I had the G1. I was following Android when it had zero percent marketshare. At the time I wasn’t even into gadget news. I want to say it was roughly 2008 that I first started reading blogs and following trends and what not. And even back then…the iPhone was in charge. I was following along as Android sprouted new models like the MyTouch 3G and the Hero and it floundered a bit. In October 2009, after being on the market for a year, the Android platform had 2.8% of the market. A full 5% less than, no not the iPhone. Not Blackberry. Not Windows Mobile. Palm. Palm had almost three times as many phones on the market as Android did. Meanwhile, the iPhone had a hair shy of a quarter of the market. Of the 42.7 million handsets on the market, the iPhone was in one out of every four hands.
Then the Droid came out.
Then the Nexus One. Then the Evo. Then the Droid X. And the Incredible. And the G2. And the Droid 2. And…the list goes on and on. Though, the Droid is what really set it off. From that point on, and I want to emphasize this…the iPhone has not gained any significant portion of the U.S. smartphone marketshare. The overall market has increased (to the tune of almost 20 million new users across all platforms in fact!), however the percentage of that group that own iPhones remains the same: one in four. Only now? There’s also an Android in one-out-of-four hands, too.
One year is what that took. To give you an idea of what that looks like, take a look at this. This is comScore’s numbers from November 2009 (the month the original Droid was released) to November 2010. Different analysis firms will give you different pictures. However, the one thing that is impossible to ignore, no matter which perspective you look at these numbers from, is this: Android has exploded. Not just “wow, they’re selling a bunch of phones”. Not just “hey, this is pretty cool, because, you know, now normal people are talking about them”. This is unbelievable growth. And don’t let the fact that there’s now an equal number of iPhones and Android devices fool you. This growth took, effectively, a single year to accomplish. Compare with the iPhone which, in November of 2009, had been out for nearly two and a half years. When the iPhone had only been out for a year, Apple’s marketshare was far, far below one-in-four. In fact, few even considered it a major contender.
This is important to note fore a few reasons. Perhaps chief among them is that Android has experienced explosive, exponential growth that’s showing no sign of slowing, not because of the iPhone, but rather in spite of it. Keep in mind, when the iPhone entered the market, the kings of the hill were Blackberries and Windows Mobile devices on the corporate side and RAZRs on the consumer side. The iPhone was an oasis in a desert of mobile phone innovation. The Droid was introduced into a climate where everyone knew at least someone with an iPhone, and Apple’s App Market was thriving, popularity had never been higher, and the bar had been raised absurdly high. This market was not going to be any cake walk. This was going to be an uphill battle for a long time. And it has been. Still is. And yet, Android’s growth has not stopped. Android has taken an average of an additional 2% of the market every month for at least the last half year.
If I sound like I’m a little biased towards Android, you’re probably right. But the numbers don’t lie.
Is it possible that the Verizon iPhone will stunt Android’s growth? ….I suppose that could happen. But the likelihood is slim.
For starters, there’s two types of people who are eagerly anticipating a Verizon iPhone. There’s AT&T customers who love their iPhone and hate their service, and there’s Verizon customers who love their service and hate their phone. That last group can be divided into those who have Android phones and those who have other phones.
The first group? The current iPhone users? They are no small percentage. According to one poll, it may be as many as a quarter of all iPhone owners (and 16 percent of AT&T users as a whole). These millions of users? They will not affect Android marketshare one bit. No new iPhones being introduced to the market means, not just that Apple doesn’t gain any marketshare, but that they will actually lose marketshare if they don’t sell iPhone to other consumers as well. Remember, the market as a whole is growing. The iPhone needs to sell one handset to a new consumer for every Android device sold to stay even. And with 300,000 Android devices activated daily, that’s an awful lot to keep up with. Especially if a huge portion of the devices being activated on your biggest launch since your product first came into being are current customers that don’t shift the scales.
But surely this, the legendary iPhone for Verizon, will change things!
There’s actually a very serious flaw with this thinking. Because you see….we’ve heard this before.
Prior to the iPhone 4’s release, there were many people, including various influential tech industry commentators, who insisted that the rapid rise in Android’s growth, which had been increasing since October 2009, was largely due to the fact that the iPhone was reaching the end of its update cycle. The 3G S had been out nearly a year. Surely many iPhone users were simply waiting for the next device to come out, right? And, in fact, since Gizmodo had gotten their hands on the legendary device and spilled its guts out wide on the internet for all to see, there was a level of anticipation that had not and will not ever be repeated: folks knew what was coming. This was perhaps the one time in all of history that an iPhone was approaching release and folks already knew nearly every detail about it and could make an informed decision to wait it out.
And yet…nothing changed. The iPhone marketshare did not increase. They sold units. Enough to stay in the exact same one-in-four position they always had been. But Android continued to explode. And it hasn’t stopped. At the time of the iPhone 4 release, numbers were announced indicating that Android was activating 200,000 units per day. This peeved off Mr. Jobs just a bit so, at the infamous “Antennagate” conference, he mentioned that they activated 230,000 iOS devices per day. Except, this number includes iPod Touches and iPads. The actual number of just phones was closer to 137,000 per day. That is, Steve announced they’d sold 3 million iPhone 4s in 22 days (3m / 22 = ~137k).
So, ultimately, even though the new iPhone release is the biggest sales period of the year for Apple, the iPhone still failed to move nearly as many units as Android did per day at the time. In fact, Android moved enough units, even during the iPhone 4 release, to not only hold back the iPhone’s marketshare growth, but to gain (you guessed it) 2% of the market over the iPhone that month. And the next. And the next. And so on.
And here’s the clincher. The thing that really makes it hard to believe that the Verizon iPhone will suddenly be some huge shift in the mobile platform war:
It’s the same phone.
This is not a new iPhone. This is a new carrier. If there were a huge amount of people who wanted this phone, this platform, it’s already been available. For months in fact! This is not news to those who wanted an iPhone 4. This is not a paradigm shift for those who wanted an iPhone 4. This is news for those who, very specifically, wanted an iPhone and want the Verizon network. Which could be anyone from Verizon customers with Droids, to AT&T customers unhappy with their service, to the folks who walk in to pick a phone with no knowledge and grab the first shiny thing they see that now have a new option.
However, this is not Android’s chance to finally prove itself in a grudge match with the iPhone. No. That has long since passed. It would take a hugely cynical person to believe that Android is selling on Verizon because people really want an iPhone, but are just taking whatever they can get in the meantime, and yet, is selling in numbers far, not slightly, far exceeding those that the actual iPhone is enjoying on a daily basis. There is, like it or not, a legitimate reason why Android devices are selling.
A valid point may be, though, that if the iPhone is available on Verizon, that’s a whole new set of 95 million subscribers that have their shot at getting it. Hypotheticals about what types of people those are aside, it’s hard to ignore doubling your potential market as a factor. However, there’s a flipside to this as well. And it occurred at AT&T’s CES event.
For the longest time, AT&T has had an almost malevolent approach to Android handsets. While there have been a few available, namely the Aria and the Backflip, the only true headliner to grace AT&T’s userbase is the Captivate. And, importantly, this phone is incredibly similar in nearly all ways to the other Galaxy S phones released for every major carrier in the U.S.. Yes, the cream of the Android crop that you could get on AT&T was a phone that you didn’t have to switch carriers for. Unless you were on Verizon, ironically, as their version, the Fascinate, was stripped of nearly everything that made it good. Including Google. There has been, for all intents and purposes, no legitimate draw for Android users to head to AT&T. And even more importantly, of the 92 million AT&T subscribers, the iPhone has been the obvious choice for a long time. It’s not been impossible to get an Android device on AT&T, but it has certainly been lackluster choices for the 92 million AT&T users who don’t want to switch carriers just for a phone.
AT&T launched at CES not one but three high-end 4G handsets running the Android platform. And they are all beasts. Capable of pulling down speeds in the area of 14.4Mbps over their HSPA+ network. Devices from HTC and Motorola who have, thus far, been a.) leading the pack of high-end Android devices on other carriers, and b.) severely lacking an impressive presence on AT&T.
In short, Verizon is not the only one about to get a ton of new customers looking for a hot new device. The attention will not be nearly so focused on a single device but it will, nonetheless, exist.
The iPhone has a mythical quality attached to it quite often. And for good reason, to be honest. It is a fantastic device. I am quite happy with and prefer my Evo to my friend’s iPhone 4. I love my widgets, built-in Navigation, and notification shade. However, when I use my friend’s iPhone 4 it is hard to ignore that it is rather nice-looking. And I’m still jealous of his Netflix app.
But ultimately, we’re roughly equals. There’s some things I can do his can’t and there’s some things that his can do that mine can’t (though that gap is closing quickly). However, the market has, in fact, spoken. Android is here to stay. It’s not the Poor Man’s iPhone. It’s not “just for geeks and nerds”. It is in, in most measurable ways, equal to the iPhone. Especially in the area of marketshare. And that’s only going to keep growing.