Google Android: on Inevitability, the Dawn of Mobile, and the Missing Leg

The-Dawn-of-Mobile.png

If for no other reason than the “Anyone but Apple” crowd NEEDS an alternative, there is an “inevitability” meme associated with Google’s Android initiative.

After all, Google is formidable, has a strong brand, and their (relative) openness is the “zig” to Apple’s proprietary “zag.” And of course, mobile is strategic to Google’s future, so they can be expected to compete vigorously for market and mind share (via Android) over the long haul.

But, do those ingredients combine into a recipe that makes their success in the market inevitable? Over a year after Android’s launch, I have to say that the jury is still out.

Why do I say this? Most basically because reconciling the fragmentation challenge of supporting a heterogeneous software platform running on top of divergent hardware form factors with the proprietary aspirations of handset makers, software developers and carriers is far harder to balance than most recognize.

But, you say, can’t we look to the PC as a historical guide? Isn’t this merely Windows vs. the Mac for the Mobile Broadband Era? Not necessarily. Unlike the PC, which was fundamentally a homogenization play (i.e., hardware and software was fairly consistent from vendor to vendor), mobile is heterogeneous in terms of its support for hardware, software, and service layer diversity, a trend that Android, if anything, seeks to accelerate.

Moreover, unlike the PC, where “good enough” was the bar required to seize the market, the mobile consumer expects seamless interaction and robust performance across multiple modalities, including voice, search, geo-navigation, communications, gaming, and social networking.

Anchoring all of this is a fundamental truth that for most consumers, their mobile device of choice is a lifestyle decision, a personal, ever-present extension of themselves that is resident in a way that never existed before with the PC–a value proposition that Apple has completely run with on iPhone (and iPod before that).

Fundamentally, though, mobile is a platform play, a game that is largely won by securing the hearts and minds of developers, and for them, the expectation bar is now set pretty high, owing to the success of iPhone across so many domains, including installed base (and guaranteed reach into that base), operating margins, developer ecosystem, application uptake, functioning marketplace, and the ability to target both carrier-based and tariff-free market segments (via iPhone & iPod Touch).

Simply put, developers will default to developing on platforms that:

1. Gain them a readily addressable audience

2. Allow them to make money

3 They enjoy personally using, as the best solutions often result from an “unscratched itch”

This is the bar that Android must satisfy to become a durable player in the market, and as I will lay out, they have a long way to go.

Inevitability: Just around the Corner?

android-logo.pngWhen Verizon announced Motorola’s Droid (with behind the scenes high-touch support by Google), the conventional wisdom was that this device was the closest proxy to being a viable competitor to iPhone, without actually being a serious threat.

In other words, a good, reasonably inspired, and largely caveat-free handset, but still a generation or two away from being Insanely Great.

Well, the first wave of market feedback is in, and the data, while encouraging, is clearly mixed. On the one hand, it looks likely that Droid will hit 1M units sold by year’s end, which is great for a first-generation handset.

In terms of the larger market prospects for Android, one can also safely assume that this is the tip of the iceberg, and that another 5-6 increasingly rock-solid handsets are germinating in the ground, ready to raise the bar still further.

At the same time, this very premise–device diversity–presents a bit of a conundrum. Samsung couldn’t care one whit about Motorola’s success. Quite the opposite. So when they come out with their own rockin’ Android handset, they should create their own distinct hardware form factor, and their own social service layer (it’s not going to be Motorola’s MotoBlur).

Who knows, they may offer up their own proprietary middleware to enable Samsung-brewed apps to play particularly well together, so as to incent developers to take advantage of the native features of Samsung devices. This is all good, right? One of the benefits of an open platform, right?

Now, as a developer, do you develop different versions of your software to take advantage of the cool features of each of these different devices (and the lifecycle of supporting same)? Do you focus on just the device that pushes the highest volume (and release more apps specific to that device)? Or, do you pursue a lowest common denominator that strives for uniformity across all form factors?

It’s the consummate highest common divisor v. lowest common denominator forking decision, and the complexity of making such a strategic decision is muddied further by rumors that Google is going to come out with an official Google Phone that features the “Real Android,” a move that, if true, could really upset the apple cart (no pun intended) with handset makers and carriers.

Post-Droid Launch: The Android Buzz Kill

It was inevitable, but with hype comes disappointment, and now that the first reports are in (from industry types on Droid – HERE, HERE, HERE), the crowd is railing on everything from an under-baked software platform to hardware problems (such as a useless physical keyboard, disappointing camera performance, and battery doors perpetually falling off; the latter of which must be serious Schadenfreude for iPhone owners, who’ve endured rants about the idiocy of Apple not allowing consumers to replace their own batteries — owing to the absence of a battery door on the iPhone and iPod Touch).

Oh, and developers don’t seem too happy about the way Android’s version of the App Store model–the Android Market–works for them. Why? For starters, unlike the global reach into 50M+ iPhone/iPod Touch devices that iPhone developers can plan their world around, the Android Ecosystem works differently, with some handsets and some carriers having varying levels of app catalog completeness, not to mention, workflows that make it difficult to discover new apps and a payment process that is, well, Byzantine.

Plus, the different form factors are already exacting a tweak-and-debug “tax” to gain the leverage of multi-handset support, a lifecycle that only figures to get more complex going forward.

wallet-with-money-public-domain.jpgPerhaps all of this wouldn’t matter if developers were seeing the kind of uptake (in downloads and dollars) that has been seen on the iPhone Platform, but so far, that is not happening, prompting mobile gaming app developer Gameloft to cut back its investment in Android, noting (according to Gameloft finance director Alexandre de Rochefort) weaknesses in Android’s application store design.

“It is not as neatly done as on the iPhone. Google has not been very good to entice customers to actually buy products. On Android nobody is making significant revenue,” Rochefort said.

In a word, “Ouch.” All of this just goes to underscore how much Apple has gotten right, and that fact that it is non-trivial for others to emulate.

Is the Android Table Missing a Leg?

Imagine a table with four legs. In the mobile universe, the table’s legs are:

1. Great handset functionality, horsepower and design
2. Thriving software developer ecosystem
3. Carrier coverage, reliability and performance
4. Media player and marketplace

So how does Android sit in each of these four categories today? Relative to the actual handset itself, if Droid represents the best bones to date upon which a second and third generation device will be built, it should be clear that Apple’s design prowess remains a serious competitive advantage. That said, a score of device designs are just around the corner, so this is an area where evolution should be fairly rapid, although capturing market share from Apple is hardly a given.

As to the developer ecosystem’s health, the simple truth is that Android + Android Market remains 12-18 months behind App Store and the iPhone Platform. Whether developers jump on the bandwagon early or wait until the platform matures is very much up in the air. In fact, early warning signs suggest that certain developers, including the aforementioned Gameloft, are measuring their investments in Android for the time being. The inevitability of the ecosystem is decidedly a “not yet” score.

It is the area of Carrier coverage that Android has its strongest leg. Personally, the ONLY reason that I remain a Blackberry Tour owner is that I am a loyal Verizon customer, and AT&T’s reputation is tarnished, to say the least. Carrier diversity across the Android Ecosystem is one area that gives consumers the ability to pick and choose the combination of price, performance, and features that matters most to them.

Table Missing a Leg.jpgHowever, it is in the area of Media Player and Marketplace that the Android table starts looking like it is missing a leg. Sure, there are a number of iTunes alternatives that work with the Android (doubleTwist is probably the best. Google should buy them).

But, I would argue that media is so endemic to what people “hire” their mobile devices to do for them that the end-to-end media sandbox shouldn’t be loosely integrated into the device. It should be core to the platform.

This implies an iTunes-like client application plus an integrated media player that ties in seamlessly with the media marketplace functions.

I know that what I am about to say should be obvious, but many forget that nested Russian doll-style into the iPhone is an iPod; you know, the media player that should have been outflanked by “someone” long ago, but continues its dominance unabated.

iTunes-DT-Mobile.png

Plus, think how the iPod Media Player + iTunes Client & Media Marketplace acts as foundation/feeder to the overall user engagement and monetization workflow that consumers happily default into with iPhone (and iPod Touch).
 It’s pretty damn potent, and just works, a bookend to the complaints about the clunkiness of Android Market. Android needs a better strategy here.

Netting it out: So much of the Google DNA is about loose coupling and ‘good enough,’ which doesn’t pass the sniff test when you have experienced best of breed, tight integration and of course, a deep library of media and apps with iPhone.
 As such, Android has a longer way to go to realize its “inevitability” premise than it might appear at first blush.

Also, while all of these problems are solvable, Google has neither shown that they have the wherewithal to succeed where others have failed (think: Microsoft, Palm, Symbian), nor is it like Apple is sitting on their hands. The folks in Cupertino, after all, have proven repeatedly that they can execute with laser-like focus–a truth which shows in the product, the user experience, market share, momentum, and the sexy margins that go with having hit the ball out of the park.

Related Posts:
1. Android vs. iPhone: Why Openness May Not Be Best
3. iPhone, the ‘Personal’ Computer: The Future of the Mobile Web
3. iPhones, App Stores and Ecosystems

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  • Me

    I beg to differ on the “nobody is making significant revenue” bs that gaming company spouted off. As the developer of the My Coupons app, our $0.99 cent monthly subscription model is working like a charm. The only killer in the mix is Paypal and their ridiculous 33% fees, but alas the public prefers them over the other CC processors once offered. When are these carriers going to step up to the plate and offer the hyped carrier-billing that was due out 3 weeks ago so we can drop them like the overpriced hot potato they are?

  • Mark Sigal

    @Me, thanks for the counter-perspective. Candidly, I thought Gameloft’s intensely strong ding against Android was either a by-product of sincere shock at how underperforming the platform has been for them (they cite 4X more games sold on iPhone than Android), or orchestrated to curry favor with Apple. Many have cited the cluster-f-ck on the payment workflow as a gotcha against Android, as you note.

  • Justin Baum

    As someone splitting their time between a droid and an iphone I feel (it hurts, ouch!) the lack of an itunes+iphone style experience (DoubleTwist just doesnt cut it).

    But I am also the type of person that is willing to fork over CASH to get ALL my media out into the cloud. Currently I am uploading all my tunes to Lala with their music mover app. If LaLa had an Android app I would be a happy camper (and if I was totally sold on LaLa as a service).

    I would assume Goog is betting long term on cloud based media experiences to fill this gap? Or if will there be more attempted itunes+iphone style bandaids applied before mobile connections get faster with better coverage?

    Great post Mark, one of the better on topic I have read.

  • Mark Sigal

    @Justin, thanks for the comment (and kudos), and I would only note that there is nothing incongruent with cloud and client co-existence, and Google certainly isn’t allergic to client apps. In fact, Google Mobile Maps is arguably their best offering. Best guess is that Chrome/ChromeOS is their desktop level runtime strategy, and via HTML 5, they build out a better marriage between desktop, mobile and cloud than currently exists today.

    The key thing that Apple has proven is how much 99 cent media is a ‘gateway drug’ to buying lots of apps, and how much leverage there is in having the end-to-end integrated. TBD, how this one plays out.

    Cheers,

    Mark

  • Tim

    “…reconciling the fragmentation challenge of supporting a heterogeneous software platform running on top of divergent hardware form factors with the proprietary aspirations of handset makers, software developers and carriers is far harder to balance than most recognize.”

    So is getting to the end of that sentence without getting dizzy from jargon overload. Can aspirations be proprietary?:)

    Seriously, though. Great post outlining just the dilemmas I faced this past month trying to decide between the two devices. I ended up going with with the iPhone, even after a side-by-side challenge, due entirely to music, simplicity, and the fact that my partner already had an iPhone and there were some apps we sync between that I couldn’t give up.

  • Pandon

    Sorry, but you’re point of approach is totally off. Look at Windows Mobile Phones or look at Symbian Phones. The whole differentiated hardware path has been around for a long time:

    One phone includes an accelerometer the other doesnt, one has a psychical keyboard the other doesnt, one has a 420×320 resolution the other 320×200, one has the latest Windows Mobile version the other doesn’t, one has a custom UI (HTC on WM; SE UIQ on Sym) the other doesn’t. And so forth.

    Seriously, you’re bashing Android whilst this is nothing new for developers: look at the WM Mobile Phone Market and go look at the Symbian Mobile Phone Market in the past. Developers HAVE always had to deal with a lot of different hardware en Symbian / firmware versions.

  • TImM

    Nice essay. WIth the crush of rumors surrounding Apple it is interesting how little there is on the next gen of the iPhone other than LTE. We can be sure that the next two generations of the iPhone can easily make Android toast.

    Apple is very careful about feature creep, just look at how their laptops evolved, SD came years after other Win laptops. However what they do will likely cement the developer further into the ecosystem with new functionality….perhaps proximity payment, better magnetometer, who knows what.

  • qka

    @Pandon

    So your point is that differentiated hardware with a common OS has been around for years.

    That those environments generated little interest in users for apps should serve as a warning for Android.

  • Mark Sigal

    @Tim, I will maintain my commitment to buzz-word compliance, if it’s the last thing I do. ;-) Seriously, thanks for flagging my wordsmithiness, and for sharing how this factoring shaped your decision-making process. There I go again. :-)

    Have a great day.

    Mark

  • Mark Sigal

    @Pandon, I think @qka put the bow around the intent of my point more crisply than I could. I am an old embedded systems guy so we eat and drink heterogeneity to the N-th degree, which is why I underline the challenge with such certainty. Thanks @qka.

  • Mark Sigal

    @TimM, hopefully a conclusion of my post is NOT that Android is or will be toast. Android has a heck of a lot going in its favor. My main point is that it also has some supreme challenges that make inevitability something less assured, and that Apple is analogous to Michael Jordan and the Bulls at their peak. Their game is already good, and they will have an answer for anything you do. Thanks for the perspective, and agreed re the relative silence on next gens of iPhone. I have blogged pretty heavily on where I think Apple is headed wrt to Tablet on this blog, if interested:

    Rebooting the Book (One Apple iPad Tablet at a Time)
    http://bit.ly/zOoEu

    Check it out, if interested.

    Mark

  • David

    *cough*palmpre*cough*

    Sorry…something stuck in my throat. Anyway, is Droid really the only real modern smartphone alternative to Apple, or does Google just have the most room on their bandwagon?

  • Pulkit Budhiraja

    Your Android device in consideration seems to be only Droid. You are forgetting that devices like HTC Hero and Magic are also there which are much more stable than Droid and have a homogeneous hardware configuration.

  • David

    For a little less snarky commentary…

    Considering the relatively similar sales performances and market share, it seems silly to discuss Android without mentioning the Pre, or write the Pre off to a parenthetical afterthought. WebOS has only been on the scene for 6 months, with the SDK being out for about half that. Especially when looking at marketplace and ease of development, who is showing quicker maturity?

    Nobody else in the smartphone business has apple’s built-in fanbase. Comparing anybody to them is oranges and, well, apples.

  • Mark Sigal

    @David, to be clear, I am certainly not dismissing Pre, and your comment on apples and oranges is dead-on, but when you look at this from an ecosystem perspective of carriers, handset makers and developers, the conversation is decidedly tilted towards two camps — iPhone and Android.

    Part of that is a by-product of Palm’s delayed delivery of an SDK play, which is so integral to capturing the developers that make the platform. Part of this is that Android is an arms dealer play to handset makers, whereas Palm is less so. Part of this is the simple fact that Google is fairly deeply entrenched in the mobile realm via Mobile Maps and other apps.

    Frankly, I wish that Palm did a better, more consistent jobs of evangelizing why they deserve a seat at the table, who’s eating the dog food and why. On pure technical grounds, the merit is there, but you and I know that technical alone is not enough to win the war, let alone survive it.

    Thanks for the counter-perspective. To your earlier point, Droid is just a proxy for how much ground Android has covered relative to forging its ecosystem. It is certainly not the end all.

    Mark

  • Mark Sigal

    @Pulkit, you are right that the tilt of the piece is towards analysis of Droid, if for no other reason than it’s the example that Google would cite as the closest proxy to Android’s potential, and of course, the unit volumes are a step order more impressive than any Android device before it. HUGE respect for the HTC folks.

  • Eric

    One point which hasn’t been mentioned is the iTouch which I seem to recall is something like 40% of the iPhone OS market at present.
    Although the Touch is popular as a game machine right now it has the ability to be hardware extensible which can be programmed through software. The new Apple POS system is a case in point. But one can imagine the UPS man soon showing up with an Apple iTouch instead of the bulky monsters they carry now, and the possiblities throughout industry and commerce and medicine are mind numbing. Focusing too much on the phone bit may really be missing the ultimate market for the underlying technology that Apple is creating. Not to mention the iTablet or TabletMac or what ever it will be called.

    My last observation is that the phone hardware makers are relying on Google putting the same massive resource into developing Android that Apple is putting into iPhone OS. Google is in this to make money and not to be an Anything but Apple antagonist. So Android will be developed to the extent that proves to be an interesting and viable revenue stream for Google. To the extent that starts to break down, dev work on the OS will slow and the hardware makers will look for a different saviour me thinks.

  • Mark Sigal

    @Eric, you’ll find an enthusiastic audience here for the don’t forget iPod Touch side of the equation narrative, as I have blogged on the same point about iTouch as linchpin for thinking about Tablet and other form factors here:

    Apple has secretly released a Tablet Computer: It’s called iPod touch (http://bit.ly/5IVLp6)

    As to Android having to ultimately earn its stripes and make money for Google, you are right in the abstract, but always remember that Google’s mantra is that what is good for the web is good for Google, so Android’s ROI calculation is as much a rising tide lift’s all Google boats as a dollar invested is some direct return gained.

    Thanks for the feedback.

  • OHS

    Thing is, Android being used on lots of different phones from many different companies makes it a very formidable competitor to the iPhone. It’s about choice. Apple has 1 phone. 1 experience. Take it or leave it. Android has how many by now? 30? 40? Lots more on the way. If you don’t like that particular Android phone, well there are many others to consider. If you don’t like the iPhone, well, Apple has nothing else to offer. Choice.

  • brisance

    @OHS you totally proved Mark’s point on fragmentation. Do you really need 30-40 different ways of doing things? How many ways would you implement a dialer? All these add complexity = higher risk of bugs/unintended features = higher support costs.

  • Ken

    To gauge which platform will win or lose, just look at the quarterly smartphone sales statistics from Gartner or Canalys research firms. Don’t look at just the current market share, but look at the change over time. The trend.

    Android is rising rapidly. The statistics show every reason that its success is inevitable. That game firm (mentioned in the article) should invest more in Android development (not less), as it’s the perfect opportunity to get into this growing market early.

    It’s true, this is turning into a 2 horse race, with Android and iPhone the only platforms worth developing for. Interesting to watch Windows Mobile mule die a painful death, with its hapless owner Microsoft taking the wrong turn at every fork in the road.

  • Mark Murphy

    Now, as a developer, do you develop different versions of your software to take advantage of the cool features of each of these different devices (and the lifecycle of supporting same)?

    The vast majority of apps will not need to do this, simply because the vast majority of apps are not impacted by the “cool features”. MOTOBLUR and HTC Sense, for example, are mostly home screen and contact database replacements, with added widgets and apps — not things most apps will be caring much about.

    Do you focus on just the device that pushes the highest volume (and release more apps specific to that device)?

    It is unclear how one makes an Android app that is “specific to that device”. One might make an app that, say, works best on a WVGA-size screen, but that is not particular to a device, but rather a screen size. This is not significantly different than desktop games working best with such-and-so video capability, or drawing apps that work best with such-and-so tablets.

    I remain a Blackberry Tour owner

    Please note that Blackberry missed two of your four “legs” until recently, when it added decent media players and SDKs.

    Google has neither shown that they have the wherewithal to succeed where others have failed (think: Microsoft, Palm, Symbian)

    Please note that Symbian is still the world’s leader in smartphones, last I checked.

  • kevin

    See http://www.androidtapp.com/googles-late-release-of-android-2-0-hurting-developers/ for a view by Android followers regarding what’s happened since Android 2.0 was released.

    Apple has issued major releases to developers once a year in March, with release of the OS to the public in June/July, thus allowing developers to get their apps up-to-snuff and avoid negative experiences from customers. Google just doesn’t seem to care much.

    Apple’s system is far from perfect, but Android has many of the same problems and more.

  • Matthew Frederick

    @Mark, in your first comment you say, in reference to Gameloft, “they cite 4X more games sold on iPhone than Android.” It’s worth noting that in fact they cite 400x more games. Not 400%, 400x.

  • Mark Sigal

    @Matthew, good catch, and a monumental misquote on my end. Thanks. Definitely frames the dive in versus wait conundrum more fully for (certain) app developers.

  • AlfieJr

    good piece debunking a lot of hype. just missed one big thing: Google’s real purpose. Google does not need Android to be a well-coordinated competitor that outsells the iPhone. it makes no money directly from Android hardware or software sales, and the iPhone defaults to Google search anyway – where it really does make its money. rather as many have noted, Google is really aiming to block Microsoft’s WinMobile/Bing from getting a strong foothold in the mobile marketplace, and so permanently marginalize them.

    so the marketshare Google wants to maximize is the total of Android PLUS iPhone.

  • Stephen

    The other major problem is that the current list of countries where paid apps are available is pathetic! This is the current list:

    * Australia
    * Austria
    * France
    * Germany
    * Italy
    * Japan
    * Netherlands
    * New Zealand
    * Spain
    * Switzerland
    * United Kingdom
    * United States

    And developers are only allowed sell from the following countries:

    # Austria
    # France
    # Germany
    # Italy
    # Japan
    # Netherlands
    # Spain
    # United Kingdom
    # United States

    WTF Google??!!

  • Lemon

    Thanks for the great article.

    One gripe, I’m not sure that this:

    Imagine a table with four legs. In the mobile universe, the table’s legs are:

    1. Great handset functionality, horsepower and design
    2. Thriving software developer ecosystem
    3. Carrier coverage, reliability and performance
    4. Media player and marketplace

    …is “the mobile universe”. It’s the iPhone universe and you should call it as such. As it stands the Android UI (and the general Android mobile paradigm) is head and shoulders above S60, S40, and proprietary OS UIs from LG, Moto, and to a degree Sony Ericsson…

    Yes, the Android Market is 12-18 months behind the iPhone market. That’s also roughly the amount of time between the iPhone launch and the Android launch. Remember Android is barely a year old. And the market (and Market) for Android apps is different to iPhone. People will buy apps for different reasons and as such developers need to look at good methods for promoting their apps. You don’t even HAVE to use the Market, apps can be installed from the internet if you like, so perhaps some developers need to get off their asses and stop blaming the Market for their poor sales. A bunch of paid Android apps have 10,000 – 250,000 paid downloads… (here’s a 5-star rated game at $2.99 that has more than 50,000 downloads: http://bit.ly/5aaTab) so maybe people like Gameloft need to ask what those devs/apps have offered that they haven’t? These are not iPhones and these are not iPhone users you’re selling to.

  • OHS

    brisance, yes we need choice. Form factors, GUIs, these are essential. And Android phones are diverse in that area. While Apple has 1, exactly 1 user experience. Choice, choice, choice. Apple doesn’t have that.

  • Mark Sigal

    @OHS, you are dead on that choice is a good thing. My key point is that with choice comes complexity of supporting choice, choices for developers, choices for carriers and handset makers on how to achieve proprietary differentiation on top of ‘open.’ In other words, it’s a lot harder to execute in practice than in concept.

    @Ken, can you provide a link to the data that you are citing? There are multiple metrics that matter including unit counts, margins, eco metrics like developers, apps, downloads/purchases, etc, and as you note, current momentum relative to historical. Simple analog is that Nokia is still the unit leader but few would argue that they are holding a winning hand in the smartphone wars. Plus, while I have focused on Android v. iPhone, RIM/Blackberry remain relevant, are pushing lots of units and have a good margin business, even though they are not doing well on the platform (developers, tools, apps, downloads) side of equation.

    @Mark Murphy, your pushback questioning whether developers will have reason to differentiate their approach on a handset by handset basis is certainly fair. My take is that if I am a handset guy, I want to differentiate, and software level differentiation of my hardware is a material piece of the pie, be that a newfangled type of camera, a specialized controller/keyboard, co-processing capabilities, etc. A whole fork of this is that ultimately, the Verizons of the world want me to have 3-4 devices on one account so that’s where some of this plays out, I think. Re Blackberry, totally agree. They are almost an also-ran relative to media, tools, etc (here’s a post I wrote on that topic – http://bit.ly/1rz7y7). Finally, re Symbian I can think of few who would argue that they are holding a winning hand.

    @kevin, you are dead-on. Apple’s execution has been strong, and they have remained on offense, which is why I think that Google has its work cut out for it on many levels.

    @AlfieJr, while I agree with you that Google’s core is not building mobile device platforms, trust that this is not soft initiative for them. They very much want to win, and build a dominant platform, and they certainly don’t want to be beholden to Apple for a material part of their income, even though at this stage, Android is a final stake in heart for WinMo and a direct assault on Blackberry.

    @Stephen, that is great data. Thanks.

    @Lemon, while you are DEAD-ON that there is more than one way to win in the market, and that there is more than one segment that makes a market, until Android defines what makes it DIFFERENT or BETTER, they are always going to be looked at relative to iPhone. Just being open isn’t it, and the purpose of my post is to spotlight that even that premise has a hairball of complexity attached to it. As such, whether they are 12-18 months behind iPhone, the reality is that iPhone/iPod Touch is knocking the ball out of the park on many, many metrics, and their R&D engine is rockin. At some point the Android story needs to become something other than “catching up,” which is how I interpret it today. Thanks for the perspective.

  • Mark Sigal

    @OHS, you are dead on that choice is a good thing. My key point is that with choice comes complexity of supporting choice, choices for developers, choices for carriers and handset makers on how to achieve proprietary differentiation on top of ‘open.’ In other words, it’s a lot harder to execute in practice than in concept.

    @Ken, can you provide a link to the data that you are citing? There are multiple metrics that matter including unit counts, margins, eco metrics like developers, apps, downloads/purchases, etc, and as you note, current momentum relative to historical. Simple analog is that Nokia is still the unit leader but few would argue that they are holding a winning hand in the smartphone wars. Plus, while I have focused on Android v. iPhone, RIM/Blackberry remain relevant, are pushing lots of units and have a good margin business, even though they are not doing well on the platform (developers, tools, apps, downloads) side of equation.

    @Mark Murphy, your pushback questioning whether developers will have reason to differentiate their approach on a handset by handset basis is certainly fair. My take is that if I am a handset guy, I want to differentiate, and software level differentiation of my hardware is a material piece of the pie, be that a newfangled type of camera, a specialized controller/keyboard, co-processing capabilities, etc. A whole fork of this is that ultimately, the Verizons of the world want me to have 3-4 devices on one account so that’s where some of this plays out, I think. Re Blackberry, totally agree. They are almost an also-ran relative to media, tools, etc (here’s a post I wrote on that topic – http://bit.ly/1rz7y7). Finally, re Symbian I can think of few who would argue that they are holding a winning hand.

    @kevin, you are dead-on. Apple’s execution has been strong, and they have remained on offense, which is why I think that Google has its work cut out for it on many levels.

    @AlfieJr, while I agree with you that Google’s core is not building mobile device platforms, trust that this is not soft initiative for them. They very much want to win, and build a dominant platform, and they certainly don’t want to be beholden to Apple for a material part of their income, even though at this stage, Android is a final stake in heart for WinMo and a direct assault on Blackberry.

    @Stephen, that is great data. Thanks.

    @Lemon, while you are DEAD-ON that there is more than one way to win in the market, and that there is more than one segment that makes a market, until Android defines what makes it DIFFERENT or BETTER, they are always going to be looked at relative to iPhone. Just being open isn’t it, and the purpose of my post is to spotlight that even that premise has a hairball of complexity attached to it. As such, whether they are 12-18 months behind iPhone, the reality is that iPhone/iPod Touch is knocking the ball out of the park on many, many metrics, and their R&D engine is rockin. At some point the Android story needs to become something other than “catching up,” which is how I interpret it today. Thanks for the perspective.

  • deee

    “Also, while all of these problems are solvable, Google has neither shown that they have the wherewithal to succeed where others have failed (think: Microsoft, Palm, Symbian)…Nokia a loser??? they have almost 50% of global share…

    Is this an apple advertising ? enough, apple made a good phone( the 3gs not the others) but it has been updated by android htc hero, multitasking, social integrations…
    Why always talking about apple? who is the biggest on the market? apple? make me laugh…
    So what are you talking about? technology? marketing? what ?
    do you know that gameloft is back, actually making games for android in this moment ?
    What are your sources?
    I think that in few months you will delete this article with a little shame.

  • mirror2image

    I completely agree with this “fragmentation challenge” concept. In fact I’ve written something quite similar while ago:
    http://mirror2image.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/openness-maemo-vs-android/
    I want to point another important factor about fragmentation – it’s not only form factor. Even more important is native code development. With mobile Augmented Reality and Image Search around the corner high CPU-load applications will go mainstream(and of cause games too). And you just can’t have high CPU load app in java. G address that problem with NDK, but NDK would just fall apart or will be trivialized with dozen different hardware configs. Especially if Google add OpenGL/Camera API to NDK. The single phone that rules them all is the only viable path to native development. And Symbian failure to create mainstream app market is the proof.

  • Mark Sigal

    @mirror2image, Definitely a believer in the single phone that rules them thought process. You are right that native code development is key. I am also an admitted skeptic of java clients for the simple reason that they always seem to be better in concept than in practice.

    On mobile, I think you really want an optimized experience, and that’s where being native comes in. Apple has a Gen 3 type of user experience in Cocoa Touch. Plus the SDK toolset and App Store plugs right in. It’s very holistic.

    There is something to be said for establishing sandbox boundaries, and then optimizing around that.

    Will check out the post. Thanks. Mark

  • Mark Sigal

    @mirror2image, Definitely a believer in the single phone that rules them thought process. You are right that native code development is key. I am also an admitted skeptic of java clients for the simple reason that they always seem to be better in concept than in practice.

    On mobile, I think you really want an optimized experience, and that’s where being native comes in. Apple has a Gen 3 type of user experience in Cocoa Touch. Plus the SDK toolset and App Store plugs right in. It’s very holistic.

    There is something to be said for establishing sandbox boundaries, and then optimizing around that.

    Will check out the post. Thanks. Mark

  • Andrew Mayo

    This is a very interesting article, but the Droid isn’t the only competent Android phone out there. Outside the US a number of attractive options exist, of which in my opinion one of the most interesting is the phone I now own, a rebadged Huawei U8220 sold by T-Mobile as the Pulse. This is an iPhone form factor phone and it sells, WITHOUT contract i.e pay as you go, for around 140 GBP which is, what, around 220 USD. Remember, this is an UNSUBSIDISED price, if I wanted it on contract, they’d have given it to me for nothing.

    Now this phone is running Android 1.5, not 2.0, but the platform differences aren’t actually that significant. (Huawei have committed to a 2.0 update in the new year at some stage, in any case). My experience so far is that browsing, making calls, email and text messaging on this phone are all extremely simple and reliable experiences, and that call quality is good. The back cover doesn’t fall off. The touch screen is capacitive and just as responsive as the iPhone. The unit has GPS, a compass, front and back cameras, tilt sensor and an SD card slot but no physical keyboard. The android keyboard – I prefer the standard on-screen keyboard to the options provided, but this is a personal issue – is just as easy to use and accurate as that on the iPhone. The screen is just as good and exactly the same size as the iPhone. Frankly, this is an excellent phone and Android runs very well on it. If prices continue to drop it is THESE form factor phones that will probably become extremely popular. This is definitely a credible iPhone competitor. With the FTP client and server installed on it, I can drag and drop anything – music, documents etc – from my PC to the phone, or sit downstairs and pull stuff off the PC down to the phone or vice-versa. I could punch a hole through my firewall and do this from anywhere in the world, if I wanted. All the software I needed was available (free) from the Android market.

    This to me is much simpler than wrangling with iTunes, which I have never found entirely intuitive. And I can update the supplied 2G micro SD card with up to 16G. So far I have not had one application crash or phone lockup. This is good enough for me, frankly, especially at this price point. So I am optimistic about Android. In particular, outside the US and Europe e.g Asia, South America, Android is undoubtedly going to be a runaway success. And slightly cheaper versions of this sort of handset are the One Laptop Per Child of the future too. I can see that now. In this market a mobile phone becomes your single device for all connectivity and computer-related activity. A solar-powered charger suffices to power up the unit. I imagine we’ll see an external bluetooth keyboard as an option for Android before long, which pretty much solves that problem, and using a micro projector, you can beam the screen out onto a larger surface if needed.

  • Mark Sigal

    @Andrew, great, detailed feedback on your experiences, and especially relevant to the non-US market. This is clearly a market where one size won’t fit all. Thanks for the thoughts.

    A side note is that it will be interesting to see if and how Google’s decision to directly move into the device market with the Nexus One (manufactured for them by HTC) will impact handset maker enthusiasm, as history suggests it’s very hard for OEMs to compete with the platform originator (Google, in this case), when the platform maker decides to offer their own branded hardware/software solution.

    Interesting times ahead, to be sure. Thanks again for your assessment.

    Mark

  • http://www.tabletupdates.info Danny Vriens

    We will see what the market will do in the up coming years I hope it will grow fast.

    If this become the new digital world I’m so happy.

  • http://www.test.com @Aww_toe

    Google ran into problems when they abandoned the community and open source model. Google could better manage the entire development process and stem the issues before running into most of the problems they are experiencing with diverse hardware platforms and the vendor ecosystem. There are lots of working models out there. Look to @gnat and his comments on open API vs. open source code. Kind of a no-brainer.