Is Android On the Ropes?

December 15th, 2010

I’d like to consider that headline a payback of sorts. Whenever a supposed competitor to an Apple product or service comes along, so-called financial and media analysts will hint of lots of trouble. Apple is a closed ecosystem, a walled garden, and so on and so forth. Any well-financed competitor, and there must be many, will ultimately defeat them.

Of course, we’re all still waiting for that iPod killer to knock Apple from their pedestal. It’s nine years and counting, and it hasn’t arrived.

With the iPhone, it has to be different. Apple and one wireless carrier in the U.S. (although there are lots of others elsewhere) pitted against loads of products and several major platforms. The Android OS has done well, Droid does, and thus Apple is destined to lose the battle for — what?

Now it appears that there may be a little trouble afoot in Android land. In the last quarterly financials, despite two-for-one blowout sales, Verizon Wireless didn’t add as many new accounts as some had expected, particularly in the smartphone space. Maybe Droid doesn’t.

I won’t even get into the Blackberry situation at Verizon, since they cast their lot with Google, Motorola, HTC, and other companies building Android-based gear.

Of course, the figures from the current quarter are still works in progress, so it may well be that Android will resume the fast upward path. After all, it’s all about many against one, and that’s a hard nut to crack for Apple.

There’s also a report that ad impression growth on Android has also stalled, and that can be the harbinger of bad news for Google, since the operating system is given away free. Income comes from the ads, and if the number of click-throughs stalls or declines, that potentially means less money for Google. It’s as simple as that.

One day, Android was on fire. Now it’s cooled down big time.

But you had to see the problems. Despite all the proclamations about being open and accessible, the app situation in the Android universe remains highly fragmented. Developers have to allow for vastly different hardware configurations, with no guarantee that users will be permitted to download the latest and greatest Android software, even if there are security fixes. The situation is nowhere as simple as on the iPhone, where iTunes is the gatekeeper for your software updates, and they are readily available. Sure, older iPhones may not support the some of the newest features, but you don’t have to depend upon the whims of the carrier to decide if they deign to let you have a software update.

Perhaps even more important is the fact that there’s really a lack of killer apps on Android. It’s not as if mainstream software, such as Skype, will necessarily light your fire. How many silly ring tones and sound effects do you want? What’s more, there is, as yet, no proven economic model for developers to make a living in that environment. Rather than developing for a single set of related models, they have to consider the needs of different manufacturers, carriers, and, worse, software versions. All told, it’s far more complicated than, say, Windows. At least with Windows, you have one company, Microsoft, controlling the user interface, development environment, and distribution of updates, so all registered users can take advantage of security and stability releases.

Even worse news in Android land is the forthcoming arrival of the iPhone on the Verizon network. As I’ve said in previous columns, I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the agreement between Apple and Verizon. It may well be that there will be a sort of semi-exclusive, meaning that Sprint and T-Mobile won’t get their chance to take a piece of the pie for the foreseeable future.

With the iPhone onboard, how will Verizon deal with existing partners, such as HTC and Motorola and all those slow-selling Droids? This is an area where direct competition will strongly favor Apple.

Sure, I understand the rap about open platforms and so forth and so on. Unless you’re a power user, though, it doesn’t make a bit of difference. If the phone delivers good performance, and there’s a healthy choice of apps, most customers aren’t going to care one whit.

Moreover, where does all this leave Microsoft and Windows Phone 7, which hasn’t exactly been a barn burner from the starting gate? Probably nowhere. Despite launching the new mobile OS and smartphones with an immense ad budget, it’s not as if the public is lining up to get one. Microsoft will probably do all right with business customers, but Windows Phone 7 is no game changer. Even though there are some nice things about the interface, as usual it’s behind the times. By the time Microsoft catches up, Apple and Google will be operating at another level.

Windows Phone 7 may not be destined to become another Zune, but it will probably make little significant impact in the marketplace. But right now, even Google may not realize quite as much success with Android as they originally hoped.

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2 Responses to “Is Android On the Ropes?”

  1. Hairy Goomer says:

    I certainly hope Android is on the ropes. I don’t trust Google or Eric T. Mole, with their CIA/NSA connections and such. If there’s anyone capable of spying on all of us (and almost certainly doing so already), it’s Google.

  2. MichaelT says:

    I’d still rather wait and see what the next quarter stats show. I hear an awful lot of people talking about their Android phones, and loving them. It doesn’t seem like that ship has run out of steam yet.

    But personally, I’m VERY excited about the prospect of iPhone on Verizon. 🙂

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