Yesterday on AppleInsider, Daniel Erin Dilger shows that at least some of Android’s explosive growth is actually from Chinese forks of Android that aren’t part of the Android ecosystem (e.g. aren’t compatible with Android apps) and don’t benefit Google (e.g. don’t channel user search and maps through Google services).
Dilger, whose pro-Apple sentiments make John Gruber, say, seem like Paul Thurrott or perhaps Richard Stallman, tends to be very diligent in his research (and, like some of us, he has a long memory). His article makes three major points and backs them up well:
- OMS is not Android.
- Tapas is not Android.
- Google’s handset market share includes large contributions from platforms that simply aren’t Android and don’t benefit Google.
Of the main Android vendors known here in the US (Samsung, LG, HTC, and Motorola), only HTC (coming off a very low base) has seen significant unit growth from 2009 to 2010 (Motorola and LG have actually gone backwards, and Samsung has gained sales but lost market share). The astronomical growth attributed to Android comes from handset makers in the “Other” category.
“Other” turns out to mostly comprise cell phones made in China for the Chinese market using OMS and Tapas, which are derived from Android but not interoperable and not tied to Google services. Dilger puts it thus: “Calling Tapas a version of Android is like calling Baidu a version of Google or Youku a version of YouTube.” This is perhaps a bit unfair — you could probably install vanill Android on one of these phones if you wanted to. It would probably be more similar to suggest that Chrome is a version of Safari.
It follows that Android’s alleged growth is basically fictional. The most charitable conclusion is that a minimum of 400,000 Android handset sales are in fact OMS/Tapas sales.
From looking over people’s shoulders here — and you may recall that I talked to the UPS driver who delivered my iPad and it seems like the Apple produce consumption rates here in Tuscaloosa AL seem to be a reasonable placeholder for the US as a whole — I see nearly as many Androids as iPhones in use.
Now, bear in mind that these are raw, unweighted scores and that the vast majority of Stat Counter’s numbers come from US servers. The figures for China show UCWEB way out in front, having taken share away from Nokia (distant second) with iPhone (third) and Android (fourth) slowly climbing. The iPod touch figures in the above chart are interesting — I’m not sure if they include iPads or not. It looks like Opera got a sudden uptick for some reason which came at the cost of iPhone and iPod Touch, but that these have rebounded. I’m guessing we’re seeing some weird kind of sample bias.
Here’s the main takeaway point: Android’s share has gone from 4.5% to around 14.2% in a year. But supposedly 6-8x as many Android devices have been sold (and the existing installed base was small), so where are all these phones? The fact that Android mobile browser share has grown so much (without the help of China, where measured Android usage is still tiny) suggests that Dilger is reading too much into the Chinese component of “other”. On the other hand, if a huge proportion of Android cell phones were sold in the last twelve months, why has Android market share less than tripled?
I suggest that there’s a huge unmeasured factor here: the number of Android cell phones returned or exchanged. How many Android users are on their third or fourth phones? Given the rate of release of new Android models and the ability of consumers to return phones, pay a restocking fee, and get a brand new phone, I would suspect that a lot of phones get bought, activated, and then exchanged for a new phone. This is probably compounded by the fact that most Android phones are presented in Best Buy, etc., as inert plastic bricks. The end-user doesn’t find out how clunky the phone is until he/she has had it a day or two. I’d played with several iPhones for a couple of hours before I decided to buy.
Samsung and Microsoft tout “units shipped”.
Google touts “activations”.
You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. (I believe that’s from Guy Kawasaki.)