Things might seem rosy in the Android camp. After all, it commands some three quarters of the global shipment market share, and Google is seeing some 1.5 million new devices activated daily.
All seems good, right? Maybe not.
Scratch beneath the surface a little and you start realizing that there are some huge challenges facing the platform, and if left unchecked will weaken the operating system's grip down the line.
So, what are these problems?
Heavy reliance on Samsung to do the hard part of selling devices
It's important to note that Android isn't a commercial entity, but is instead a platform. Bankrolling Android is Google, but the company that is most pivotal in getting Android-powered devices into the hands of consumers – home and business – is Samsung.
Samsung has successfully embraced Android, but it's taken a "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach, coming out with countless variation on the smartphone and tablet theme.
While this is good for Samsung, for Android as a whole it's not so good because the platform could benefit from greater diversity.
I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Fragmentation is a big problem for Android.
Whenever I mention this people always whine at me that I'm "picking on Android" or that I'm "just an Apple fanboy" or that "Apple has the same problem."
These are lame excuses. Anyone who thinks that having a situation where a third of all Android devices running Android 4.1.x – a version that was first released in July 2012 and saw its last update released in October 2012 – is a good thing is burying their head in the sand. It's not good. It's frankly appalling, and leaves tens, if not hundreds or millions of Android users
Google needs to get a grip on this problem, either by making hardware makers and carriers take the problem seriously, or by pushing updates direct to users.
We can break Android down into two parts. The first is Google Android, which is the official version that is bound to Google services and uses the Google Play store for apps. The second is forked Android, which consists of devices which run a version of android that's been forked from the main tree. Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets fall into this category, along with all the other unofficial Android devices.
The problem with the growth of forked Android devices – and data suggests that these devices represent quite a chunk of the Android devices out there – is that it introduces more fragmentation into an already fragmented ecosystem.
Losing the enterprise battle
With Apple and IBM announcing an alliance which to put Apple mobile products with IBM software into the enterprise, this leaves Android in a position where it's being dealt out of the game. Sure, this is also bad news for Microsoft's mobile ambitions too, but Android is the platform taking the biggest hit from this.
Google needs to have a serious think about how this alliance came about, and how its mobile platform got left behind.
Users don't want to spend money
iOS owners spend four times more than their Android counterparts do. There are a number of reasons why:
- Android is dominant in low-income countries.
- Users don't have credit cards and Google has been slow to adopt carrier billing.
- Android handsets are cheaper than iPhones, and so people who are willing spend more choose iPhone.
- Apple is offering something that users want and as a result are willing to spend more.
- Developers are attracted to iOS because of increased revenue, and this means there's less for Android users to spend money on.
The bottom line is that Android users aren't as loose with the dollars as Apple users are. And this is a problem for Android as it tries to expand into new areas such as wearables and home automation.