technology, hospitality, and plumbing…

Google’s Big Android Problem

In General on January 23, 2011 at 18:43

AndroidGoogle’s got a big problem with Android. And if it doesn’t change its ways, it’s going to get worse.

A lot has been written lately about the battle between Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. These focus mainly (rightly) on the hardware and software differences, as well as differences in model, and indeed philosophy. However, conventional wisdom seems to be that iOS will make the money now, but Android owns the future. As it stands, that is plain wrong.

News came out this week that Samsung would not be updating Galaxy S devices to the latest version of Android (unless carriers pay them). John Gruber and others have pointed out that Samsung (and by implication, any other Android OEM) is committed to selling phones, so it’s not in their interest to extend the capabilities of phones that have already been sold. This is in contrast to Google, who are building a platform to better serve their core business of ads. (It’s also in contrast to Apple’s position, but that’s a side note in this story).

It’s interesting at this point to acknowledge that Google’s position is actually similar to that of the consumer, insofar as we’ve seen consumer behaviour on smartphone platforms up to now (the always-excellent Horace Dediu revealing that More than 60 apps have been downloaded for every iOS device sold. (This time, it’s converging with Apple’s position, but again that’s a side note in this story)

Who’s going to suffer here? It’s probably not going to be Samsung, which was enjoying robust growth without Android, and now has more choice of capable smartphone operating systems.

It’s going to be Google.

At the moment, the public perception of Android, if it exists at all outside geek circles, is that Android is always free, and buying an Android phone gives you access to a free, open, and evolving platform. As Samsung has shown, this is a misconception. In the end, consumers buying an Android phone are making the same choice that high-end feature-phone buyers did a few years ago (think Nokia), rather than buying into a platform or ecosystem (think Apple). This is enormously important. With consumers investing so much time, and indeed money, in iOS apps, there is already little incentive to move to Android. Feature-phone users will realise that an Android phone is a 2 year commitment, whereas buying an iOS device builds a library of apps and content that will become a legacy for the user.

How can Google counter this? Look at Microsoft, and their huge success in marketing Windows (and to a large extent, it was a success of marketing). To avoid the perception that this would be The Last Software You Ever Bought, they branded, at first with a number (Windows 3.0, 3.1), then a date (Windows 95, 98). Only when the public understood what they were getting did they move away, to XP, Vista, 7. The Microsoft naming strategy made people understand that the software was good for a few years. People may not have liked it, but this strategy served Microsoft well for nearly 20 years, both in Windows and Office, and helped them create a company that dominated the computer industry for most of the modern era. Microsoft’s current smartphone OS, Windows Phone 7, clearly tells people that this is following the same strategy as Windows on the desktop (perhaps the only part of the branding they got right).

Google needs to learn from this. Creating Android 2011, Android 2012, or similar, will be criticised roundly by commentators: however, this ignores the fact that users will actually understand what’s going on. And please don’t tell me that any consumers know the difference between 2.1 and 2,3: Froyo; Gingerbread; these are self-indulgent jokes at the customer’s expense. Think of all the confusion the customer has to cut through:

  • Platform: Android
  • Handset manufacturer: Motorola, HTC, Samsung,etc.
  • UI: Droid, Sense, Samsung TouchWiz, etc.
  • Android version: 2.1/Eclair, 2.2/Froyo, 2.3/Gingerbread, 3.0/Honeycomb, etc.

Followers of Simon Schwartz will have no problem in understanding why consumers will opt for the simple choice of an iPhone.

So it’s crucial the branding is fixed.

Once Google has the branding right, it can also clarify the business model that, as with the Samsung Galaxy S, has created an incentive for users to stay away from Android. Strategically, Google needs to consider stopping OEMs from creating the extra layer over the top of Android — this is creating additional confusion: HTC Sense, Motorola Droid, Samsung’s own custom UI. Microsoft, despite being in a worse position (in that it was late in getting a competitive smartphone OS to market), has actually done things better — a limit to hardware differences, and no extra UI layers. At this stage, it can reclaim OS updates from carriers or OEMs, and serve the customer directly.

This is going to hard for Google, as it has fostered the myth that the platform is free, open, and evolving.

Android is just plain confusing for users, and the Android brand is devalued by the whole situation. Without these changes, Android will die a death of a thousand cuts. Google needs to clear up its strategy on this, and communicate it clearly to customers.


Anthony Green — January 2011

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ivan Newman, Anthony Green. Anthony Green said: Google's Big Android Problem: #Android #Brand […]

  2. Google Should give direct updates to androids phones instead from Manufactures, they are doing nothing like Microsoft windows doing from past years.

    It breaks Google’s Image on other side….

    Thank you…

  3. Yes, the update strategy for Android is broken, but it’s a difficult task for Google to maintain all the different versions needed for all the different phones…this is a problem of their own making, and it will be interesting to see how they try to fix it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: