Android Becomes Numero Uno: What’s Next?

Android recently overtook Nokia’s Symbian to become the top smartphone platform, according to Q4 2010 shipment numbers, with an apparent 33.3 million people rocking Android. The full data, credited to Canalys, suggest that Google gained 32.9% market share in the final quarter of 2010, pushing Nokia down to only 30.6% and Apple to a measly 16%. However, what does what actually mean? How did that actually happen? And what’s next for Google and the mobile industry?

The biggest shock from these results us the Nokia downturn, which is cited to be because of weak smartphone sales against Android and iOS. Apple’s one-and-a-half phone strategy still garnered them a nice 16% share (which, if my math is correct, is around $10 billion in revenue) but Google’s every-shape, every-size attitude netted them a phenomenal 33.3 million shipments.

Uncountable vs One

Much of Android’s success is down to its wide variety of handsets. Whilst its competitors all opt to limit their software to their own devices, Google’s success is based on the hardware contributions of others. It certainly seems to work for Apple, Nokia and RIM who all are bringing in tidy profits, but the consumer-friendly option Google decided on seems to be working for them too.

However, some might argue that Google’s success is nothing compared to Apple’s. iPhone shipped in two flavors (4 and 3GS) last quarter, which would unscientifically equate to 8% market share per phone (of course, I know that isn’t true, but just go with it). Now imagine the tens, if not hundreds, of Android handsets out there which make up Google’s higher market share. Of course, I’m not arguing Apple’s case for supremacy here.

However, although each phone individually may not account for much, when combined they’re pretty big. And I mean massive!

Fix List

This is where the “users” comment comes in. There’s many a thing that bugs me on Android that doesn’t on iOS, like the fragmentation and smaller app store. Google certainly has some priorities, one of them being to hire developers in order to improve the Market.

Don’t think new CEO Larry Page will be sitting back counting his billions. Nope, Google still has a long way before it’s home and dry. Its customer-oriented attitude (in terms of the customizability of the handsets due to the open-source license of Android) cannot drop if it is to maintain success.

The current version of Android is 2.3 aka Gingerbread, but some phones are stuck on Froyo, Eclair or even 1.x

Marketplace

One thing Google will need to start looking into in order to increase its success in the app world is refining their marketplace. At the moment, some developers are finding it hard to make the jump to Android development, especially with piracy options increasingly available.

Google also needs to look into better payment options for apps. Thanks to it not being part of a closed in ecosystem, it’d certainly be a consumer-friendly move to start PayPal integration.

They’re moving in the right direction, with the recently-launched web-based app market, new country-explicit pricing, and upcoming in-app purchases. I still, however, believe they need to address the payments system.

Fragmentation

Froyo is just downloading on my handset now. Yep, Android 2.2 is only just now available to me, even though 2.3 is already shipping with 3.0 coming very shortly. Fragmentation in the user base is not a good thing, and the carrier/manufacturer-controlled update system just doesn’t work.

My suggestion would be to ship phones with vanilla Android that have recurring UI elements that phone makers can brand and keep branded in new updates. Or some sort of “skin marketplace” where makers can push default skins if they want. It’s a big ask, but at least you’ll save a lot of time getting your user base up-to-date.

The Future

2011 will be a big year for Android, especially in the tablet arena. With Motorola set to release their Honeycomb-equipped Xoom and more tablets expected to follow, I’m sure users will see a big difference in how they’re interacting with Android on a bigger screen. Google’s OS has also already seen many industry firsts from dual-core mobile processors to 3D and dual touch-screen devices.

As I said before, Google has promised to refine its marketplace and is hiring developers to use the platform. Increasing market share and its following app development rush is surely only a good thing… right?


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