INSIDE MOBILE: Why Google's Android Is Gaining So Much Market Share

 
 
By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2010-10-06
 
 
 

INSIDE MOBILE: Why Google's Android Is Gaining So Much Market Share


It's very clear that Google's Android operating platform (promoted as "Droid" by Verizon) is gaining a lot of market share in the smartphone market in the United States. Why are Android-based devices doing so well? Google's business model for Android is very different from Apple, and yet, both firms are growing in market share.

In addition, the market is about to become even more crowded over the coming months. Microsoft will be introducing Windows Phone 7. HP/Palm is likely to introduce their next-generation handset. Sony Ericsson just announced a new corporate headquarters in Atlanta and the launch of the Xperia X10. Also, Nokia just hired Stephen Elop from Microsoft as their new CEO. As Dick Enberg, the well-known sports broadcaster, might say in this situation: "Oh my!"

Android is an open-source operating environment developed by Google. Their business model is to make the source code available to anyone. Handset manufacturers then take the Android base operating system code and add their own features and functionality (plus specific requests made by the operator) to then launch their handsets into the market. This is in stark contrast to the PC world in which operating system software such as Windows is built by Microsoft but licensed for a fee per unit to the PC manufacturer. Every single PC customer has the same user experience. Applications are then sold on top of Windows to provide additional functionality to users.

Apple goes about it very differently. They own the operating system and tightly integrate it to the hardware. The code is kept proprietarily by Apple, thus creating a "walled garden." Apple then enables developers to build applications on top of their closed operating environment for both notebooks (Mac OS) and the iPhone (iOS). The notebook applications are sold through retail and over the Web, whereas Apple controls the distribution of iPhone (and iPad and iPod touch) applications through the on-device Apps Store.

Google is getting device manufacturers such as Motorola, Samsung, HTC, LG and ZTE to use Android in their wireless handsets (and, soon, in their tablets as well). They are gaining converts because they have built a very good multitasking operating environment and are continuing to improve it. This approach provides a low cost of entry for handset manufacturers. It also allows the manufacturers to add software to the Android environment so that there's a different user experience with each model that comes to market.

Android Handsets: EVO, Galaxy Epic and Xperia X10


Android handsets: EVO, Galaxy Epic and Xperia X10

I recently spent some time with three Android handsets: the HTC EVO, the Samsung Galaxy Epic (running on Sprint), and the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 (running on AT&T). All three of these devices are impressive when you consider what phones could do just a few years ago.

I was most impressed with the Sense user interface enhancements that HTC developed. The "alarm clock"-style flipping time (hours and minutes) is very comfortable, but what's most impressive is that when the weather changes to, for example, stormy, the display immediately shows clouds and lightening. Very clever. The layout of the screens and the intuitive navigation are impressive. The EVO has a cool industrial design and feels very comfortable in your hand. It is very thin because it doesn't have a built-in keyboard. After reviewing three Android units, I vote for this as my personal favorite.

Sony Ericsson, while not demonstrating a particularly impressive top-screen user interface, has two impressive custom additions to the Android environment in the Xperia X10: Timescape and Mediascape.

Timescape brings together all of your social interactions automatically in what Sony Ericsson calls their User Experience Platform (UXP). Timescape displays your latest e-mail messages, text messages and social media alerts for various contacts in a design that resembles a stacked deck of cards. It's easy to flip through your contacts or messages.

Mediascape brings together all your media, with access to significant entertainment assets from Sony. Mediascape focuses on music, video and photos. It assists in organizing them and lets you quickly skim through your library to find what you like to see or play. This reminds me of what Motorola is trying to do with Motoblur.

New Displays, Wireless Hot Spots and High-Resolution Cameras


New displays, wireless hot spots and high-resolution cameras

The Samsung Galaxy Epic clearly has the brightest and most dramatic display. They use a new technology called active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED). I suspect we'll see more such displays in other handsets before long. The Galaxy Epic is too thick and heavy compared with the other Android models since it includes a slide-out, landscape-style keyboard. I used to think that real keyboards were necessary in smartphones because of so much prior use with BlackBerry phones. But I found the keyboards somewhat difficult to use, and the weight over the combined phone and keyboard simply too much to bear.

Both the EVO and the Galaxy Epic provide a wireless hot spot which works, but isn't as elegant as the solution provided by Connectify (a MobileTrax client), which is coming out soon with an Android version. All of these devices seemed to pose more sensitivity to the screen being touched by my hand-which resulted in the unit jumping around to areas I didn't want to see. Apple's capacitive touch-screen doesn't react to random hand placements.

All of the three Android phones I tested included high-resolution cameras that are just about good enough to no longer bother taking along a separate digital camera. These smartphone cameras include (typically) five megapixels, autofocus and flash.

Android doesn't provide a clean solution to auto sync contacts and calendars to Outlook. Android wants to push you toward Gmail, which is fine if that's all you use. If not, you have to find a third party to do it. The folks at Funambol have an open-source solution that can sync Outlook to hundreds of devices. Google intends to provide more enterprise support in future releases to enable Android to have full IT support (Exchange, security, remote device management, and applications deployment and control).

Why Android Is Gaining Market Share


Why Android is gaining market share

Android is gaining so much market share because it provides handset manufacturers with a solid, multitasking operating system, the ability to customize the user experience, and a friendly application development environment. We don't have enough information at this time to know how successful Microsoft and its handset partners will be with Windows Phone 7 or HP/Palm will be with future WebOS handsets. But with so many players vying for such a large market of over 3.5 billion users, the stakes are high for all players.

It's important to note that the growing markets hide most failures, but as soon as we get to around 80 to 90 percent worldwide market penetration (5 billion users), the market will begin to consolidate, with only the best surviving.

I would bet that Android and its family of handset makers and wireless operator partners may end up with the most smartphone market share worldwide -with Apple likely to be right behind them. All other positions in the top five are up for grabs. The great thing about markets such as this is that the customer wins on all fronts-with better products, better pricing and greater user experiences.

Congrats to Andy Rubin and the Android team at Google. Keep up the good work. We look forward to seeing what the Google Empire does over the coming years to take us to places we never dream possible today.

J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D. is Principal Analyst of Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. As a nationally recognized industry authority, Dr. Purdy focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Dr. Purdy is an "edge of network" analyst looking at devices, applications and services, as well as wireless connectivity to those devices. Dr. Purdy provides critical insights regarding mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of the column Inside Mobile & Wireless that provides industry insights and is read by over 100,000 people a month.

Dr. Purdy continues to be affiliated with the venture capital industry as well. He currently is Managing Director at Yosemite Ventures. And he spent five years as a Venture Advisor for Diamondhead Ventures in Menlo Park where he identified, attracted and recommended investments in emerging companies in mobile and wireless. He has had a prior affiliation with East Peak Advisors and, subsequently, following their acquisition, with FBR Capital Markets. For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, as well as developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, Dr. Purdy's ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile and wireless industry. He is author of three books as well.

Dr. Purdy currently is a member of the Program Advisory Board of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) which produces CES, one of the largest trade shows in the world. He is a frequent moderator at CTIA conferences and GSM Mobile World Congress. He also is a member of the Board of the Atlanta Wireless Technology Forum. Dr. Purdy has a B.S. degree in Engineering Physics from University of Tennessee, a M.S. degree in Computer Science from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Exercise Physiology from Stanford University. He can be reached at gerry.purdy@mobiletrax.com.

Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time. 

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