As far as number of handsets out in the market go Android has been wonderfully successful. Most folks agree that all things being equal, the number of Android handsets is going to surpass the number of iPhones pretty soon. Generally that’s been taken as a sign that developers should start thinking about Android cause it’s going to be the next gold mine. I’ve started to question that a bit however.
I’m a huge Android fan. My main phone right now is a Nexus One. I would actually like to see Android grow into a viable competitor for the iPhone. But there’s this huge glaring dark spot with respect to the number of handsets in the market determining the viability of the platform. If number of handsets out in the market really was the determining factor in the viability of the platform then Nokia would have already won. So obviously, it’s got to be a more complex issue.
So if it’s not number of handsets out in the market what would be the signaling factor, what else do we need to pay attention to? As far as third party developers go, their main set of concerns revolves around their ability to make money off their applications – either through direct sales or by monetizing audience. Right now the iPhone does that far and away better than the Android Marketplace does. Why?
I think a lot of it boils down to consumer disposition. Completely outside of the technology itself, it’s more of a marketing or psychology problem. I’m just not familiar enough with the terminology here to know what to call it. But the iPhone is a consumer pull, and Android is a service provider push. Apple seeded desire for the iPhone with a brilliant marketing campaign, and for the most part folks who get an iPhone genuinely want an iPhone. They know what an iPhone is and they know what they can do with it.
On the other hand, lots of the folks who end up with Android devices didn’t necessarily make a decision to get an Android phone. Snag someone in an elevator some time who has an Android phone and ask them why they got it. Generally they’ll say something like “it’s less expensive than an iPhone” or “I didn’t want to get on AT&T” or “I’m not an Apple person”. It’s not that they went out to explicitly get an Android phone, they just went out to get a good phone that isn’t an iPhone. What got sold to them was an Android phone. There’s a whole other discussion about if carriers are driving Android sales harder cause they’re making more off each Android unit in the field than they are off iPhone.. but lets skip that one for right now.
Because the consumer motivation started out different, their behavior ends up being different. I’m not sure if it’s causality or correlation, but Apple has setup the App Store in a way that it seems to drive a ton more sales than the Marketplace does. I’m not saying that the Android technique isn’t valid. Just that an equal number of Android handsets in the market does not make it on par with iPhone as far as third party developers go.