What Android's impressive growth means for you

Android sales best iPhone sales and what's it like in a world where Android phones have gone mainstream?

Rather than bore you with an opening line about how Android phones outsold the iPhone last quarter, I'm going to begin with an anecdote:

A few weeks ago, my wife purchased a Droid Incredible, because she didn't want to leave Verizon Wireless and was tired of waiting for the iPhone. The implications are twofold: Selfishly, I get to play with two hot smartphone platforms instead of one (I have an iPhone), but more importantly, I get to see what happens when a non-geek uses her Android phone among other non-geeks.

I'm embedded like Jane Goodall, soaking up the reactions. "Is that an iPhone?" "Oh, that's the Droid Incredible?" "Wait, you can play Dr. Mario on it?" "Cool!" These aren't earth-shattering responses, but they convey what a new survey by the Nielsen Company and an estimate from Canalys do not: The turning point where Android goes mainstream.

My wife is no substitute for hard data, which is why we need Nielsen and Canalys to help make the case. During the second quarter, Android phone sales accounted for 27 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, compared to 23 percent for the iPhone, according to Nielsen. Worldwide, Canalys estimates that Android sales grew 886 percent compared to Q2 2009. With all those sales comes a ripple effect like the one I've seen, where folks who aren't techies learn of Android through word of mouth.

If the mainstreaming of Android doesn't interest you, two other takeaways might: I think we're starting to see a boom in quality Android apps, with Amazon and Barnes & Noble finally bringing their e-reader apps to the platform, and AOL choosing to develop its portal app for Android before iPhone. If grassroots efforts to encourage more app development, such as the paid app pledge, don't work, the lure of a fast-growing platform surely will.

Android's growth, fueled by Verizon exclusives such as the Droid X and Droid Incredible, could also affect Verizon's iPhone plans. I still think Verizon wants the iPhone -- it's hard to ignore more than 3 million iPhone 4 sales to date -- but it no longer needs the iPhone. The success of Android, and the fact that Verizon smartphone users already consume more data than AT&T's iPhone users, could give Verizon more bargaining power on issues such as tiered data pricing.

Android may never have the cultural cachet of Apple products, and I still see iPhones everywhere, but now I'm spotting Android phones on a regular basis, people using their Droids and Evos out in the real world, non-geeks assimilated.

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Jared Newman

PC World (US online)
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