Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

Summary: Android looks unbeatable for the most part, but there are areas to worry about.

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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.

Topics: Apple, Android, Tablets, Software, Operating Systems, Mobility, Laptops, Hardware, Google, Windows

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Talkback

41 comments
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  • Android interface tired and dated

    and the devices are boring battery hogs. Even droid bionic is a huge yawn.

    And how come chrome isnt available on Android?
    otaddy
    • Sony Ericsson Ray

      While the stock Android interface maybe a grid-of-icons-yet-again-fest, what some of the handset makers are doing is leap years ahead.

      Go look at Sony-Ericssons work. They started with the swirling spirals in x10, the current crop do a sort of floppy paper animation whenever the screen changes.

      Google may not have much design flair, but the handset makers using Android certainly do.

      ---

      GOP: will bail out billionaire bankers, but won't tax them.
      guihombre
      • Android growth is already stopping

        The trouble for Google is that Android growth is already starting to stop.

        There may have been 190 million Android devices activated by all Android manufacturers combined, but Apple all by itself has sold 250 million iOS devices and captured 61% of the profit share of the entire cellular industry.

        550,000 Android smartphone, tablet and other device activations per day sounds like a lot until you realise Apple averaged 622,000 iOS devices sold per day in the 45 days up to October 4th this year - and that was with the year-old iPhone 4. With the huge surge in iPhone 4S sales now taking place, that will only increase.

        Android's global sales growth rate dropped to 3 percent in the March 2011 quarter from 7.5 percent in the fourth quarter 2010 and 9.5 percent in the September 2010 quarter.

        CommScore reports Android growth in US smartphone marketshare (where Android growth has been strongest in the developed world to-date) has dropped to 1.9 percent July through to August.

        Android tablet marketshare has not just stagnated but is actually dropping, from 34% in Q1 to 26.8% in Q2 and is projected to plunge to 23.0% this quarter according to IDC.

        However, even if or when Android installed base overtakes iOS, it means nothing unless developer income, manufacturer profits, content provider income, web browser share and media income also increases. Just ask Nokia and Symbian who had by far the largest unit sales and installed base but completely failed in all these other metrics.

        Android still has a tiny fraction of the developer income and ad income is still lower than the iOS platform with Mobclix reporting every iOS user is worth up to twice as much to advertisers as Android users.

        Heck despite Android tablets supposedly capturing a third of all tablet sales, the iPad still captured 97% of web browser marketshare. What does that say about how viable the Android ecosystem really is?
        marthill
      • @martill

        "There may have been 190 million Android devices activated by all Android manufacturers combined, but Apple all by itself has sold 250 million iOS devices "

        Apple presumably have more upgrades being in the market far longer. Last quarter they sold 18.65 million iPhones, about 200k a day and 9.25 million iPads, about 100k a day. i.e. 300k a day total, Rubin made a public claim of 500k a day Android devices.

        "captured 61% of the profit share"
        Yes I think thats probably correct they do/did seem to be able to get a premium.

        "Apple averaged 622,000 iOS devices sold per day in the 45 days up to October 4th this year"

        Apple are due to report on the 18th of this month, and I do not therefore think you would have that number (source?). It would mean they'd double their last reported sales which I doubt.

        "Android tablet marketshare has not just stagnated but is actually dropping, from 34% in Q1 to 26.8% in Q2 and is projected to plunge to 23.0% this quarter according to IDC."

        Wow I thought they had like 10% market share in tablets, not 26%. In terms of units did they sell more in a growing market? My impression is that Apple is selling well in that market and growing faster than Google, but both basically growing, selling more each quarter at the expense of PCs. Yes?

        "However, even if or when Android installed base overtakes iOS, it means nothing unless developer income, manufacturer profits, content provider income, web browser share and media income also increases."

        I think they already have overtaken, you mentioned 250 million iOs units sold, but it's been on the market longer and a large part will be upgrades. Far less so on Android which is far newer.
        So I think Android has more units out in use, but also far more competitive market. As to app revenue, Apple does a better job of selling apps, Google does a better job of ad-supported apps (Admob being typical). I think there's more profit in Apple, but not by much.

        "Heck despite Android tablets supposedly capturing a third of all tablet sales, the iPad still captured 97% of web browser marketshare."

        Last figure I saw for that 93% of internet surfing was PC. 1.8% was tablet.... so I have my doubts about even iPads (but I've expressed those doubts before). Very much a wait and see for me.
        guihombre
      • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

        @ guihombre
        Your iPhone sales figure is wrong - Apple announced they sold 20.34 million in Q2 2011 at their last earnings report. You also forgot the iPod touch which sold somewhere between 6 and 7 million that quarter.

        My daily figure was a little inaccurate it was actually 512,000 iOS devices per day. June 6th, Apple announced 200 million iOS devices sold and then 43 days later on July 19th Apple reported 222 million iOS devices sold. That makes it 22 million divided by 43 days = 512,000 iOS devices per day.

        The reported sales drop in Android tablets comes straight from IDC, go check their report yourself. Android tablet sales have fallen off a cliff.

        Android is far from overtaking iOS in active installed base. Apple only sold 17 million iPhones in the first 2 years so the vast majority of those 250 million devices are still in use.

        ComScore reported in August that the active iOS user base is 59% larger in the USA than Android and 116% larger in Europe.

        Extra proof comes from web browsing stats that show there are far more iOS devices out there.

        ComScore's May 2011 Device Essentials Report gives an excellent break-down by country:

        iOS captured 53.1% of all non-computer web traffic in the USA versus only 35.6% for Android.
        In Canada and Australia, iOS captured an enormous 83% versus 8.6% and 11% respectively for Android.
        In the UK iOS captured 60% versus 15.4% for Android.

        Brazil: iOS= 83% Android= 8.6%
        Singapore: iOS= 82.9% Android= 11.4%
        Chile: iOS= 64.1% Android= 14.5%
        Argentina: iOS= 31.6% Android= 23.6%
        Japan: iOS= 65.5% Android= 30.6%
        India: iOS= 7.4% Android= 6.5%
        marthill
      • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

        @guihombre

        ? iOS is a grid of icons. Android has always, always been a very easily customized layout of widgets, shortcuts, and folders. My "calendar" screen looked similar to the Windows Phone 7 home screen almost 2 years ago.
        tkejlboom
        • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

          @marthill

          You mixed up your verb tenses. Google had 190 million ACTIVE devices in a two week period at the end of September. Not HAD BEEN ACTIVATED. ACTIVE. Take your 250 million and divide by at least 2.
          tkejlboom
    • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

      @otaddy
      Boring? HA!

      Why don't you go re-arrange your icons...
      jwc3642
    • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

      @otaddy

      It is being reported that Chrome is coming with ICS.
      Astranger
    • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

      @otaddy

      buy yourself SGS2 if you are *really* concerned about "battery hogs".
      Solid Water
  • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

    The problem seems to be that a LOT of buyers don't want a smartphone, they want a touchscreen phone. So they don't really participate much - they don't surf much, they don't download many apps.

    Essentially they are treating Android phones like "feature phones". This really came home to me last week when I was handed an Android phone to configure for email. Clearly (to my shame) I winced, and was told: "I don't need an iPhone, I don't think I'd use it... " Then the kicker: "I'm not technical like you."

    I think in this "iPhone" is a being used instead of "smartphone".

    This IS a problem for them. Right at this moment it'd be hard for me to leave iOS - because of the apps I have bought. I think Android owners don't have that kind of friction.

    I'm talking about the situation here in the UK - maybe things are different elsewhere.
    Jeremy-UK
    • Not all that different here

      @Jeremy-UK
      the main thing that would greatly slow the growth of Android would be if Apple and MS decide to put their iOS and WP7 on cheaper $39 phones, like a good portion of Android is.

      I agree 100% with you on [i]Essentially they are treating Android phones like "feature phones"[/i].
      William Farrell
      • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

        @William Farrell Didn't you just describe the iPhone 3GS? Here that's "free" on contract, and quite cheap off contract. I don't think you could get an Android phone significantly cheaper.

        I think number of handsets in the wild isn't the most interesting or even important number.
        Jeremy-UK
      • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

        @William Farrell
        please this is a discussions about the big boys, please leave it out the metoo/wannabies with market share shrinking from 0.8 to 0.7...
        theo_durcan
    • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

      @Jeremy-UK I think that's a highly valuable observation, one that explains the economic return (to the carrier and Apple) per unit sold. Put baldly, the hip, sexy, socially 'high-touch' buy and use the Apple products and the next demographic over want to have a utility device. Of course we also have our Crack-berry demographic. If MS had any marketing brains left (Look up Commodore Amiga ;-) they'd have invested more time and effort in their last campaign which never quite defined which demos they were after.

      So Google errs in marketing just as well as MS. For what its worth, I always recommend Apple gear to the non-engineering inclined even though I personally can't stand them or them me! I just don't want the middle of the night calls, thank you.
      Brian J. Bartlett
    • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

      @Jeremy-UK

      I've just bought an Xperia Ray because:

      1. I don't want any Apple hardware
      2. It is by Sony Ericsson whose phones I like
      3. It is ??4 a month less than I was paying before
      4. It has an 8mp camera
      5. I'm not particularly interested in huge numbers of applications (NOT "apps", I don't have a problem with 4 syllables)
      Terranaut1
  • The Difference With Android ...

    ... is that it's not dependent on Google to drive things forward, the way Windows is dependent on Microsoft. And it runs on ARM, which is not primarily dependent on one chip supplier the way x86 is with Intel.

    Look at the category-busting Android devices like the Nook Color, Kindle Fire, and all the different size of screens from regular phone-size to full tablet-size and everything in-between. You never saw that kind of flexibility with Windows, and you still aren't, even with Microsoft's Herculean efforts to contort their software into shapes it was never designed for.

    Android's flexibility comes from the fact that vendors do not need Google's blessing before trying new things with it--they can just go ahead and do it.
    ldo17
    • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

      @ldo17
      You win best talk back IMO. I was a bit surprised that I didn't see a swarm of "What about fragmentation" comments after yours.
      It's clear at this point that Android is successful for many reasons. Fragmentation has probably helped the distribution more than harmed it. It's that crazy flexibility that has put Android on just about anything with a cpu.

      For many customers it's not about owning a specific brand. It's about getting something functional (Read: plays Angry Birds, checks email) for an inexpensive price. Just like a computer. When people ask me what computer to buy I always start out by asking them what they intend to do on it. 90% of the time they say, "MS Office and Facebook." When I hear that kind of thing I say, "Here's a PC on sale at NewEgg for $300." They don't care what operating system it runs. Honestly it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that it will do what they want for the lowest price.

      So I can advise someone to get an iPhone 4 for $99 or a Nexus S for $29. Most people lean towards the Nexus S and then say, "Hey, I would love an iPhone but can't spend $99."
      kwabinalars
  • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

    I don't know about unstopable, but here in Ireland anyway Android has gained traction, not because they are better phones, they're not (benchmarks show the 4s smokes even the latest android phones), but for the most part they are free or very inexpensive in comparison to the iphone, so faced with a ???200 + iphone or a free android that seems to be pretty similar, many opt for free. The tablet market is another matter, android continues to fail there and unless it gains more traction before windows 8 will be a very poor third behind apple and microsoft. ios is the largest mobile platform over all if you include tablets, the iPhone 4 is the no. 1 smart phone and if pre orders are anything to go by the 4s will soon rocket into that position, with the 4 as number 2 and likely the 3gs as number 3, Android might be leading in total phones, but can swamping the market with free phones really be termed as winning in that market, I'd suggest the balance sheets might show other wise. In mobile platforms the game is Apples to loose, with windows phone 7 not gaining traction it's hard to see microsoft gaining in phones, but tablets may be another story.

    Manufacturers may get sick of subsidising android, where the only clear winner is google with ad revenue and may push windowws phone, where will that leave android.
    mjpwall@...
    • RE: Google's Page says nothing can stop Android; Is he right?

      @mjpwall@...

      Nonsense. First off OEMs are raking in record profits with Android. Just ask HTC. Next, there's this fantasy that they would leave for Windows Phone 7, an OS that they have to pay for and have very few options for customization (and thus differentiation). That's a faster track to commoditization than Android. The OEMs are not suicidal.
      keithz80