I eyeballed the charts from Nielsen and recreated what you see above. Black is Android and red is iPhone. The numbers tell us Android beat the iPhone in Q2’10.
Units, do they mean anything?
I’ve talked about this before. Most market research is about units. Why? Probably because it is easy to gather, put together and then to figure out. But I don’t think units say much at all; I think they say much less than we think. Nielsen took a look in Q2’10 and found out 27% of 16,804 smartphone-buying folks bought an Android phone. That’s it? Only 16,804 folks in the entire United States of America bought smartphones in the second quarter? There is certainly growth: only 17% bought an Android phone in the same timeframe in 2009. 23% bought an iPhone and 33% bought a BlackBerry. 11% bought a Windows Mobile phone.
What I would like to know is what was the average selling price (ASP)? Why is this important? It is kind of an indication of how much the folks who bought Android phones will spend on apps. Cheap phones might mean little spent on apps. Expensive phones might mean lots spent on apps. I suspect a large portion of Android phones are cheaper than the main competition: the iPhone. I guess units matter a bit because you want to know how big the market is for your app. But that’s too simplistic. If you want to give away your app, then maybe a simple unit measurement might matter. If you want to charge something you might want to get a bit more granular data.
I’d like to know something else: returns. We’re not to worry about how many actually returned Android phones. I did, last month actually. Why? The Motorola Motoroi was an absolute lemon (read about the whole experience), rebooting a dozen times a day for reasons unknown to me and unknown to many on several Android forums. So this 27% bought Android phones in the last six months means almost nothing.
Bottomline: more folks are buying Android phones. In the US. Why? There are more models and they are available on all major cellular carriers. Again, in the US. On the other hand, the iPhone is only on AT&T and Apple can’t make enough of them.
Why is this important?
Back to units. If you were a developer you’d want to jump on the Android bandwagon. Growth is spectacular so why wouldn’t you? You make your Android app and sell it to the fastest growing smartphone market. Right? Well, not quite. I don’t know how the different Android versions are segmented right now but the fact is the versions are splintered. I personally don’t develop Android apps so I don’t know how big of a problem that is, but I think it might be.
Then there are all sorts of different Android phones with different hardware. About the display, since that’s what I’m most interested in: How do you develop for Android when you have so many different types of displays? Different display sizes and different pixel formats and different resolutions (PPI). How do you optimize your Android app for a particular phone? You can’t. And the folks that use Android phones suffer for it.
Is splintering going to get better?
No. Why? Because this splintering is the natural side-effect of Google’s open strategy. Will Android phones ever be as tightly integrated than the latest iPhone? If I were to bet, no. It’s like this. The BMW M3 is probably the most tightly integrated sports car for a precision sports driving experience. There is a reason why no one laughs at the company’s slogan: The Ultimate Driving Machine. There’s truth to it. There are faster cars and fancier cars but the M3 is considered one of the best driver’s car, ever. Now imagine how tightly a car could be integrated if the engine were made by one company, the chassis by another, and then the transmission by yet another. How integrated can it be? There are cars made like this but it won’t be as well integrated as the M3. iPhone = M3. The main problem as I see it is the AT&T limitation. Put the iPhone on Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint and it is sayonara to Android for a few more years. At least. For now Android is accelerating and passing the iPhone by.