The other day, I saw the stunning infographic (below, via TechCrunch) which documents the shape of Android. As multiple other commentators before me have remarked, it shows just how fragmented the platform has become from the perspective of developers and, of course, users.
There are few Android users I know, actually, who don’t tell stories of the problems they’ve had trying to get this app to work on that phone. And don’t mention the problems they all have trying to upgrade the operating system, if indeed they’re able to at all.
Let me pause, also, for a moment and say this is not going to be a post about the superiority of iPhone, either. That is a handset which has its own faults.
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But the point is this: platforms, like Android, are specific economic constructs. They work because there are two groups of customers, and consumption in one group triggers consumption in the other. The two groups, in this case, are handset users and application developers, and, as we all know the name of the game in the smartphone race, these days, is how many apps you have. And, in order to get the most Apps, developers have to see you have the most users to cause them to be interested to write for the platform in the first place.
The strategic blunder of Android is it is not one platform, but many. If you are a developer, in order to get to as many customers as possible, you have to write your app multiple times to accommodate each operating system and hardware combination. Now, you may do that for the biggest customer groups, but you probably won’t do it for all.
On the other hand, if you’re a user, you prefer to go to the handset which has the most applications, at least after intrinsic features such as design, price, and what all your friends are using have been taken into account.
In time, as Android develops, it will continue to fragment, because handset manufacturers will continue to customise their offers to differentiate. And that means, over time, the universe of possible applications that will work on each handset and operating system combination will shrink, not grow from the perspective of each customer over time. Developers will always move to the newest combinations and abandon the old ones.
People always point out the market share figures of Android versus iPhone and declare a winner. It is true, there are more Androids out there. But I begin to wonder how relevant that is, because this is a platform battle, not an adoption battle.
Winners in platform battles are determined by who has greatest control of what is known as the money-side, which in this case, are application buyers. Report after report has shown that iPhone users – who are all pretty much on a single, unified platform if you check out the infographic – purchase more apps than Android users.
That’s why, despite the stunning sales success of Android overall, I think it will likely lose in the long term. It isn’t one platform; even its largest group of customers on one version is tiny compared to iPhone.
And iPhone users pay for apps. They even like doing so.