Continued from an earlier post on Android being Google’s best strategic move ever. This Post examines how and why Android undermines the strategic intent of Google in the mobile space.
The best anti-thesis to “Android is selling in huge numbers” is possibly “Android has huge problems in fragmentation” arguement. On a superfical level what this translates to is the consistently lower engagement and monetization of the platform – a far cry from the Apple iOS. Android is the quintessential open source which also means that the Android army stretches from the Samsungs to the Shenzhen sweat shops – the smallest white label OEMs who are fragmenting the low end markets all ends. Samsung’s dominance of Android platform is not the best solution for Google as it struggles with its own line of Motorola Android phones.
Android today is at the same place where Wintel was a decade or two back with an armmy of clones of cheap PC makers churning out tens of millions of cheap commodity PCs. What Android and its eco-system ( Qualcomm, EMP, Mediatek, Allwinner, Spreadtrum) have enabled is a flood of cheap commodity smartphones and tablets. A vast range of other devices ( netbooks, in-car PCs and DVD players, set-top-boxes and lots else besides) following on behind. Often the fragmentation of the Android means a $45 smartphone with no access to Android Play market – but only a way to latch on to the internet. Google thus starts missing out on mapping this strata of smartphone buyers. (Agreed the search would still come through Google).
Compare this with Apple, a $650+ device – bought by a completely different set of consumers to whole experience, exploration and ads make more sense.Thus,it is quite possible that iPhones generate more advertising revenue for Google than all Android phones combined. In that respect 20% iPhones sold globally are more valuable than 70% of the Androids sold.
Beyond the search and advertising revenues that Google makes from Android, there are those bits of signalling data- that the low cost Androids miss out – those valuable bits of information that map the user holistically. A data mine that can be leveraged for data with relevance to the user. The real structural benefit to Google from Android comes from the understanding it gives of actual users, and the threat comes from devices that do not provide this data – even though theoretically, it can still leverage Google search. A significant portion of the $45 handsets skimp on Google apps just as they skimp on IMEI numbers. These devices are like dark matter: a lot of it around – but nothing really adding up to the worth.
Benedict Evans does a very accurate description of the Android platform- Very powerful but spiralling semi-randomly with no clarity on where it would land. Even when there is the threat of Amazon or Samsung forking the platform, there is also the threat that an increasing number of Android devices might have no more connection to Google than does an iPhone.
To put that another way, Google’s penetration of Android is as important as Android’s penetration of the handset market.
Long time back, i had written a blog on the subject of smartphones becoming the key handheld at the cost of feature phones. If the Gartner 2012 numbers are to be considered, the saturation point for feature phones has been reached and the 2012 feature phones numbers – have been on a 1.66% decline as against 2011.
Incidentally, i see another trend – that of smaller players/ white-labelled OEMs- and a fragmented market emerging – a far cry from the Nokia and Samsung dominance days. The rise of Android is but actually a testimony to this trend with the exception of Samsung. With no malevolence to Samsung – it does seem to me that Samsung is holding on to a untenable position in shares in mobile devices with the white labeled OEMs on the prowl.
While Apple will still hold on to the smartphone ground (because of its ability to leverage hardware, software , services and experience), Samsung doesnot hold that ace with Android. This inspite of the fact that Samsung Galaxy series was the first high end Android that has challenged and now dethroned technology leadership of the iPhone.
The end result looks like an Android dominated market, though there could be a case of Android fatigue setting in with the audiences. However with the low end $50 smartphones on Android’s the numbers for Android will continue to add up especially in APAC and African markets. Thus Android is expected to still rule the volumes game on smartphones. It would be interesting to see how Windows and Blackberry go after Android – but the key still remains that – Android is the undisputed choice in smartphones in the fastest growing markets across the world. Windows and Blackberry will take time reversing this trend.
The new IDC report for smartphone shipments in Q4, 2012 hands it over to Android – which seems to have reached more dizzying heights than what Symbian/Nokia ever reached in their near monopolistic regime heydays. the two systems accounted for 91.1 percent of operating systems on all smartphone shipments during the fourth quarter of 2012. For the year 2012, Android and iOS accounted for 87.6 percent of operation systems on smartphones shipped.
Android smartphone vendors and Apple shipped a total of 207.6 million units worldwide during Q4 which is a 70.2 percent increase from the 122.0 million shipments of Q4 2011.
Android Saw triple-digit growth for the year. According to IDC, Samsung was the biggest contributor to Android’s success as 42.0 percent of all Android smartphone shipments during the year were by Samsung. The report notes that the intra-Android competition has not stifled companies from keeping Android as the cornerstone of their respective smartphone strategies.
At the end of 2012, Android had a 68.8 percent of market, with over 497.1 million shipments. In 2011, Android’s market share was 49.2 percent with 243.5 million shipments.
iOS also continued to register strong growth. But the report notes that iOS’s year-over-year growth has slowed compared to the overall market. Of course the report also mentions the growing buzz around a large-screen iPhone and a cheaper variant, which it says would help sustain growth. iOS shipments for 2012 stood at 135.9 million smartphones which represents an 18.8 percent market share. This is a 46 percent growth compared to 2011 when iOS smartphone shipments stood at 93.1 million at a market share of 18.8 percent.
BlackBerry OS: The report states that the decision to postpone the release of BB10 to 2013 left the platform vulnerable in 2012 and reliant primarily on older smartphones running on BB7. As a result, BlackBerry’s tight grip on enterprise users has loosened. BlackBerry had 32.5 million shipments for 2012, which gives it a market share of 4.5 percent. This is down 36.11 percent from 2011 where it had 51.1 million shipments and a market share of 10.3 percent.
Windows Phone/Windows Mobile: The report notes that this has made some progress in Q4 of 2012. Nokia’s Lumia phones were the key driver in Microsoft’s success, says IDC. Windows Phone/Windows Mobile had a 17.9 million shipments and represents a 2.5 percent market for mobile OS on smartphones. This is 98.9 percent increase from 2011 when it had only 9.0 million shipments which was a market share of 1.8 percent.
Continued from an earlier post: Why am I so deeply sceptical of BB10 as RIM’s comeback kid?
The Smartphone sector looks to be one of the most extreme oligopolies of the 21st century- even while the market is exploding at 35% YoY (700 million in 2012 versus 490.5 million in 2011) – there is little room left for any one but Android and Apple.
Apple and Android contribute to 92% of the Industry Volume and 102% of the Industry profits! All others combined for 8% of the market volumes but were edged out of the profits – leaving little space for investments into devices and the markets. The thing about market share is that it is liable to change rapidly in a rapidly growing market.However, with the base of 700 million it is possible that growth rate would have topped out. On the other hand, North Americas and Europe are visibly saturated in volumes/and growth is slowing down; and with maturity are only driving Revenues and profits as people tend to purchase more high-end smartphones, including the more expensive Android variants and the iPhone.
Blackberry with its Z10 and Q10 is targetting the high end of the smartphone market – The space that is dominated by Samsung Galaxy SIII, Apple iPhone, Nokia Lumia 920 alongwith handfull others. Instead of beating its competitors out on price, it wants to offer a genuinely quality product that the most tech-savvy consumer would be happy to purchase. This part of the market is by far the most cutthroat, and also the slowest growing.Ergo, even if Blackberry succeeds in creating space in this segment, it will be just a niche! Blackberry is trying to sell an expensive smartphone with a high margin, but it is competing against the most entrenched players imaginable. The part of the market that Blackberry is choosing to enter will not grow much, and RIM will face vicious competitors from every angle. There isn’t room in the lucrative high-end smartphone market for small fry ~ a $8billion Blackberry for instance! (Refer to the Blackberry Torch as an example – well crafted – but it didnot take BB where it was designed for)
On the other hand, the smartphone market is growing super because Android is powering the low end of the market. These markets are typically the South East Asian regions, Indian subcontinent, China and Africa. Even while Blackberry has a strong presence in nations like India, it is the Android army that it has to content with in such markets – and currently Blackberry’s portfolio in the low end is only based on the 4 year old Blackberry Curve which is appearing a little jaded and last generation.
Thus Blackberry really needs to be focussing on low end innovation, pricing, volumes and markets – currently there is no visibility of it doing this. Hopefully it gets its act together before its too late. A flagship device is one thing – numbers, profits, revenues is quite another.