Google CEO Larry Page said "Android growing gangbusters and we don't see anything that's going to stop that."
It's hard to argue with that assessment---even though I tried in this week's Great Debate series and got pummeled. After all, who can argue with the statistics Page and his Google gang were highlighting on the company's third quarter earnings conference call. The top two figures:
- 190 million Android devices have been activated around the world.
- Mobile advertising is at a $2.5 billion run rate.
Now toss in Google's Ice Cream Sandwich launch in Hong Kong next week and Android looks unbeatable. "You won't believe what we've managed to get done in this release," said Page.
Despite all of this Android confidence---and the fact I like to be contrarian---I have to ponder at least a stagnation scenario for Android. Under this scenario, Android's rate of growth slows and alternatives emerge. Judging from the talkbacks in the Great Debate, there isn't a lot of middle ground. Either you think Android is going to be the Windows of the mobile world or you don't.
This talkback outlines one possibility for Android:
I'm sure everyone else has noticed that this iOS vs. Android debate has sounded familiar from the very start - it's an almost word-for-word rehashing of the MacOS vs. Windows debate. And how did that turn out?
Windows pulled ahead in terms of capability very early, but with all that "openness" came the headaches: compatibility issues, malware, Windows ME, Windows Vista, etc. And then stagnation. Sure there were "advancements" in certain applications (I'm still not sure the Ribbon is an advancement), but the reality is that for all the possibilities for competing applications, when the smoke cleared we were down to MS Office, Adobe products, and Oracle.
So if history has taught us anything, every new platform follows the same formula: 1. Acceptance 2. New innovation 3. Explosive growth 4. Winnowing of the players 5. Stagnation/status quo
Clearly we're in the explosive growth phase, but will the mobile platform market really boil down to Apple and Google when carriers are determined to create a No. 3?
I argued that Android has significant risks ahead. Here are five items I noted in the Great Debate.
- Ice Cream Sandwich may not be magical. Let's face it Android 3.0 has been a tablet dud. Ice Cream Sandwich is designed to unify smartphones and tablets. If Ice Cream Sandwich isn't magical then Android may not get enough tablet share ahead of Windows 8. It's not like Apple is slowing down on tablets.
- Alternatives will emerge. Microsoft Windows Phone will grab share simply based on Nokia distribution. HTC and Samsung are hedging against Android with Microsoft Phone. RIM isn't dead despite management's best efforts to screw things up.
- Lock-in matters. Watch Apple's iCloud closely. If Apple can get your photos, music and communications in its cloud the switching costs to Google will keep customers around. Amazon will also have its share of tablet lock-in to its platform. Google has some parts of lock-in, but doesn't have the integration.
- User experience. Android sometimes makes me think a DOS prompt is just around the corner. Will force closes matter to consumers at some point?
- How loyal are Android users? It's unknown at this point if consumers are really feeling the Android love. Devices are being activated because of sheer volume.
Perhaps Android is the unstoppable force, but there's enough to question whether it will be a world beater forever.