Commentary

Resizing The Robot

The NPD Group rattled a few Apple-boy cages this week by announcing Android phones finally were outselling iPhones. My first response to this is, well, maybe. My second response is, well it has been clear all along this was going to happen at some point.

NPD says that for the first time Android OS-powered models altogether earned a 28% share of the market in the first quarter of 2010. This places the Google OS behind RIM/Blackberry's 36% share and now ahead of Apple iPhone's 21%. NPD has some pretty straightforward and sensible explanations for the bump. In addition to the new models from Verizon in the marketplace (Droid, Droid Eris) there were two-for-one promotions that helped drive these phones into users' hands. NPD says that the share of smartphone sales in Q1 still found AT&T in the lead with 32% of the market, with Verizon just behind at 30%, T-Mobile at 17% and Sprint at 15%.

First, NPD only might be right on this one. Unlike some of their data that comes partially from in-store sales records, this was a user-based online survey. Also, while there is no doubt Android phones are selling well, they still represent about a 9% share of the market, says comScore in its figures for February. By this measure, RIM holds 42% of the market, up a tad, and Apple stays pretty solid in this last quarter at 25% and change.

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In some sense the market share dickering is neither here nor there, because inevitably, it seems to me, Android does catch up. As many of us have been saying from the beginning, the open platform approach Google took with Android pretty much assured that it would eventually outpace Apple. There are just going to be more phones at more price points in market under Android's model than Apple's. There is nothing surprising about this. And with this wider table in the market, you have merchandisers with a broad range of promotional tools that Apple just doesn't touch.

More shocking to me is why we aren't seeing more media and consumer brands in that Android store by now. The usual suspects are here, from the Weather brands and some news brands, Facebook, MySpace, NFL and NBA. But there are few branded consumer apps among the Android offerings. 'Tis a pity, because there are some cool tricks brands can play. Kraft's iFood Assistant is here, and in some ways it is better than the iPhone version. Kraft leverages the widget function of the Android OS to let me plant a "recipe of the day" block on a home page. HuffPo lets me ratchet through the headlines and images from its front page on the Android home screen. This kind of surface-level access to information reminds us that Apple didn't really solve everything with an icon-based interface.

UPS, Bank of America, State Farm, MLB, Golf Channel are all in here, but not so you would know it. Even when brands do launch Android apps, there doesn't seem to be the same PR energy around them. Granted, Apple offers that special contact cool to brands, but there really is some relatively undiscovered brand effort going on already in Android. Just not enough.

On Wednesday at OMMA Mobile we will be taking up the question of the mobile platform wars and whether the tensions among Google, Apple and RIM and open or closed systems should matter much to marketers. I will be interested in hearing the answers, because I imagine there will be more than one.

It seems to me that the contest between Android and Apple really gets interesting as the OS leverages its openness by porting to other devices. I think an Android tablet gets really interesting on a number of counts. First, on a tablet I suspect that Apple loses some of its natural app advantage. As I continue to find on my iPad, I spend less time with apps and more on the browser. Making Web sites versatile and rich for touch-screen use could become much more important than ensuring your apps are ported across the major OSs.

More important, an open platform on the portable device market gives many companies the opportunity to out-feature the iPad and seriously undercut its pricing. The tablet form factor and functionality makes the most sense to me when it is under $200 -- and families can imagine having several around the house. The economics of open platforms get us there faster than closed platforms.

3 comments about "Resizing The Robot".
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  1. Stephen Shore from STADIS Corporation, May 11, 2010 at 1:12 p.m.

    This analysis makes no mention of the fact that there has been a tremendous amount of coverage about a new iPhone and updated iPhone operating system that will be introduced next month. While I agree that the ubiquity of Android should cause increased market share for it, the news about the about to be introduced new iPhone model will have significantly depressed sales over the last month or two. The really interesting numbers will be a comparison of Android to iPhone over the 3rd quarter.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 11, 2010 at 1:41 p.m.

    A family of 4 on $50,000 per year gross income coming in about $45,000 per year may have some problems with $2400, over 5% of expendable income on monthly electronic device bills (TV, computer, phones) and they are going to get tougher as commodity prices of food, transportation, school, benefit contribution, taxes (local and state) and shelter expenses and everything else rise. The schism will grow.

  3. Steve Smith from Mediapost, May 11, 2010 at 3:29 p.m.

    @Paula Yeah I tried this four-or-five iPads around the house for $199 each, and my family just dropped their jaws and left the room.

    @Stephen. I would have to check with NPD whether they were seeing depressed iPhone sales, though they didn't mention it in their brief. I think it is moot. Apple has a rival for the long haul.

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