From being the number one smartphone manufacturer to becoming the number three, it has been a big nose dive for Nokia in the second quarter of 1011. According to analysts Strategy Analytics, Apple (with 19%) and Samsung (with 18%) are ahead of Nokia (at 15% of all smartphones sold).

When we consider that out of the 47 million Android smartphones shipped out in the same period 34 per cent are Samsung phones we know that Samsung’s Android strategy has worked. HTC, the company who understand mobile UI best (after Apple, of course) is second having shipped 23% of these Android devices.

Just in case you are wondering why we are discussing Android in this post, it is because the market share of Android, Google’s operating system now stands at 46 per cent share of the total OS market.

Apple Strategy

I was speaking to a few operator folks and based on the numbers they have been witnessing on their operator platform, Android is definitely the way forward. Though the increase percentage of Android usage is really high and as the base grows, I expect this percentage to come down….but Android is definitely to be watched. And mind you, the operators are watching.

If you ask me, Android is the way forward not because of selection but because of omission – iOS would have been obvious choice but considering how costly it is to lay one’s hands on an iPhone, in a country like India, there will be no volumes to boast of. This could change, if Apple manages to release an iPhone version for something around Rs 10,000. Then there is Symbian, which is on a decline. And then there is Blackberry, which has been for a while and has the indications of becoming another Nokia.

These omissions leave us no choice but Android. And the fact that very soon (or maybe it has already happened) we will have sub-Rs 5000 Android phones supports this argument well.

Maybe because I am surrounded by enthusiastic software engineers, or maybe because I am in the Telecom industry I see and hear a lot of interest in Android. And also, dissonance.

I have heard that users on Android phones end up spending as much as Rs 750 on their data bills (in their first month of using the Android phone) before they realize and opt for a data plan. What I need to study better is the reason – could be the Android OS, could be the Android UI which hide the option to cut down on data usage deep inside, could even be my friends’ mistake too who consumed too much data and are now complaining. But there is dissonance for sure – my friends have already decided ….it was Android’s fault…which tried to keep the data connections live.

I myself had an Android (HTC Desire HD) before I got frustrated and bought an iPhone 4. With the battery going off soon, and with the phone becoming less-and-less responsive I had to regularly kill the apps. And how do I do that? I had no idea till a colleague told me about an app called Advanced Task Killer. If I didn’t have friends who could guide me to Advanced Task Killer, I would have blamed Android too.

One of the other reasons I moved out of Android was my frustration over waiting to upgrade. We people in the industry (telecom in this case), whom we also know as ‘influencers’ like to play with upgrades the moment they are available. But that isn’t possible on Android because – more often than not the handset manufacturer or the operator customizes it to suit their requirements. Android is so open a platform, that if a handset manufacturer prefers NOT to have the Android Market and instead have their own App Store…it can be done.
And the problem is in the time & effort these handset manufacturers or operators have to put in after Google launches its Android upgrade to customize it and release it for their devices.

Because of this ‘openness’ of Android, Google has no control over the hardware that Android runs on. Besides the delays in upgrades, Android and Google also feel the brunt when….unfortunately something crashes in the handset. The handset doesn’t get blamed….its Android that gets blamed.

What also works against Android is the fact that while the OS is robust, the kind of devices it is being tried in aren’t equipped (read powerful) enough. There are the Droids and the HTCs….but they aren’t the only handsets Androids are tried on.

This vindicates Apple’s stand – that it wouldn’t let unauthorized hardware run Mac OS.

If you think this is a small issue, take a look at the pie-chart below (Credit to: Android Developers) which lists out the OS versions that are being run on handsets out there in the market (This is June 2011 data). And just in case you still didn’t get it…the latest Android version out in the market is 3.2.

Android Versions Breakup in existing handsets

What compounds the problem of handset manufacturers and operators customizing their Android versions…is the fact that Android releases its OS versions way too often. Maybe, it is something to do with the basic DNA of the company behind it – Google, a web company where releases are frequent & reach users in hours if not days. Compare this with Apple – with a Mac DNA…. a company which believes in yearly (sometimes longer) OS updates.

Another problem that plagues the Android platform is the fact that their market isn’t both user friendly as well as developer friendly. I say it isn’t developer friendly because developers are into app making for money….but when money isn’t coming, the platform ceases to be appealing. On iPhone’s App Store, one in every 12 apps downloaded is a paid app. On the Android market, this ratio is not even available…and even if it was….it wouldn’t be worth mentioning (this has been arrived at after discussing with people who develop both iPhone & Android apps).

The Internet Product Userbase Cycle

In fact, a research firm IDC and mobile software company Appcelertor had recently done a survey of around 3000 developers and which proved that developers still preferred building apps for iPhones and iPads rather than for Android handsets & tablets.

But deep down, I wonder if this is really a problem because Google is is still working on getting its Android userbase up. And with the userbase comes everything else.

If I were responsible for Android, I would do the following:

1) Improve the app discovery in Android market

2) Improve the monetization potential for Android developers

3) Maintain Android’s ‘openness’ yet introduce some minimum requirements when it comes to handset’s technical specifications

4) Introduce partner channels for people like HTC & Samsung to encourage limitless customizability and place customizability restrictions on smaller handset manufacturers

5) Introduce a Google Rating for every Android Handset that comes out- I know this could be cumbersome but if handsets can benefit from these ratings, they will more than willingly cooperate

So, what do you think of Android?