The Android platform is completely dominating the smartphone market. Google has a firm grasp on what consumers want. With a market share of 72.4 percent worldwide in Q3 2012 the Android platform has gained an unstoppable momentum. Second place iOS is a long way back at 13.9 percent. How has the platform grown so dominant and why will Google and Android continue to win the hearts and minds of consumers over Apple and iOS?
Is it, as this blog post suggests, because Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services? We think that’s definitely a contributing factor, but there are other reasons that Android will prevail over iOS.
Winning the web
Since the original iPhone came out in 2007 the way that we use mobile phones has changed drastically. They have become multi-purpose tools that we use for everything from playing games and listening to music, to taking photos and writing emails. The trend toward online connectivity and away from calls and texts has led carriers to scrap unlimited data plans. It’s now quite common to get unlimited calls and texts, but be charged according to how much data you want. The data is where the profit is.
A report by UK carrier O2 revealed that making calls is the fifth most frequent use for a smartphone behind browsing the Internet, checking social networks, playing games, and listening to music. People spent an average of 25 minutes per day browsing the web, 17 minutes on social networks, and just 12 minutes on calls.
Is it any wonder that the search engine giant with its own social network has created a more popular platform than the hardware focused design specialist? Google’s range of web based services is second to none. Consider Google Docs, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Music, Google+, Google Chrome, and how well they mesh with Android. Google’s cloud services are easy to use and they “just work”. The worst you can say about them is that the user experience is not always very polished.
Now take a look at Apple and iOS with its dependence on iTunes, problems with iCloud and MobileMe, FaceTime and iTunes Match randomly going down, duplicate contacts, syncing errors, and email downtime. Apple Maps is clearly inferior to Google Maps. Apple’s attempt at a social network, Ping, which Jobs described as “sort of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes”, was a complete failure.
To cut a long story short Apple fails at the web and it’s not showing any real signs of improving. Google is comfortably winning the web and, since that’s the main use people have for smartphones now, Android is a better choice than iOS.
What about design?
Apple has always been lauded for its design prowess. The hardware and software looks good and it’s easy to use. Android may have started out as an ugly cousin, but the platform has improved immensely since the 2008 debut. While Apple seems to have been frozen by the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra, Android has continued to innovate.
Looking at the latest version of Android it’s no longer credible to argue that iOS is far superior, or that it offers a better user experience. Apple is stagnating while Google is getting better at design all the time.
On the hardware front Android has benefitted and suffered from having a large pool of device manufacturers. There have been some gorgeous releases and some forgettable failures. That range of choice to suit different budgets has undoubtedly been a major driver of the platform, but it has also led to a more fragmented experience.
Even with the failures, Android devices represent a much wider choice for consumers. The iPhone has evolved very slowly, but you can clearly recognize each release as part of the same family. A wider choice of devices is obviously going to appeal to a wider group of people.
While Google and Android increase market share with every passing quarter we have to acknowledge that Apple and iOS have a different game plan. Android is already prevailing over iOS and it will continue to beat it in terms of numbers of users, but Apple is focused on a different set of numbers. If we look back at the beginning of 2011, Apple claimed just 4 percent of the mobile phone market, but raked in more than half of all the profits.
The truth is that Apple can be the most profitable company while serving a niche because it maintains tight control over the hardware and ecosystem and claims the lion’s share of the cash that generates. Google is not set up to generate that kind of profit, even with a much greater share of the market. The two companies, and their platforms, are not really aiming for the same things.
What happens when the market hits saturation?
One of the interesting things about Android’s rise is that it has largely come about at the expense of RIM and Nokia. As the smartphone market has exploded across the world there has been plenty of room for both Android and iOS to grow. The market shares have changed, but the overall size of the market has been increasing all the time. When it hits a ceiling we’ll be able to see more clearly when people are switching from iOS to Android and vice versa.
If Apple hasn’t sorted out its Internet services by then Google and Android may be unstoppable. There’s no doubt Apple will continue to rake in the cash from a loyal fan base, but if it continues to lag behind with the web and cuts superior Google services out of iOS, that loyalty could really be put to the test. Android is improving faster than iOS and it already prevails. That doesn’t mean we’ll see Apple and iOS disappear, but slowing to a jog while your opponent sprints further into the distance is a flawed strategy.