Will Android Survive? - InformationWeek

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11/23/2009
12:00 AM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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Will Android Survive?

With the Apple iPhone setting the market on fire, it seems difficult to imagine another platform replicating its success. That isn't going to stop people from trying though. If even only half as successful, there is a lot of money to be made. The latest platform to catch fire is Android. Will it succeed, or be an also ran?

With the Apple iPhone setting the market on fire, it seems difficult to imagine another platform replicating its success. That isn't going to stop people from trying though. If even only half as successful, there is a lot of money to be made. The latest platform to catch fire is Android. Will it succeed, or be an also ran?Mike Elgan has written an article on how the Android platform could fizzle out. He has three criteria for evaluating the potential success of a platform. 1) Brand Appeal. 2) Simplicity. 3) Applications.

Apple has passed all three tests. The name Apple has been one of the most respected brands since their resurgence in the late 1990's with the first iMac and later with the iPod. Their products are known for their quality and their premium price, which only enhances the perception of quality. As to simplicity, how could anything be more simple than picking an iPhone. It comes in one flavor with several different memory sizes. Having over 100,000 apps means they also pass the final test, though I'd argue that having that many apps can be a detriment.

What about Android? How does it fare? I agree with Mr. Elgan on the branding. I don't understand why Google didn't keep their name in the phone. Google has killer recognition and it too is very well respected. Most people use Google products every day. Google search, GMail, Google Docs, etc. The list goes on and on. Android sounds, well, techie to me. That is great if that is your audience, but that is a recipe for failure. You have to target the overall market and "Android" just doesn't appeal to everyone. If the average Joe Consumer goes in the store and sees two phones, one with Android on it and the other with Google on it, which one will have instant recognition?

Picking an Android device is anything but simple. I try to keep up with new devices, but Android is sold under so many different names and models, it is hard to know what to get. The hardware configurations are bewildering and carrier plans are equally confusing.

As to apps, Android probably has over 10,000 available according to androinica. I say probably because you'll have to read the article to understand how the stats were compiled. Regardless of the total number, a minuscule amount of those are popular enough to garner over 250,000 downloads. Android has been adopted enthusiastically by the Linux and open source community and they are feeding the market many of these apps. Open source apps are just as capable as many closed source apps, but the open source market isn't known for making easy to use apps that the public clamors for. Quick. Name three open source apps that most people in your office would have heard of.

To make matters worse, Mr. Elgan thinks that the myriad of hardware configurations and manufacturer tweaks to the Android OS itself (it is open source, remember?) will make it hard for developers to make their apps work on every Android device and difficult for consumers to know what apps will work on their device.

The next twelve months should be very telling. Now that there are, or soon will be, dozens of phones available we'll see if the sales take off to a broad audience of buyers or if it suffers the same fate as the Palm Pre where the real enthusiasts for the platform are the Palm faithful while the general market seems to have passed on it. Will Android only appeal to mobile tech geeks and Linux fans?

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