Android invasion: The next phase begins

Android sales may be skyrocketing, but to quote the great Randy Bachman, "you ain't seen nothin' yet."

Writing about Android can sometimes feel like writing science fiction. So forgive me for saying the following:

The Android invasion is about to shift phases.

Android, you see, has just broken through a few new barriers in its path to widespread adoption. The one getting all the attention today comes from a report published by the research gurus at Gartner, who found U.S. Android sales grew a whopping 707 percent over the past year. Yes, 707 percent -- or, to use the more technical term, "a really freakin' ginormous amount."

Specifically, 5.2 million Android handsets were sold in the first quarter of 2010, up from 575,000 just one year ago. 'Twas a strong season for smartphones in general -- overall sales were up by almost 50 percent from year-to-year -- but the biggest headline clearly belongs to Android.

Google's mobile phone platform now possesses 9.6 percent of the global smartphone market, compared to only 1.6 percent at the same time in '09. That means it's nudged Windows Mobile -- er, sorry, Windows-Mobile-but-soon-to-be-Windows-Phone-7-Series-or-maybe-just-Windows-Phone-7 -- out of the fourth place spot.

If the predictions prove true, the iPhone and BlackBerry will be the next to be overtaken.

Android Sales, Interest, and the Inevitable Shift

The trends certainly seem to support the notion of continued Android growth, and it isn't just Gartner providing the data. The latest report by the analysts at Quantcast also shows steady gains by Android. According to those number-crunching cats, while Android still "has a way to go," the "trend is becoming apparent."

And, at the risk of overloading your brain with data (mine shorted out about four minutes ago), the crew from Compete came out with its own study this week, too. Those stat-loving sons-of-guns measured consumer interest by looking at what smartphones people were researching most frequently at carriers' sites. Their analysis, entitled "Android Finally Begins to Erode iPhone's Interest Share," reaches an interesting conclusion.

"The reason Apple should be concerned about Android's newfound strength is because it has been in a similar situation before, in its competition against Microsoft for home computing," Compete's Nathan Ingraham explains. "Apple, of course, is the only manufacturer and vendor of phones running the iPhone operating system, while any manufacturer is able to run Android if it wishes. This mirrors Apple's history pitting its Macintosh operating system against Microsoft Windows."

Oh, dear -- I detect an all-out fanboy battle a-brewin'.

Ingraham makes a valid point, though: An open product utilized by numerous manufacturers is obviously going to have broader reach than a closed platform limited to only one company. The shift in share is inevitable.

Android's Next Phase

So, back to our sci-fi speak and those ominous sounding Android invasion phases: In my mind, phase 1 was Android's entry into the world with the T-Mobile G1. The second big phase began after the release of the Motorola Droid, when the platform suddenly started getting widespread attention and interest. Phase 3 unfolded with the debut of the Nexus One and -- despite the recent shuttering of its online phone store -- Google's serious focus on expanding the brand and making Android a household name.

(There was also the Steve Jobs christening of Android as the "platform for porn," of course -- a momentous occasion for all Android supporters -- but we won't factor that into our current count.)

That brings us to now. As high-power handsets like the HTC Droid Incredible and EVO 4G hit the market, Android is increasingly veering toward the mainstream. From a nonscientific perspective, I can tell you that it's only been in the last few months where I can mention Android and have people immediately know what I'm talking about.

Six months ago, asking someone if they wanted to see your Android would get you little more than a blank stare (and, depending on their interpretation, an occasional slap to the face). Nowadays, I can whip out my Google-powered phone and regularly have someone comment on it, ask about it, or even tell me they have the same model. It's a noticeable shift, and it's not only observable in numbers. Our little club isn't so little anymore.

As Quantcast articulated for us, Android does have a long way to go; the platform has its problems, and the bulk of its growth in market share is still ahead. But with each phase comes better hardware, stronger software, and more powerful innovation. "Android has a long way to go" is really just another way of saying "you ain't seen nothin' yet."

Welcome to phase 4. It's going to be exciting to see what the next several months will bring.

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JR Raphael

PC World (US online)
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