The Secret to Android's Success
There's an article at Cnn.com today titled “What’s behind Android's Race to no. 1?” by John Sutter, which takes a look at the meteoric rise of Google’s mobile OS (which just became No. 1 in US marketshare, ahead of both Blackberry and iOS). He does this by summarizing “conversations with smartphone experts, buzz on the tech blogs and reader responses to our query posted on the @cnntech Twitter feed.” It’s an interesting article, but it seems to miss the point in a lot of ways.
Much is made of the proliferation of choice of Android handsets: while Apple sells just one iPhone, more or less, there are 74 Android smartphones available for purchase. The argument for choice is this: because there are so many more options for Android phones, they sell many, many more, because people can find exactly the right phone for them. This is used by Apple devotees as a knock against the importance of Android's success, because, they say, you need an entire ecosystem of phones to compete with a single device, but this is flawed.
I won't argue that choice isn't good for customers and for sales, but the corollary to this is that if there was but one Android device available on every single carrier, few people would buy it, or that if the iPhone were available in a cacophony of models, sales would be orders of magnitude higher than they are. I don't doubt that Android does sell more phones because a customer finds a perfect fit, but that's not the only reason that Android is selling well: it's everywhere people go to buy phones, and the average customer picks the best phone among the options in front of them.
If there were fewer Android phones, but they had the same availability of the current range, each phone would simply sell more, because there'd be a larger slice of the pie for each individual phone. Similarly, if there were 5 iPhone models, each would sell about a fifth of what the iPhone currently does; Apple wouldn't suddenly start selling 5x the phones.
This is actually in with the choice discussion, and it's interesting. I agree with this completely, because people will often pick the phone that's cheap to free, and when they do that, they won't care as much about what phone they're getting, because, hey, it's free. Once the customer gets a free Android phone and starts to use it and like it, they might just decide that they want to pay to upgrade to another Android phone down the line. This is just good business: free samples, anyone?
Sutter spends some time discussing Google's integration with Android as a selling point; it is, certainly, but I think the value of this to the average consumer is being overstated. While the fact that your Facebook contacts can indeed be seamlessly synched with your Google contacts is really nice, I can't see the lack of that feature swaying your average customer in one direction or the other.
One of the largest rallying cries around Android is that of Openness. Proponents of it tout it as a key ideological benefit to the platform, even though open as Google intends it really just refers to the openness of the OS to carriers and other developers to put it on whatever device they like with whatever modifications they like, rather than surfacing that openness meaningfully to the customer. The App ecosystem is open in that you don't need your app to be approved by Apple, but to anyone but hobbyists — among whom I count myself — this isn't an issue that the vast majority of Android users would even be aware of. Yes, you can configure your Android phone more than you can your iPhone (in most cases), but so what? Most people aren't informed about this, nor do they care. Tech enthusiasts care. Tech journalists care. The self-selected group of folks following @cnntech care. But normal people? They don't. Does the phone work? Can you make calls, send messages, run apps and play games? These are the things that matter to the average user, and that, to me, is why Android is winning the numbers race.
Android is a good operating system that, at this point, offers a completely solid user experience. Enough popular apps are on the market that your average customer won't be shot down when they ask the salesperson “Can you play X on this?” It's pretty and easy to use, and you're not missing out on anything significant by choosing it over any of the other systems.
The secret to Android's success isn't remarkable: Google and the Carriers are offering a decent product at a competitive price, and they're putting it everywhere you shop.