Android Is at A Critical Junction

Ben Bajarin / July 29th, 2011

I believe that the next six month’s will be the defining point in the future for Google’s Android platform. Whether this future is bright or gloomy will depend on the next six month’s.

It seems right now like Android is riding the big wave reaping in success left and right. The reality is however that there is truth to the Android success but there are also walls still standing in the way.

The report from Nielsen relased yesterday that I opined on shows the meteoric rise of Android in such a short time to garner 39% of US smart phone OS market share. This is truly remarkable success in such a short time. However the question that we have to investigate is how defendable Android is as a platform or is it vulberable at a fundamental level.

If we conclude that Google plays their cards right and builds the right “moats” around the Android castle then it is strong at a fundamental level. However if we conclude that their “moats” are not that strong or deep then it could be vulnerable at a fundamental level. If the former is true Android remains a viable force in the market. If the later is true Android could encounter market volatility and market share could sweep back and forth.

Google’s Hardware Partners
At this stage of the game Google depends on hardware partners to develop devices that take advantage of their software and services. This is a strength as long as your hardware partners stay commited and loyal to you.

There are challenges however with hardware partners. First off there are other companies competing for their business. In the case of smart phones and tablets, Microsoft is Android’s competition. If HP ever wised up and licensed Web OS then there would be three very good options for hardware partners to build products upon.

Android is still the obvoius choice for OEM’s looking to bring a smart phone or tablet to market. Consumers understand the value proposition and there is a large enough app ecosystem in their market place to appease the market.

The question is six month’s or even one year from now will Android still be the obvious choice? I know many people will quickly say yes but I still have concerns. One major reason is the now over 50 law suits facing Android in some capacity. Right now Android is free for most OEM’s to take and implement. However if some of the key lawsuits go against Google we could see license fees from between 15-30 dollars depending on the OEM.

If this happens Android is no longer free. I wonder if that happens whether manufacturers would re-consider their commitement to Android.

App Store Economics
Now you may argue that no other licensable or free platform has the developer ecosystem that Android does. This of course is true but again continuing to develop and maintain that ecosystem will be key.

App developers want to get paid. And as BlueStacks CEO Rosen Sharma pointed out in his column on “How the App Store Money Flows;” there are still issues facing the economics of the Android market that many developers we talk to do not want to deal with. Believe it or not among the larger app developers and as well as some of the more savvy ones, there is heavy consideration still for Windows Phone and for WebOS.

Google must continue to develop a robust economic system that works for everyone who wants to write software for the Android platform. If developers see no economic growth or ROI of their allocation of precious resources to Android they will go elsewhere.

There is a lot I like about Android and I want to see it continue to develop and flourish. Google however will have to navigate and maneuver the waters of the next 6-12 month’s extremely strategically in order to preserve the moats around their castle. Android @Home for example has a great deal of potential I believe and could add real value to the Android platform and ecosystem if done right. Chrome OS is another strength that can be leveraged and assets can be shared across Chrome OS and Android.

As Tim pointed out this morning Amazon could come in and change the game. There are a lot of un-answered questions around Amazon’s tablet strategy from pricing model, to proprietary app development etc, but so long as Android is the underlying platform i’m assuming Google will benefit still in some way.

Android is still behind in tablets and this is another weakness that needs to be addressed. Tablet sales of Honeycomb devices have been less than lackluster. If the Android Honeycomb activation dashboard is any indicator there are between 1.2 and 1.5 million Honeycomb tablets in consumers hands. Motorola released that the XOOM sold 440,000 units; we are yet to see Samsung’s Galaxy Tab sales, Acer’s Iconia sales and Asus Transformer sales.

What we need is a truly break out Android tablet that can excite the mass market. From what I know is possible with hardware and from what I am seeing from the semiconductor companies I know it is possible, i’m just not sure when or who will deliver it to the market.

We will have to wait and see but I have to say I am extremely excited about the next 12 month’s.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • Mealworm

    Learn to spell! It’s “moats” (the water barriers around castles), not “motes” (the irritating specks you get in your eye)!

  • Rich

    Ben, it doesn’t seem to get mentioned much but the last I knew, Google paid hardware manufacturers to use Android, in the form of up-front payments and ad splits. Google could afford to do this because of their lucrative search business. It would explain the very rapid rise of Android and would be a good reason to stay with the OS.

    • The same is true with carrier retail drones too, given how vigorously they defend Android’s flaws against anything else.

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