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Is the End Near for Android? [Opinion]

Lately Business Insider (BI) has been announcing the imminent death of Android based on iPhone and iPad sales, reported disinterest in the platform by developers, and upset manufacturers. According to a handful of their writers, Android is poised to lose market share to both iOS and Windows Phone. Is the end near for Android?

The Tablet Problem

A couple of these writers are right to point out that the continued great sales of the iPhone and the iPad spell trouble for Android. While Android has continued to hold its own in the phone space despite carriers like Verizon selling more iPhones than all Android phones combined for two quarters, Android has been a disaster in the tablet space. Despite two major versions of Android for tablets, consumers have not taken to Google’s vision of how a tablet should look and feel. Based on analysts’ estimates, the Kindle Fire is the best selling Android tablet with 54% of the Android tablet market.

Why hasn’t Android been successful in the tablet space like it has been in the phone space? BI rightly identifies that Apple partnering with AT&T exclusively likely had much to do with Android’s success, but the tablet market is not the phone market. I am convinced that Android has not been successful in the tablet space because Android is significantly better on phones compared to tablets. The reason people are buying Fires is because they are cheap and the UI is dirt simple if inelegant. I cannot emphasize enough how certain I am that the main reason people buy Fires is because of the price, not the quality of the product. People are buying the Fire over a Galaxy Tab or Transformer because it is cheaper and good enough. So why are people buying iPads over Tabs and Transformers? Because at that price the iPad has a better ecosystem and experience.

So how does Google break into the tablet space? Make a product that is significantly better than the iPad. This isn’t rocket science. People aren’t buying Android tablets because they are around the same price as the iPad, which offers a better experience. Honeycomb was rushed, jittery, and buggy. Google should have waited to release it. ICS is gorgeous on phones, but just as disjointed as Honeycomb on tablets. The Kindle Fire may be the best selling Android tablet, but that doesn’t make it a strong competitor with the iPad. The only way to fight the iPad is with a better product.  Why did consumers buy the DROID instead of a Blackberry or a Touch Pro2 or Pre Plus? Because the DROID offered an obviously superior experience. Now that Android and iOS are in parity on phones, Google needs to ensure that the Android tablet ecosystem and experience are in parity or give up on tablets.

Disinterested Developers

BI argues that developers are becoming less interested in Android based on Instagram trying to sell itself for $500 million before the Android version was released, thereby insisting that it was valuable enough without an Android version. Louis goes even further, arguing that  developers will soon be leaving Android for Windows Phone. Both of these arguments are insane to me.

BI readily admits that the massive number of Instagram downloads on Android influenced Facebook’s decision to double Instagram’s initial evaluation, but he doesn’t give it enough credit. It’s one thing to pay more than the company is supposed to be worth, but to double the value is significant. Facebook has a ton of money, but that doesn’t mean it can just throw $1 billion around without consequence. Facebook clearly recognized that with an Android app it could reach far more users (and ensure that it would control Instagram instead of Twitter).

Based on BI’s own numbers, interest in Android development has hardly waned while Windows Phone and iOS have plateaued and Blackberry has plummeted. In general Android users don’t buy as many apps as iPhone users, but because of Android’s volume of users developers are still able to make money through ad sales. While developers may be more interested in platforms where their apps are actually purchased, the alternatives are two: iOS and Windows Phone. Many developers write apps for both iOS and Android to cover the largest number of users, but I can’t imagine why developers would start to favor Windows Phone over Android. Even if Windows Phone users were more prone to buy apps than Android users, the insignificant number of Windows Phone users don’t justify the switch in emphasis.

Motoroogle

The final threat to Android is manufacturer discontent with Google buying Motorola. According to BI’s sources, manufacturers are considering forking Android or leaving for Windows Phone to avoid favoritism by Google towards Motorola. The question is, why would manufacturers like HTC and Samsung try their luck with forking or leaving Android?

While the Fire has been successful, it hasn’t been successful because it was a forked version of Android. It has been successful because a company that people actually recognized sold a cheap Android tablet. Forking Android wouldn’t solve any manufacturers worries – they’d still have to compete with Motorola and Google on top of competing with Apple. Forking Android may allow manufacturers to make their skins more integrated, but it would mean relying on the Amazon App Store (or their own forked app store). Unless forking Android meant creating an obviously superior experience then it doesn’t make sense for manufacturers to fork Android.

The even more insane option would be for manufacturers to leave Android, the only thing making them money, for Windows Phone. Windows Phone doesn’t have a large user base and doesn’t offer an ecosystem or experience that is competitive with iOS or Android. More importantly, shifting to Microsoft puts manufacturers in the same situation they’re facing with Google thanks to the Nokia-Microsoft partnership (Microkia? Nokisoft?). Why be in the same situation with fewer users? Even if Google does favor Motorola, manufacturers don’t have any appealing alternatives to Android under Google’s approval.

Is Android coming to an end? Not at all, but that doesn’t mean that Google has an easy road ahead of them. The reality is that the issues brought up by Business Insider are real (blown out of proportion, but real). Google needs to do better in the tablet space, maintain good developer relations, and continue to support its OEM partners. iOS is a growing threat in the phone space and continues to dominate in the tablet space. Developers may need to support Android now, but its possible that Microsoft or Google (or another party) could disrupt the ecosystem. Google also needs to be careful with how it uses Motorola so that it doesn’t upset the Android ecosystem by trying to compete with its partners. Android has a long future ahead of it, but it is a future lined with problems that need to be addressed by Google.

  • sggodsell

    Windows ce, windows mobile, windows phone. Now that is what is really dead. Microsoft just re-branding and flogging a dead (closed os) horse. Now that is near end of life. Android on other hand can do so much more than iOS and windows phone. You can customize anything and everything with android.

  • Mattfox27

    If iPhone’s had widgets it would be over for android that’s the only thing holding me back and i have been with android since day 1 and develop for it, i also have owned iPhones and they just always work.  The problem with android is they are just so slow and secret when it comes to there updates and such, apple is too but the apple experience is way smoother/nicer/brighter ect than android but iPhones beautiful screen is wasted with that stupid grid.  

  • Gooniegoogoo

    these are the same idiots that didn’t see the real estate market crash coming.

  • http://www.facebook.com/justinbricker Justin Bricker

    LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

  • Ushio

    Android phone manufacturers announced 1st quarter 2012 results

    ZTE – profit crash
    Huawi – profit crash
    LG – profit crash
    HTC – profit crash

    Samsung – profit up

    There is only one phone manufacturer making money off android Samsung for everyone else it’s killing them.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      I’m hoping HTC will do better with the One line. We’ll see. 

  • Christopher Riner

    After reading his article for the second time, I just can’t see how people can shoot it down.

    Soooooooooooooooooooooo many valid points in his three sections.  Why is the kindle doing well?  It’s cheap, and relatively easy to use.  The android tabs aren’t going to compete with the ipad at their high prices, unless they offer a superior experience.

    Sadly, if I was an app developer, I would probably feel more secure developing for apple.  It’s going to take a lot for the development/marketplace in android to catch up with apple.  BUT the release of instagram on android doubling facebook’s offer– that’s the best piece of news that I think we as android enthusiasts could get from this situation.  If anything, right now, android has numbers, and numbers mean hope. 

    And motoroogle– totally valid points.  Forking would still lead to direct competition with motorola and google, and leaving android altogether would just be starting over from square one.  It would be such a dumb idea for manufacturers to leave for windows phone when the numbers just aren’t there.  

  • nikol

    cant really make a screen with icons lag…and honestly ill get on symbian,webos or windows before i use an iphone

  • Dan

    I really think one of the biggest problems is non-homogenized versions of the OS.  The fact that we are all running different versions with different features is confusing to the average user.  An iPhone is an iPhone is an iPhone… which isn’t the case for android… which means, once you buy an iPhone, you know how it works, and you don’t have to worry about switching phones to learn that things don’t do what they used to do… I think it would help greatly if everyone got on the same version of android.

  • ojaymayo22

    As a Galaxy Nexus owner, I have to agree that I really think Android is declining (very slowly although). After using the Nokia Lumia 900, I really fell in love with Windows Phone.

    Apple: Has its mindless and pretentious people, followers, rich, teenager, and people who simply just want a beautiful product that works.

    Windows Phone/Nokia: Will soon have most of the informed, intelligent, tech nerds. Also Nokia’s beautiful devices appeal to teenagers and people just wanting a simple good looking phone. Many “indie” people. People who want to have integrated Xbox Live, skydrive, Windows 8 metro, ect…

    Android: Will appeal to people who just want huge specs, people who are very loyal and attached to Google, and people who refuse to change or acknowledge other platforms.

    I personally, will stick with Android for a couple more months at least, for I am tied in with a lot of Google’s services and apps. I won’t go back to expensive and restricted Apple (I do like their MacBooks and OSX though).
    But ultimately I will definitely make the switch to a Nokia Windows Phone 8 when it comes out. I finally acknowledged change is good, and have switched from a Apple fan, to a Android fan boy, now to a fan of all three, who prefers the Windows Metro operating ecosystem.