Why Android Is Winning The Battles But Google Is Losing The War: Part 2

on November 13, 2012

A Pyrrhic victory (/ˈpɪrɪk/) is a victory with such a devastating cost that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately lead to defeat. The phrase “Pyrrhic Victory” is named after King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has been victorious in some way; however, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit. The term “Pyrrhic victory” is used as an analogy in fields such as business, politics, and sports to describe struggles that end up ruining the victor. ~ via Wikipedia

Series Schedule:

  • Mon: The Battle for the PC
  • Tue: The Battle for Mobile Phones Won
  • Wed: The War for Mobile Phones Lost
  • Thu: The Battle for Tablets
  • Fri: Picking Your Battles Is As Important as Winning Them
  • 2) The Battle For Mobile Phones

    The Battle Plan

    Tech insiders have been predicting that peak search would happen for some time, as people shifted from using websites – where search is a natural activity – to using mobile apps.

    Google was far from unprepared. They knew that mobile was the future of search and they carefully crafted a plan:

    Step 1: Create a (putatively) open source mobile operating system called Android.

    Step 2: Give the Android operating system away for free.

    Step 3: Sell mobile ads and other mobile services on those mobile devices running Android in much the same way that they were currently selling ads and services on the PC.

    A Glorious Tactical Success

    Parts 1 and 2 of Google’s plan worked to perfection. In fact, Android was more succesful than anyone, including Google, could have anticipated or even imagined. Internal Google documents revealed at the Oracle v. Google trial show that Android’s growth far exceeded even what Google had projected or expected.

    Just five years after its debut, Google‘s Android mobile operating software now claims 75% of smart phones shipped, according to a new report from market researcher IDC. A simply stunning overall achievment.

    A Glorious Public Relations Success

    And don’t think that Android’s spectacular rise has gone unnoticed:


    “Android’s ascension to glory has been incredible to behold.”

    Dan Lyons:

    “Look, when three out of four phones sold worldwide run your operating system, I think it’s safe to declare victory.”


    “Why Android has won”

    CEO Nathan Eagle

    “Why Android Has Already Won the Global Smartphone Race”

    Joe Wilcox

    “Android wins the smartphone wars”

    Chris Pirillo

    Android is the New Windows (I mean that in the most polite way, too)


    “As Android hits 75% market share, can anyone tell me why this is not Mac vs PC all over again?”

    An Inglorious Strategic Failure

    “Another such victory and I am undone.” ~ Pyrrhus

    Every report, every study shows that Google got it right. More and more ad revenue is moving to mobile. An analysis of the mobile traffic from a cross section of advertisers reveals up to 25-30% of all paid search traffic is now mobile. And more and more mobile phones are powered by the Android operating system. It’s only logical to assume that the more people buy and use Android phones, the more money Google will make from the sale of search, content and other services.

    Only that’s not happening. That’s not happening at all. Android appears to be an overwhelming success in every way. But it turns out that it is only an overwhelming success in one way – market share. In every way that matters – and especially in profits – Android has been a dismal failure.

    Unexpected, exponential user growth is usually accompanied by a dramatic positive improvement in the finances of a company and a higher return to shareholders. The curious aspect of Android’s success is that it has not had an impact on either. ~ Horace Dediu

    Yearning For Earnings

    During the Q3 2012 Earnings call, Google announced that it had a run rate of $8 billion from its mobile business consisting of revenue from ads, apps and content. That was contrasted with a $2.5 billion run rate of a year ago. CFO Patrick Pichette added “Ads continue to be the bulk of [the $8 billion], the vast majority of it.” Sounds like good news, right?

    The problem with the $8 billlion number is two-fold. First, the increased revenues appear to represent more of an reshuffling of assets than actual growth. Second, despite the presumably large increase in the run rate, Google declined to disclose Nexus 7 sales, app sales, content sales or ad sales and they stoutly refused to address mobile margins and profits.

    What we do know for sure is:

    — Cost-per-click (CPC) was down
    — Traffic Acquisition Costs (TAC) were up
    — Profit from Android was un-reported and possibly non-existant

    Upon revealing the numbers, Google’s stock tanked. With Google’s stock falling a shocking $68 or 9% in a matter of hours, Google was desperate for good news to give to its shareholders. If there was ever a time to reveal Android’s profits, that would have been the time. Instead, managment adamantly refused all requests for specifics on mobile sales, margins or profits.

    With their stock plummeting, you can bet your bottom dollar that if Google had garnered any profits from Android, they not only would have revealed them, they would trumpeted them as loudly as possible. After all, it’s not like Google doesn’t like to brag about Android. They tout their Android activation numbers all the time. The fact that Google did not reveal any good news regarding Android can mean only one thing – there was no good news to reveal.

    After all, there is simply no good reason NOT to reveal Android’s numbers and associated profits. You could argue that Google is being coy and hiding numbers for competitve advantage but what possible competitive advantage could there be?

    Further, there is every reason TO reveal profits. If the numbers are rising at an appreciable rate, that would be an exciting development that Google would want to reveal. It woud prove that their strategy was correct and that Android was winning. It would put to rest any lingering doubts, questions or suspicious that things with Android might not actuallly be as they seem. It would be a demoralizing blow to their competitors and a shot in the arm to their stockholders. And perhaps, best of all, it would be an incentive for their customers to increase their ad spending and hop on board the Android gravy train

    It is, in fact, almost a certainty that Android DOES make Google a profit. But that profit must be so embarrassingly small that it would be counter-productive for Google to announce it. Doing so would not help Google’s stock, it would hurt it as the revelation would expose exactly how little Android has actually accomplished.

    Pyrrhic Victory

    Android has overwhelmingly won the battle for marketshare. But the purpose of market share is to get more developers, more apps, more advertising eyeballs, more content, to deliver more revenue – and most importantly – more profit for all involved. Android isn’t delivering any of that.

    This is a classic Pyrrhic Victory. Android is winning the market share battles but Google is losing the profit war.

    The irony here is poignant. In a reversal of the famous Rolling Stones song, Android got what it wanted – market share – but not what it needed – profits.


    How could this be? How could there be such a disconnect between the number of Android users and their value to Google?

    Tomorrow: “The War for Mobile Phones Lost.”