Towards the end of the summer of 2012 research company IHS predicted that Android would be on over one billion devices by the end of 2013. That was on the back of Andy Rubin, Google’s Senior Vice president of Mobile and Digital Content, announcing in September that Android had officially hit 500 million activated devices worldwide and that 1.3 million new Android devices were being added every day. The following month Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt told AllThingsD that “We’ll be at 1 billion mobile devices in a year.”

If the 1.3 million devices a day figure continued to the present day then Android should be on over 700 million devices by now (in fact it’s on 750 million). If it continues throughout the year then Android would indeed be on 1 billion devices by October, as Schmidt predicted.

How big is a billion?

To give it some perspective, according to Ballmer in a letter to shareholders last October, Windows in all its forms has 1.3 billion users worldwide. Microsoft Office is apparently installed on 1 billion devices. Corning Gorilla Glass is used in over 1 billion devices. Apple has sold over 500 million iOS devices. Facebook has just over 1 billion monthly active users. Ideal Toy Company and subsequent owners of the brand sold somewhere over 350 million of the most popular puzzle ever, the Rubik’s Cube (arguably the most popular toy ever). There are just over 7 billion people in the world.

Hitting a billion faster

It was only last year that the total number of smartphones hit 1 billion. Now analysts at Deloitte are predicting that more than 1 billion smartphones will be sold in 2013 alone. The overall size of the market is still growing and Android has the lion’s share of the sales. If we go back to September 2012 when the 1.3 million a day statement was made Android’s smartphone market share was below 70 percent for Q2 and sales of Android smartphones hit 104.8 million. According to Gartner, in Q3 of 2012 Android market share hit 72.4 percent and in Q4 it was 69.7 percent. Despite that dip there were 122.5 million Android smartphones sold in Q3 and 144.7 million Android smartphones sold in Q4 because the overall size of the market went up.

smartphone market share

On top of the smartphone situation we have to consider the rapid growth of the Android tablet market. IDC reported strong growth in Q4 with Android tablets grabbing a larger share than ever before. We’re also starting to see Android in netbooks, smart watches, cars, games consoles, TVs, cameras, and even ovens. If we put all of this together then it’s pretty clear that Android should hit 1 billion devices long before October.

According to rumor, Samsung is aiming to sell 10 million Galaxy S4 handsets per month. The company reportedly wants to sell 350 million smartphones in 2013, factor in tablets and its other devices and you can see how 1 billion Android devices could be reached sooner than expected.

Hold on there a minute

We do have to stop and consider a couple of other factors. Google hasn’t updated that activations figure and we don’t know why. You would have to assume that the actual daily figure is much higher, but if we are including all the forked Android devices in the equation and the huge numbers of Android devices in China which have no real link to Google then maybe it just doesn’t have accurate stats. Realistically there isn’t any way for Google to measure Android devices that don’t use its services and that could be a lot of devices.

We also have to think about how many early Android devices have been laid to rest. The growth of the platform has been so rapid that the figure for dead devices probably isn’t that high, but it should still be subtracted from the total before you can really say Android is in use on 1 billion devices. However, we do know that Google doesn’t  count devices again if they are sold on to new users, wiped and then activated again. There’s only one activation counted per device, but it’s still tough to get a truly accurate figure for devices in use.


So what does it mean?

We could pass the 1 billion Android devices mark and not know it. When Google can confirm 1 billion Android devices, we’ll know that the actual number is probably a lot higher.

In any case it’s great news for Android fans because the more Android users there are the greater the incentive for developers and manufacturers to serve us and develop new apps and products for us. The Android platform will be the first mobile platform to reach 1 billion devices. From under 10 million devices in 2009 to over 1 billion in 2013 is some phenomenal growth.

Success on this scale can easily become a positive feedback loop. It will be increasingly difficult for rival platforms without an established share of the pie to make any inroads. An entire ecosystem of manufacturers and developers are reliant on Android for a living. For more and more people the Android platform is synonymous with smartphones. The more invested you are, the harder it is to leave. That will present new challenges for everyone involved in the Android world. How do you keep the platform fresh and enticing without changing things that alienate your core users?

Android is riding high and shows no sign of slowing down; by the time that iOS hits 1 billion devices in 2015, Android will be on over 2 billion devices worldwide. It’s an unstoppable juggernaut and as long as it continues to innovate and improve the user experience there’s no limit in sight. There could be one Android device for every seven people on the planet by this summer. What do you think of that? Are you skeptical about activation figures? Do you think the 1 billion milestone will be reached sooner or later than predicted? Post a comment and tell us what you think.

Simon Hill
Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in game development. He writes for various websites and magazines about the world of tech and entertainment. He uses Android every day and is currently permanently attached to his Galaxy Note 5.