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Why the Google Android Phone Isn't Taking Off 745

Hugh Pickens writes "Farhad Manjoo writes in Slate that while the iPhone commands nearly 14 percent of smartphone sales and BlackBerry about 21 percent, Android has only 3 percent. And even though Android is far friendlier to developers, it has failed to attract anywhere near the number of apps now clogging the iPhone. Manjoo writes that Google went wrong by giving handset manufacturers and carriers too much control over the design and marketing of Android phones so there is no idealized 'Google phone' — instead, Android devices get names like the T-Mobile G1 or the myTouch 3G, and each is marketed separately and comes with its own distinct capabilities and shortcomings. 'Outside handset manufacturers lack ambition — -none of them even seems to be trying to match the capabilities of the iPhone, let alone to knock us down with features that far surpass those of Apple's device,' writes Manjoo. 'A smart handset manufacturer could build a top-of-the-line Android device that outshines Apple's phone in at least a few areas — better battery life, a much better Web browser, a brighter or bigger screen, faster or more functional controls... something that might help Android inspire gadget lust. But so far, that's not happening.' John Gruber echoes this advice and adds this advice to Android manufacturers: 'If Apple is BMW, you can be Porsche.'"
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Why the Google Android Phone Isn't Taking Off

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  • by jelizondo ( 183861 ) * <jerry...elizondo@@@gmail...com> on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:06PM (#29180063)

    Part of the lack of good apps is the lack of solid documentation and examples. I spent weeks learning the API, but anytime I wanted to do something more meaningful that display stuff on the screen, I would get bogged down trying to figure out how to do it.

    I'm not a newbie, I started programming computers back in the eighties (Z80 and 6502 assembler) so I know my way around, but the documentation is horrible, sometimes you think you got it all figured out and it turns out is an earlier / later version of the API, which doesn't quite work that way anyway.

    Also, for those of us outside the U.S., it's hard to get a real phone to play with, even when Google gave thousands aways at Google I/O, you can't get one internationally at a reduced price.(At least you couldn't last time I checked.)

    I gave up and decided to come back when there was some organization to the docs and some real support for independent developers

    Having said all that, I believe the platform will take off and do very well; it is simply too young.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:06PM (#29180073) Homepage

    I joined the dev programs so I could buy a completely unlocked phone. Honestly Google should have told carriers to stuff it and sold the GooglePhone completely unlocked.

    Market the googlephone as well. Anyone seeing mine says "what is that?" nobody knows about them because apple out marketed everyone, and google is sitting there going, buy my stuff please? pretty please?

    I'll give you a sucker, it's Pina Colada....

    It's an example of lets not market this thing and let's laso make it very un-shiny.

  • by TimTucker ( 982832 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:16PM (#29180151) Homepage
    Signed up right away, got my Dev Phone 1 and then came the news that pretty much knocked most of the wind out of my sales when it came to development: Google announced that they were requiring developers to deal with collecting sales tax. I'd imagine that I'm not the only person wanting to write a few small apps in hopes of making a little extra income that was completely put off by the decision.
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:18PM (#29180187) Homepage Journal

    In the US that is tied to the lack of CDMA support. You have four major players. Number 1 Verizon and number 3 Sprint are CDMA. Number two AT&T is GSM but has the iPhone. That leaves only number four to push Android. Add in that HTC is heavy into Windows Mobil and you have a not great phone on the number four carrier. Too bad they didn't include CDMA from the start and got a phone maker like Samsung, LG, or Motorola the be the exclusive hardware partner.

  • Citation needed. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:42PM (#29180407)
    HTC's Dream and Magic are selling better then expected.

    It was never Google's or HTC's plan to take the market by storm, they intended to bleed Android in slowly rather then try to shove it at everyone at once a la Apple.

    The Android market growth is slow, but steady. Comparing Google Android to Apple iphone is like comparing the tortoise to the hare. Android has only been released for a bit over 9 months, Google is following its standard MO, release slowly and improve just like it does with all of its services (Gmail for example). Google is simply not rushing to market. In the 9 months that Android has been released we've had two updates 1.1 and 1.5 (which added a heap of functionality).

    Android will continue to grow as more handsets are released for it. It's a fair point that the HTC hardware could be better (it's not that bad either) but compared with the gen 1 iphone the gen 1 Android phone (HTC Dream) is far superior and HTC failure and DOA rate is far lower then that of Apple (this is why HTC phones are so expensive). Android is a good OS and it's usage will continue to grow. HTC have released their third phone (HTC Hero), just not in the states, Motarola have 2 on the way ("Sholes" and "Morrison") and Sony has 1 (Xpeira "Rachel") which looks to be the best HW yet for Android. After 5 minutes of using my android phone I realised that it wasn't competing with the Iphone, Google is targeting WinMo and has every chance of supplanting WinMo if development continues at it's current breakneck pace.

    As for a "killer app", it's called flash and is coming in Donut.
  • by FictionPimp ( 712802 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @08:52PM (#29180487) Homepage

    Exactly, as soon as there is a good andriod phone on a network with 3g in my area that doesn't restrict my ability to install applications I'm going to take it.

    Apple has burned me and I am waiting to switch.

  • by johndiii ( 229824 ) * on Monday August 24, 2009 @09:04PM (#29180577) Journal

    The extent to which they locked down the Razr is the reason that I am no longer a Verizon customer. They were way too willing to cripple the phone so that they could charge me for services.

    I have an iPhone now. I'm not wild about everything that Apple and AT&T do, but I'm much happier with them than Verizon.

  • by unoengborg ( 209251 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @09:55PM (#29180999) Homepage

    Yes, I have to agree, I work for the third largest IT company in the world and they send as many people as they can to attend Android courses. It is a very long time since I saw something this big. Given that there have been very few devices available to consumers I would say 3% market share is amazing.

  • by Bodero ( 136806 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:00PM (#29181047)

    There are at least 2 Blackberry World Edition models on Verizon Wireless with quad-band World Edition capabilities (the Tour and the 8800 both are CDMA phones with SIM cards). It's not all things for all people, but the solution does exist if you travel outside the US extensively.

  • ActiveSync support? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TurtleBlue ( 202905 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:03PM (#29181065)

    Seriously - this is the only firm requirement my employer had - "We have an exchange mail system, and we'll buy you any mobile device you want - so long as it can use ActiveSync." We were poised to use Android OS phones because iPhones were thought of as toys - with the exception of Exchange we're still mostly a *nix shop - but that one caveat changed the purchase of all our mobile devices.

    I had high hopes after seeing the HTC Magic demos, but it turns out that was all smoke and mirrors [cnet.com]. Trying to explain to my senior management that "it's a google phone but not really but it still has android but I'm not sure it's supported we'll see they bought the license" vs. "yes, the iPhone has ActiveSync capability" - guess who won?

  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:05PM (#29181091)

    It could be that the market for smartphones is just saturated right now. Google is coming late to a market where nearly everyone who wanted something like this already has either an iPhone or a Blackberry. Everyone else -- and that would be the vast majority of the population -- just wants a phone to make and receive phone calls and, below a certain age, send text messages, so the extra cost for a smartphone is a non-starter. The situation isn't likely to change until someone comes up with something much, much better than an iPhone. Merely being as good as an iPhone is not enough.

    It's also worth considering that there is some element of a fad or fashion craze in this situation, too. What was the next big thing after the hula hoop? It sure wasn't a better hula hoop.

  • by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:21PM (#29181253)

    And Apple's success is because there is such a wide selection of iPhones on a wide selection of providers, at a wide selection of price points?

    No, WinMo's success is. The iPhone's success is due to a rabid Apple fanbase, and a very nice interface (graphically and with the capacitive touchscreen, both of which are coming to Android phones within the next quarter). There are multiple competitors in the field. Android doesn't have to beat iPhone, it has to beat everyone BUT the iPhone, and I'm quite confident it will, given a few years. The hardware side will be ready to take on anyone by the end of this year. Once there are Android phones with capacitive touchscreens, that's the end of the one hardware bit the iPhone had that noone else does. A sexy interface can be made a lot easier than that, and an open marketplace is going to be a 'killer app' (pardon) for mobile app developers.

  • by bazaarsoft ( 911025 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:32PM (#29181365)

    Apple does not survive on quality. They survive on their loyal and fanatical fan base. This fact is well documented by all sorts of researchers and marketing experts all over the globe. It's not just my opinion, but the exploration of a rather interesting phenomenon.

    1. 1) Apple has expanded it's installed base significantly first with the iPod then the iPhone (and, during that time, the Mac as well), so your argument that they survive on the "loyal and fanatical fan base" is, well, utterly wrong. Just look at the Republican Party for an example of what relying solely on your base gets you.
    2. 2) Please cite all of these so-called "experts all over the globe." Such exaggerated statements have little basis in fact.

    Since you started with the sweeping hyperbole, I'll add mine: the vast majority of users of Apple products don't give a rats ass about any perceived ego boost that using said product gives them. They use them because they work - consistently, reliably and without getting in the way of what they want to do. That's always been what Apple does well and, for the most part, their competition fail to do well.

  • by abigor ( 540274 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:40PM (#29181441)

    Well, for once you are certainly living up to your username (I usually like your posts a lot).

    I write code that deploys on Unix of whatever pedigree (right now, embedded Linux). For those of us who need a nice gui that does all the corporate stuff, plus a proper Unix, OS X is quite frankly a godsend. The fact that it runs on beautifully constructed hardware is a nice bonus.

    I've barely ever even paid attention to the cost - why bother? Amortised out over five or so years, all laptops are dirt cheap.

    Anyway, everyone I know in "the biz" owns a Mac for the same reasons. I don't know any of the Apple people you seem to - or do you really know them? Maybe you're just assuming on the basis of a tired stereotype. Stop being so angry at your imaginary enemies and just look at the products for what they are - do they meet your needs? If not, move on.

  • by Sparr0 ( 451780 ) <sparr0@gmail.com> on Monday August 24, 2009 @10:58PM (#29181579) Homepage Journal

    There IS a generic standard. You can buy any unlocked quad-band GSM phone and use it on pretty much any GSM network. The problem is, people don't want to pay full price for the hardware. Is the iPhone worth $600+ to you? It sure as hell is not a $200 device, by a long stretch, but that's what people want to pay for it, and they are willing to take provider lockin for the discount.

  • by bazaarsoft ( 911025 ) on Monday August 24, 2009 @11:33PM (#29181887)
    The problem is, when you make comments like:

    So I would agree that not EVERYONE who uses Apple is under their spell, but from personal experience, I have to believe what I say is generally true.

    You're contradicting your later statement that you're being objective. You're not - you're using generalizations and spurious arguments to make your case. The phrase "under their spell" is inflamatory language, implying that there's something inherently evil going on. If Apple were shipping total crap that didn't work, then perhaps you could view what they're doing as evil. However, the quality of Apple products and services is at least as good as anyone else in the industry, so they are no more evil than, say, HTC/Google. And your cop-out on citing specific references just further reinforces that you're making generalizations without any specific proof. In fact, none of the articles I read based on googling your phrase had much to say at all about quality vs marketing.

  • by Cyberllama ( 113628 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:01AM (#29182097)

    The hardware is lacking, thus far. The best part of android is that anyone can make a phone with their OS. The worst part is that ANYONE can make a phone with their OS.

  • by Fizzl ( 209397 ) <(fizzl) (at) (fizzl.net)> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:08AM (#29182143) Homepage Journal

    I was through design, specs and had implemented IPC and task control for my application, when I decided to have a look at the Android app store. I paid the $25 to get my rights to publish. Curiously I CANNOT CHARGE FOR MY APPS! Android store only supports google checkout as mediator for the money. And google checkout merchant accounts are not available in my country.
    So what to do? Basically, according to the help docs, twiddle my thumbs untill they make checkout available in Finland. I wonder if Google knows how big mobile development is here? Because of our pride in Nokia, pretty much every coder has some kind of experience in Symbian development. And thus, basic understanding of mobile development.

    Well, to get some feeling of the engine room, I started researching the lower part of the Android stack while I wait.

  • by quacking duck ( 607555 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @12:48AM (#29182359)

    Err, have you checked the android app store [android.com] lately? Does you iphone have turn-by-turn directions?

    Yes. I don't use them but Tom-Tom and smaller (cheaper) options are available. xGPS is also available for jailbroken iPhones.

    Can you i-phone be used as a metal-detector?

    Yes. The latest 3GS has an internal compass, and apps exist to use it as a metal detector

    Did you iphone come with copy-and-paste enabled?

    Yes - as of mid-June this year.

    Can your iphone use google voice?

    Finally, the first no (officially, anyway)

    How much do your iphone apps add to the total cost of your phone?

    Downloaded almost 200 apps, including games, traffic cameras, weather charts, fitness, stargazing, etc. Most are full and not demo/lite versions.

    Total cost: $2.

    (Apps like Pandora's Box and AppMiner are a godsend for tracking apps that are on sale)

    I've yet to have to pay for an andriod app, but did dump some money toward andnav2. Is there anything even close to Enkin for iPhone?

    Not personally aware of one yet but there was a /. article about London Tube system app working on that same principle.

    There is nothing wrong with the hardware; pictures / advertisements of the Android don't do it any justice. The functionality that the keyboard and trackball on the G1 provides crush any hardware extras the iPhone may have.

    What would do it justice then? Consider that the iPhone has no virtually no surface features, so its ads are all based on what's shown on the screen.

    At $97 the Android is more than competitively priced. How much did all your iPhone apps end up costing you? Every app I've downloaded for android has been free (most in both senses).

    Again, of my 200 apps, I've only paid $2.

  • by endus ( 698588 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @01:00AM (#29182429)

    The truth is we really don't know how Android is going to do, because there are hardly any Android phones on the market. Supposedly there are quite a few coming, but we'll see whether they actually materialize or not.

    The real problem with Android, though, was the launch. They released an incomplete OS with no real application support on one phone on one second rate carrier. Then there was nothing. No new phones, no new carriers...nothing. Google should have waited until the OS was done and they could get at least two or three hardware manufacturers on board to release phones. There was plenty of buzz over Android BEFORE it was released, but not after. They rushed it out the door in a package that not too many people were really interested in. Android could be the greatest mobile OS ever but who would know?

    I guess since it was google they figured we would all just fall at their feet. Either that or they figured they could roll it out on a shit carrier on one phone in order to work out the bugs. Keep it low profile so that anything that went wrong was just small deployment stuff...shaking the bugs out before the bigtime. Then, later on, start the full court press once it has a reputation good enough to get larger manufacturers for bigger carriers interested...and once they are sure they are delivering a solid product.

    To me it seems like they just wasted the Android buzz that they had before the launch though. If this was an OS that was really targeted at "regular" cell phones I would think that their strategy was good...but this is an OS for smart phones which are a premium product with an audience that wants what is hot and what is current. They took the buzz that seems like it is EVERYTHING in selling a product like this and pissed it away on an extremely limited market. IMHO Android's first deployment should be the 10(?) phones that are supposedly on the way now. We should have all been salivating all this time rather than saying "oh yea I have one friend who has one but I haven't really seen it".

  • Re:Citation needed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sparks23 ( 412116 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @01:23AM (#29182559)

    As someone with both iPhone and Android (G1) phones in her bag, I can honestly say I prefer the iPhone for my day-to-day phone use. Most of the complaints I've had about the G1 are echoed in the other threads on here: the market's search engine being some sort of sick joke (especially sad considering the market is written by /Google/), the update method for apps being frustrating in the extreme if you have more than one app to update at a time, the fact that my phone runs about as fast as chilled molasses if I've let too many things -- even the things that start themselves up as services without my intervention -- run in the background, etc.

    (Some of my problems might be addressed with the Hero, which I haven't had a chance to play with.)

    However, you are absolutely, completely, 100% right that Locale is Android's killer app. You can have the phone auto-mute itself when you are in a movie theater. It can play a noise and pop up an alert when you're within a block of the grocery store, reminding you to pick up your groceries. And it has plugins, so all KINDS of other stuff can be automated. Astrid (a great todo list program for Android) can integrate with Locale to attach locations to task reminders, and since Astrid syncs with RememberTheMilk, you can bring your RTM items in the same way.

    Honestly, Astrid+Locale should be marketed /heavily/ as one of Android's killer apps. That's something neither the iPhone nor the Palm Pre can do, and where the Android solution works /very/ well.

  • by SoupIsGoodFood_42 ( 521389 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @03:51AM (#29183281)

    That you used the words "iPhone-themed app suite" says it all to me. GUIs are not just about aesthetic visual themes. They effect the design of the application. If Apple just released a themed iPhone app for Android, it would be like the difference between iTunes for Windows and the native Mac version.

    As someone considering developing for the iPhone, it has more features that appeal to me, plus it fits in really well with the fact that I run OS X (and enjoy it) so I can develop using xCode, which seems like a really good development environment.

    I think they're missing more than handset sales. I think they would benefit by having stricter design specs, or at least take more of a lead to show the hardware manufactures what needs to happen. Apple often leads in hardware because it also develops software so they have a better understanding of the relationship between the two when it comes to designing them.

  • by dgriff ( 1263092 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @04:27AM (#29183449)

    Android applications are writen in Java, with the shortcomings this brings with it (anybody want to write a game and see how the GC kills the framerate by processing stuff that has nothing to do with your application?

    Not disputing this but just curious how you know that it is GC that is killing your framerate? Do you see pauses and have you correlated that with verbosegc? If it's just slow in general how do you know it's due to GC?

    You could presumably write the critical parts of your game using your own object reuse/allocation policy (unless the problems are in the standard Android libs). I.e. don't use "new" all the time, just cache and reuse a pool of objects.

  • by Mr2001 ( 90979 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:51AM (#29183899) Homepage Journal

    I'm not sure if you've ever dealt with real support from a company but having someone on the phone who knows wtf they are doing and works with you until its resolved is a little different than posting to newsgroups.

    I'm not sure if you've ever dealt with a real support from a developer, but having someone on the newsgroup (or IRC) who knows WTF they are doing and works with you until it's resolved is a little different than phoning tech support.

    Especially when there's no limit on the number of "incidents" you can get help with, and especially when your questions can be answered by fellow application developers in addition to the people who wrote the library you're trying to use.

    With android you get left standing naked in the middle of a field with nothing, not even a pair of shoes and told that if you look around and dig around you can find information on how to build some shoes, cloths, eventually maybe a compass and a map to find your way out of the field to your destination.

    That's a nice glib stereotype of all things Linux-related, and there's even a grain of truth when it comes to, say, getting your Wi-Fi working in Gentoo or whatever.

    But that stereotype is hilariously inaccurate when it comes to Android development, as anyone can see if they spend a few minutes browsing the SDK documentation, reading tutorials, or looking at the official support forums. It's too bad you didn't do that before posting.

  • by salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @08:08AM (#29184639) Homepage

    There are 16 Android powered handsets that remain to be launched in the next 60 days. This includes models from Motorola, LG, and Samsung. The author of the article simply had no freaking clue what he was talking about, and as a result, he's missed:

    * the G1 has 3% market share. Ummmmm..... that's a lot of handsets.
    * The primary limit isn't the "crappy hardware" - it's the crappy network (yes, T-Mobile, your network is crappy until Indianapolis has 3G). Actually it's very good hardware, and the only rub against it is onboard storage and battery life. $25 8GB micro SDs fix the storage issue nicely and you can actually *replace* the battery, a novel idea in 1932 that Apple should have noticed by now. Oh, the primary limit might be the #3 network in the US being the only channel to get an Android in the US?
    *Oh, there's also the little fact that THE CUSTOMER FOR HANDSETS IS NOT THE USER OF THE HANDSET IN THE US. The customer is THE CARRIER WHO RESELLS THE HANDSET. Openness is *not* in their financial interest, so class 3 Android (open w/Google Apps) is not in their interest. Fortunately, they see T Mobile retaining customers with the G1, and want some of that.

    Here's reality:

    * Android to date has been a success.
    * The application base is built for future success.
    * 16 new devices are going to hit the market by the end of the year from some of the biggest names in mobile.
    * Android will be available on most carriers. The only question mark seems to be ATT, but they are rumored to have a Motorola handset out soon.
    * Android is going to turn the smartphone into the PC market of early 90s when Wintel at Apple's lunch. There are few people (and zero would be correct) that can argue that a PC clone was better than a Mac at the time, but Windows did allow hardware manufacturers to lower costs to offset Apple's considerable advantage in technology. Oh, and Android is *a lot* more formidable competitor than Windows 3.x was.

  • by GrantRobertson ( 973370 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:00AM (#29186013) Homepage Journal

    This may be similar to what happened to Palm. There were so many supposedly Palm compatible devices - all of them slightly different - that it became difficult for developers to keep up.

    Of course the biggest reason that developers aren't flocking to Android is that consumers aren't flocking to Android phones. Development isn't a religion. People do it to earn a living, especially all those developers who jumped on the iPhone bandwagon. The people who bought iPhones were obviously people who had money to spend and wanted everyone to know it. It stands to reason that that consumer mentality would translate to their software purchases as well. Because Android came out quite some time after iPhone, now the only developers left are the "religious" developers, those who choose a platform base on principles instead of money alone.

  • by digibruce ( 192870 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @01:33PM (#29189353)

    Farhad makes a lot of good points, but he underestimates the transformative nature of the iPhone. I agree that Google should build its own phone, but it's not about making yet another bespoke handset, it's about building another mobile computing transformation that Apple, with its walled garden approach, cannot even contemplate. It's not nearly enough to be a bit better than the iPhone - any serious competitor will need to take the next gigantic leap forward, and do it before Apple does.

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351