After its long slog toward gaining respect from an Apple-bedazzled trade press, Android seems to be getting its moment this month. Hot on the heels of comScore's report that Android finally surpassed Apple in smartphone market share (not counting all iOS devices, of course), today Millennial Media announced that by the end of 2010, it was serving more ads (46%) onto those devices than onto Apple (32%).
I do not want to get mixed up too much in the horse race of this. Mobile OS debates get hijacked quickly by fanboy-ism, which is as predictable as it is, well, boyish. RIM/Blackberry has a diminishing window to salvage their dwindling lead in smartphone share. It is still unclear what impact Windows Phone 7 is having on the market. The online ad network Chitika posted a curious bit of research the other day showing that they see more Web traffic though their network from Windows 98 operating systems than they do from Windows Phone 7, although the mobile OS is growing. Chitika also still sees the iPhones/Android activity split more at 60%/40%.
However you slice and dice the traffic, count or discount iPod and tablets, Android has had a great year. And now Google is starting to leverage some of its other properties more effectively on the platform. To wit: the YouTube 2.0 app now available to Android 2.2 users. The iPhone version is pretty frowsy by comparison, and I suspect YouTube is in no hurry to bring the two into parity. The new YouTube on Android is a nicely integrated video viewing and creation tool. The video uploading and recording is embedded into the app, so that I literally tapped a button, recorded a video clip and it prompted me to upload it to my account when I hit the stop button. You can make and post video to YouTube pretty much as quickly as you can shoot it.
The partnership with VEVO ramps up here. Official music videos supplied by the syndicator get a musical note tag in search results, and the mobile page for each video has a series of relevant tabs. The artist bio is at hand as well as related artists, other tracks, etc. VEVO gets a banner ad on the entry that pushes the user to its own dedicated app.
The improvements make for a very clean and informative experience. In fact, the upgraded mobile interface is excellent and seems built to encourage video grazing. It is easy to make comments and move laterally to chase topics. Perhaps the best aspect of the Android app is that users can multitask while watching the video. In portrait mode, all of the tabs to other material and information is available as you watch the video in a smaller top window. Heavy YouTubers on iPhone now have a reason for Android envy.
YouTube's much more polished mobile presence is a good bellwether both of Google's more aggressive development of its resources onto the Android platform, as well as the explosion of mobile video. YouTube says that it will begin monetizing the mobile app more effectively with pre-rolls in select videos from distribution partners. YouTube promises that the channel will open up new revenue possibilities for its content partners.
All of these moves recognize the meteoric rise in mobile video use YouTube is already seeing. The company announced yesterday that it gets 200 million video views a day via mobile, triple the activity of a year ago. For those moiblistas who are into video, the habit is strong. Back in November the Google Mobile ads blog posted survey results from the m.youttube.com URL which showed that 75% of users coming to the brand from the mobile Web were using mobile as the primary way of accessing YouTube. Well over half were spending 20 minutes or more in each session. And 38% told Google that they felt YouTube Mobile was replacing their desktop YouTube usage. Mobile video is on a very steep growth curve, I suspect.
But YouTube 2.0 for Android is also another sign that Android is starting to grow out of its awkward geeky roots. The mosh pit of apps that one encounters in the Marketplace is a bit less chaotic under the newly launched revision of the app store. But most of all, Google seems to be recognizing that you don't compete for the mainstream under a dweeby open source banner. You win hearts and minds with better content and presentation.