simply can’t keep up with this pace. The iPhone 4’s screen is pretty impressive compared to the competition, but for the rest, it’s been pretty much a catch-up effort for Apple.
The same more or less applies to the software side – yes, I personally believe that iOS 4 is slightly more polished than Android (mind, though, that my experience only goes as far as Android 2.1), but it still lacks many a feature I come to expect from a modern smartphone operating system. Like, you know, a notification system. A sort-of homescreen with at-a-glance useful information. Multitasking that amounts to more than a list of recently-used applications. That sort of thing.
There’s another problem for Apple, too: carriers. As hero, legend, and probably the best Mac OS X reviewer in the history of ever John Siracusa notes, if Apple wants to turn the tide in the US, it needs to get the iPhone on more carriers as soon as possible.
“The only way for Apple to eliminate the distribution and marketing advantage currently enjoyed by Android is to make sure that everywhere an Android phone is for sale, there’s an iPhone sitting right next to it that will work on the same network,” he explains, “Only then will Apple get a fair shot at selling based on the things it can actually control: the hardware and software of the phone itself.”
While Siracusa’s point is an astute one, it does ignore something very important, something these market analyst guys need to get into their skulls as well: it’s not hardware that matters, but software. We need to compare platforms, not devices. In other words, we need to compare Android to iOS – which includes the iPad and iPod Touch. Apple sells a whole boatload of these, and I’m sure iOS is actually still ahead of Android if you compare them platform to platform.
Even this advantage, however, may eventually be nullified by Android. The mobile operating system is set to appear on many tablets, and even televisions will get the Android treatment this year.
All in all, the writing is on the wall, and it has been for a while now, clear to see for anyone: Android will outpace iOS simply because more companies – manufacturers and carriers alike – are pushing it. There’s little Apple can do about it this late in the game, and even the mythical Verizon iPhone will probably arrive too late.
If it arrives at all. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google buttering up Verizon to not carry the iPhone at all. With these kinds of growth figures for its Android phones, should Verizon even care about that thing AT&T sells?