This is a guest post by Sitakanta Ray
The year 2011 saw Android grow to become a force to reckon within the smartphone OS market. Android phones have claimed over 40% of the world market share in 2011(see table below).
The dominance of Android is not limited to a single market like USA either. It has passed iOS in UK in 2011, starting from almost nowhere year and a half ago. Growing from around 10% market share, today Android holds over 50% of the UK smartphone market share (source). Android has even taken over the high potential market of China with over 60 million models sold in 2011. (source) Even in India the pace of adoption of Android smartphones has been accelerating for quite some time now.
It is an interesting juncture for us to ponder about the future of Android from the perspective of Developers, Google and an Android User.
Perspective 1 – Developers:
For the developers, these are the important times as they are catering to over 250 million Android users the world over. The net activation of greater than 700,000 handsets a day promises an average developer a massive potential of clients for his App. The number is significantly higher compared to iOS where the number of handset activations is only 190,000 per day.
But is this the only consideration for a Developer to jump on the Android bandwagon?
Ease of development
Android Apps are fairly complex to develop due to fragmentation, with manufacturers running a different version of Android. Also with the existence of multiple customized user interfaces and hardware, Android App developers have a hard time developing and maintaining code for their apps.
However, based on a popular survey conducted by Baird William Powers, while development for Android OS is more difficult than developing for the iOS, it is a lot more easier compared to developing applications for RIM’s Blackberry or Nokia’s Symbian.
The Application can be easily registered for a low fee of $25 and can be fairly easily uploaded into the market place, which makes the Android OS a great platform to develop Apps for despite the problems for fragmentation.
While android developers are enamored by the fact that over 250 million Android users exist in the world, Android Developers are getting just 7% as much revenue as Apple iOS Developers.
Recently there has been a flurry of activity with Instagram, one of Apple’s most successful Apps making its foray into Android while Battle heart, another hugely popular Android App making their official exit from Google Play (source). The simultaneous entry and exit does prove that it isn’t just about the possibility for monetization in Android .
While customers may not willingly shell out money to purchase a premium version of an App, applications such as Rovio’s Angry Birds and Instagram show that monetization is still possible by adopting in-app advertising or freemium as strategies. Certainly monetization in the purest sense may not be the way forward for App developers. There is no doubt app developers will have to turn smarter and come up with more strategies similar to in-app advertising and freemium to gain the true potential offered by Androids large volume of users.
For now however, Developers seem to be losing interest in Android OS at an alarming rate, according to a survey done by IDC and Accelerometer.
The survey shows a dip from interest among 85% of developers to about 80% while Apple’s iOS still excites up to 90% of developers.
How Google would entice the developers who are losing interest is indeed going to be interesting to observe in the future.
Perspective 2: Google
For Google, the revenue source of Android still heavily depends on Advertising through its own properties such as Search, Maps, YouTube and Gmail. Amazon however has bypassed Google almost entirely for its Kindle Fire tablet. Kindle Fire sold more than 6 million units in the 4th quarter of 2011, making kindle the second largest selling tablet computer in the world by a large margin.
Kindle Fire is made on the Android Platform , however it features its own Market place and App store and doesn’t come with the regular Google applications such as YouTube , Gmail etc., which are found in other Android Tablets. The issue of “control” thus becomes significant for Google, who has missed out on the success of Kindle because of this open source platform.
Samsung moves more than 55% of Android smartphones around the world and thus holds the potential to dictate terms to Google about the future of Android. Google pays up to $1bn dollars to Apple for using Google as the default search engine in Apple machines. One may wonder what Samsung, who sold more than 35 million smartphones for Android in q4 2011, could do considering it has greater power of influence over Google than any other mobile manufacturer. (Source)
Google may use Motorola to produce exclusive Android phones with higher specifications than the models available in the market. Google may even move its exclusive Android phones without customization, the Nexus into Motorola smartphones and make future upgrades available only for Motorola.
Google Nexus Tablet
Google is partnering with Asus to compete with the Amazon Kindle Fire with a low price feature packed Tablet. The Google Nexus Tablet is expected to be priced $50 lower than Kindle fire at $ 149. (Source)
Google no longer wishes to miss out on the opportunity of an Android tablet, while Amazon Kindle and iPad reign supreme in the market, not a single Android tablet has a market share greater than 5%. (Source)
Perspective 3: Android User
Malware, privacy and security
Today’s smartphone user stores all his private data, be it photographs of near and dear ones, Banking passwords or even official email in the power packed smartphones . Android OS has been subject to heavy attack of Malwares in the recent past. The attack growing by up to 472% in the 3rd quarter of 2011 alone, while iOS was left untouched (Source).
Having a popular open platform will often come with this shortfall for Androids. While one group of developers are busy making outstanding applications to gain traction, visibility and generate revenues, another group would engage in developing malicious content to take advantage of the unsuspecting Android user.
Google’s Android had even encountered criticism similar to Apple for allowing applications to access private photographs on User’s mobile phone. While allowing the application to track location, the application also managed to gain access to user photographs without asking for consent (source) . Once the user allows an App to connect to the internet, it can automatically upload the images to a remote server without asking the user for permission. To a great extent, smartphones these days hold more sensitive data than even the typical laptops and desktops. It is alarming for an Android user due to the consequences of the complex privacy policies stated by Google or individual App developers.
Google wallet had recently found itself mired in controversy thanks to a hacker who found an easy way to crack its 4 digit numeric Pin. Even though this issue happened for rooted android phones, the security loophole has negative impact on users’ intent to adopt new payment methods (source).
If the security threats are not curtailed, users may slowly shift to more secure platforms.
Google has already released the latest version of Android, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in November 2011, yet only 1.2% of Android phones in the world have the latest Operating system (source). Apple’s devices get an automatic update of new operating system depending on the hardware capability. Users are constantly exposed to newer Apps and features that are launched even to the latest devices.
It is here that typical android user feels left out. Despite shelling out considerably high amount of money, a typical Samsung Galaxy S2 or Samsung Galaxy Note customer still have to wait at least 3-4 months to be able to download the latest update of Ice Cream Sandwich. The upgrade process is also equally difficult to do and might not be possible for an average user. Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) today is available in over 60% of Android devices despite being launched in the end of 2010.
The issue is not restricted to upgrades alone. Even now newly launched entry-level smartphones and several mid-range ones are being launched with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).
If Google aims to make Android the ultimate smartphone operating system, it will have to reduce the delay in adoption of latest operating system and provide for faster upgrades for existent versions.
Dropping price points
Android is going to be available for the average Joe in the market. With the prices dropping significantly the world over and leading mobile makers planning on launching even cheaper entry-level smartphones powered by Android, Android can expect significant growth in market share. While low priced android phones have been available for quite some time, they were not good enough for most of the smartphone activity. But that has changed with the entry of Samsung Galaxy Y. Even though the Samsung Galaxy Y price is only slightly above the 100$ mark, it has not compromised on the quality. With the Samsung Galaxy Pocket expected to be priced below the Y, we can expect even greater number of people adopting the Android ecosystem.
Android phones are becoming the top sought after models in the market, perhaps second only to Apple. With a growing user base and more applications available in Google Play, Google has the platform set for a great future. However, growing crisis in privacy and security would prove a turn off for users to adopt the phone immediately and may even force them to move out. While Google’s lack of control on its platform will always create potential for spin offs such as Kindle Fire to arise and gain market share, Google’s real challenge would be to provide greater monetization for its developers. If the developers don’t find value in developing Apps for Android, they would rather put effort in iOS and Windows phones to gain monetary benefit. Developers on the other hand must also find unique methods to gain market share and monetize their apps. Google must strive to make its upgrades easily available for an ever eager user base. The future is bright for Google; however it may turn dark if the issues it faces are not dealt with swiftly and with determination.
About the Author:
Sitakanta is the co-founder of MySmartPrice.com. MySmartPrice helps you find the best price of anything sold online in India.
Some comments on the article:
1. Google’s developer conference got sold out in just over 20 minutes and the registration servers were experiencing over 6000 hits(booking attempts) per second. So, does that point to lack of interest on the part of developers?
2. Google probably pays all the manufacturers who set Google as the default search engine not just Apple.
3. Motorola with stock Android would be desirable, but very unlikely because they will have very little to differentiate their devices. We may see one odd device with the stock version of the OS.
4. As Chris Dibona has pointed out in the past that the malware thing is more hype by security software vendors than anything else. These security software vendors are not allowed on iOS. So, is it a coincidence that all the new ‘malware’ are invented by security researchers of such vendors who have no better option but to pile on Android? Most of the so called malware isn’t really viruses in the traditional sense and are certainly nothing compared to what we see in computers. Even these non traditional ‘malware’ are mostly found outside of the Google Play Android Market (which is actively monitored by Google’s Bouncer programme). Also, there are security firms that have demonstrated that they can crack both iOS and Android.
5. When people say Google should ensure faster update of software on devices, they are actually barking up the wrong tree. Android is an Open Source Project just like Linux. You never say Linus Torvalds should be ensuring that the latest version of the kernel gets pushed onto existing distros. Google has no control over the manufacturers.
6. Going by sheer numbers, Android phones are the most sought after in the market and not second to Apple as stated in the summary.
Thanks for bringing up so many good points. The idea of the post was to put together some of the important factors that will impact the future progress of Android.
1. 80% developers being very interested in developing for a platform is awesome, no doubt about that. We feel that is should be better for Android considering the number of customers on the platform. The falling interest level should be a cause of concern.
5&6) Think from a users perspective. If he keeps hearing about malwares, upgrade problems etc, he will definitely think twice before buying an android phone.
Well said buddy….
Some arguments that i think the article missed:
Actually its the oem’s and especially the carriers(in countries such as the US) that are making android so undesirable in view of software updates. Google has no control over them, as being the downside of opensource. Carriers have resisted the deployment of latest updates, like ics, on devices despite the oem’s trying hard. With meager market penetration of ics ,Google will actually HAVE TO slow the development and launching of the android’s next-in-line-iterations; not doing it, will increase fragmentation to a great level.
Another important thing to note is the rising in popularity of custom rom’s. nowadays if you own an android phone and want to keep your phone updated to the latest os, rooting, modding and installing custom rom’s has become the defacto. And oem’s have started providing unlocked bootloaders for this purpose, hoping their device would garner some unofficial dev, because IT HAS become important.There is oem Xiomi that ships their phones with popular custom rom MIUI. So with time cm, aokp and the likes are gonna be wildly popular and will (unwantedly) become a necessity.
Awesome points that I had not thought about. Actually this deserves an entire post on its own.
As more and more people choose their first smarphone would they be spending $900 for iPhone each year or $100-200? You would assume people from low income would go behind android.
growing crisis in privacy and security – as if people have switched to Linux instead of Windows. Btw you should be using Linux.
greater monetization for its developers – there are so many developers who are not able to sell apps on Google Play. Like developers from India. If google opens up more countries to sell apps there would be explosion of new apps.
I think privacy and security will be more important on mobile than desktop. That is because we store more private information on mobiles. More importantly if this issue is not resolved, people will be skeptical about installing new apps. That in turn will hurt android as a platform.
hi, I have a keen interest in android development. I have joined android development course. Is there a scope for job?
Google has control over who uses the name “Android” and certifies phones before they are allowed access to the Play Store & the other google apps. If they wanted, they could easily make mandatory upgrades for 18 months as part of the agreement with the OEMs. They just haven’t chosen to do that.