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The unstoppable Android army

Android is the ultimate competition in the smartphone space. It has captured huge market share without consumer awareness of the platform, and it is going to keep growing for a while.

Participating in this week's Great Debate had me thinking about the juggernaut that is Android and its relentless attack on the mobile space. The adoption of Android has been amazing, surprising everyone (even Google) at how fast it has happened. While Google hasn't done everything right with Android, it is so big it is going to continue growing for the near term.

The latest figures of Android adoption indicates that every day 550,000 devices are activated. This is an amazing number as it doesn't deal with shipments nor sales. A device activation means somewhere there is a new Android device in a user's hands that is turned on for use. The significance of activation is that there is a Google Account behind it, required for activation.

While Google has not rushed into the content business with Android, the numbers would have me believe that is going to happen. A fair percentage of those Google Accounts behind device activations have credit cards (or the equivalent) behind them with Google Checkout, and as Apple and Amazon know that is a significant advantage in the online retail world.

What makes Google's achievement in Android so unusual is it has happened without consumer awareness. Many mainstream customers buying Android phones have little understanding about the platform, as the purchase was made based on the OEM behind the phone or handset marketing. Millions of buyers are not buying an Android phone, rather a Motorola Droid or Samsung Galaxy device. This is actually good for Google as competitors to Android in the mobile space must compete with a several companies and dozens of handsets, not just the platform.

Android also has the tight integration with Google services going for it. As my esteemed debate colleague Larry Dignan pointed out:

If I had to pick one, I'd say the loyalty lies with Google services. Can anyone really tell the difference between HTC, Motorola or Samsung? Aside from annoying overlays and UI tweaks, they're all the same to me.

Tablets have not been the big thing that Google hoped, and that doesn't surprise me. I'm not sure there is a sizable non-iPad tablet market as buyers haven't demonstrated there is one through sales. I don't think that's a concern for Google; the smartphone market has proven so huge for Android that Google could drop tablets altogether with little negative impact.

While Android is often compared by analysts to iOS, the truth is both platforms have done well side-by-side. Sure they are competing but fact is both are doing well in spite of the other. The true competition for Android (iOS too) is going to come from Amazon once the Kindle Fire hits the market.

The Kindle Fire is based on Android, but it doesn't look like it and more importantly it's not going to be a selling point. Millions are going to buy the Fire because it is from Amazon, not based on Android. The cheap price is going to ratchet adoption in the market up to fevered pitch, as mainstream consumers see them in action.

This will impact Apple and the iPad more than Google and Android, as the tablet market is not a big part of the Android ecosystem. I believe Google could simply drop tablets from Android with little impact, and may eventually due so once Amazon joins the fray.

The other big threat to Android longevity in the market is the ongoing litigation with Apple for patent infringements. Samsung in particular has been the butt of Apple's legal team, and court after court has ruled Samsung's Android products infringe on Apple's patents. This threat is looming large over not only Samsung but all Android partners. If anything can stop the massive Android army, the lawyers may be it. This will take some time to happen, so Android should be safe for the near term.

Android is a massive force in the smartphone space, and that isn't going to change any time soon. It is worth watching over time to see how it stands up to the competition once Ice Cream Sandwich comes to market, but it is safe for now.

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