Samsung Galaxy Nexus/ Google Ice Cream Sandwich launch points to signs of trouble in Androidland
Ever since the first Verizon Droid with Android 2.0 launched 2 years ago, the rise of Google’s mobile OS seemed unstoppable. And meteorically fast. But trouble free Android growth days seem to be coming to the end.
We all heard about the biggest threat to Google’s mobile OS – patent issues. We took a close look at them on Tuesday, and I won’t go into that again. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich launch event in Hong Kong brought enough signs of Android troubles in addition to patent stuff.
Stalled growth, possible problems with Verizon in the U.S., worsening vendor attitude towards Google and its loss of leverage with OEMs– all signs point to a very challenging 2012 for Android.
Android growth is now stalled at 550K activations a day for 3 months, and there’s something strange about it
Something strange has happened to Android growth in the past three months. During Q2, 2011 earnings conference call on July 14th, Google announced that they are activating 550K Android devices a day. And that they now have a total of 135 million Android devices activated since launch.
On Tuesady, while announcing Android 4.0, Google revealed that 550K daily activations number remains the same.
Which is pretty strange, because just last week, during Q3 earnings conference call, Larry Page told us that there are now a total of 190 million Android devices activated since launch. It means that during the last three months Google has activated 55 million Android devices. The problem is, that at a rate of 550K activations a day – Google could have activated only 50.6 million devices during the last 92 days. It’s a simple math – and it shows us that there is a discrepancy of at least 4.4 million units between what Larry Page told us last week, and what we learned today.
The only explanation I can think of – is that there was a pretty big daily activations spike sometime between July and October. Big enough to account for additional 4 million+ new Android devices. But then it leveled off, and activations dropped again to the July levels. After uninterrupted almost 2 year growth, such fluctuations look rather worrying and raise the question of how much more growth is there for Android.
Of course, we do have a Holiday Season coming up, and new exciting Android devices are launching as we speak. But will they be enough to boost Google’s mobile OS growth to the levels we are used to?
Did Verizon f&#%k up U.S. Nexus/ICS launch plans?
Verizon has long been Google’s main carrier partner in the U.S. It was the key to jumpstarting Android growth in late 2009 with the launch of Verizon Droid, it was a the key launch partner for Android 2.2 Froyo in summer of 2010, and it was the biggest backer of Google’s OS in U.S.
The rumor drumbeat leading to the Ice Cream Sandwich launch was well in line with Verizon’s role. It became clear during the summer that Samsung is making the next Nexus device. Then, in late August, we learned that Verizon decided pass on the new hot Samsung’s flagship – Galaxy S2. Soon after that we heard the name Droid Prime or Nexus Prime bandied about, as a hot new Google Experience device on Verizon. And that Droid Prime will be exclusive to Verizon in U.S. for a few months. The reasons for forgoing Galaxy S2 in favor of Samsung made Droid Nexus Prime were obvious. Then came the invitations to a joint Google Samsung event on Oct. 11th – during CTIA trade show in San Diego.
Stars were aligning perfectly for the exclusive next generation Android flagship launch on Verizon , along the lines of the original Android 2.0 Verizon Droid event.
And then something happened. 4 days before October 11th Samsung and Google cancelled Ice Cream Sandwich launch event. Giving a line about respect for Steve Jobs as a reason.
By Oct. 11th – 6 days would have passed since Steve Jobs death. On the very next day – Oct. 12th – Apple themselves were having the biggest iOS 5 launch in history and they had no plans of postponing anything out of respect for Steve. Heck, Apple execs didn’t even postpone iPhone 4S announcement, which happened just a day before Steve passed away, and they knew about Steve’s situation perfectly well.
And here we have two Apple’s competitors cancelling a major U.S. product launch. During the biggest U.S. mobile industry event in 6 months. Just 4 days before it happened, and when the invited press corps have already made all their travel plans. Out of respect for Steve? It sounds much more like a convenient and rather cynical excuse then the real reason for the ICS launch cancellation.
I think that the real reason why Samsung and Google didn’t launch Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich at CTIA San Diego, was because something happened between them and their main carrier launch partner – Verizon. Most likely – Verizon changed their mind about the support and promotion it was going to give Nexus Prime, by deciding to make Motorola’s Droid RAZR their flagship device for 2011 Holiday Season. And without a major U.S. carrier partner – the CTIA announcement fell through.
Thus two separate major Android device launches on Oct. 18th (Droid RAZR and Galaxy Nexus). Thus Google and Samsung screwing Verizon back, taking attention away from VZWs main device launch of the year with their own Android 4 ICS announcement. Thus Google and Samsung moving their launch event to Hong Kong, to get some additional media exposure from Wall Street Journal’s AsiaD conference. Thus the outright refusal by Google execs to name Verizon as a U.S. carrier for Galaxy Nexus. And thus the multiple carrier availability and no Verizon exclusivity signs on an official Samsung U.S Galaxy Nexus info sign-up page.
Cooling of Google/Android OEM relationships. The other reason to buy Motorola?
A lot of mobile handset vendors still strongly support Google’s mobile OS, and ship Android smartphones in mind boggling volumes. But since last spring/summer, when Google delayed or even interrupted major device launches for Motorola and Samsung over its own mistake and a purely internal Skyhook matter, OEMs have become much more circumspect about Google.
This change in attitude is best seen in the Nexus program. According to Google’s execs – Nexus is supposed to be a showcase, a reference design pushing the smartphone innovation limits. But the only time they were able to do that, was with the very first Nexus One.
After that, HTC lost any interest to build other Nexus Phones, focusing on the development of its own Sense UX instead. Most other vendors do not seem to care much about Nexus either. And Samsung, who now has 2 Nexus devices in its portfolio, only provides a ho-hum oldish hardware. The first Samsung Nexus S was a bit souped up Galaxy S device, and the new Galaxy Nexus is more or less the same Galaxy S2 LTE with a better display. Samsung prefers to save the best of its hardware innovations for its own Galaxy S line.
Google has also lost the leverage it had over OEMs by providing some of them with the early access to the next version of Android code. It used to be a very big deal and huge competitive advantage.
HTC’s early access to Éclair code allowed them to beat competitors by months with first Android 2.1 super phones. And sell millions of them before others were able to catch up. But the early access to Android Froyo or Gingerbread proved to be much less beneficial. Then Honeycomb flopped. And big vendor interest in early code access evaporated. We’ll have to wait and see what Samsung will be able to do with the Ice Cream Sandwich, but current reaction from other Android manufacturers indicates that they are not too worried about it. Android 2.3 Gingerbread interface is good enough for a few months delay it’ll take to upgrade to ICS.
And Google isn’t the only game in time for smartphone vendors, like it was in 2009/2010. Back then – if you wanted to have anything remotely competitive with iPhone, the only thing you could use was Android 2.x. Today smart device vendors can chose between Windows Phone Mango, Ice Cream Sandwich and heavily customized Android 2.3 Gingerbread. What’s more, as Amazon just showed us – Android 2.x is an open source platform that can be forked with a heavily customized user experience. While smartphone vendors like HTC already have their own Android interfaces that may be more important to the end user then the OS version underneath.
What is happening now – is that Google’s early strategy to play Android vendors off each other by providing early access to Android code, and wielding pressure over OEMs by withholding new device certification, is rapidly eroding. Soon, Android OS may reach a level of maturity where any big OEM will be free to do with it as he pleases, paying little attention to what Google wants.
And that, in addition to the patent problems, might have been the other big reason for Google Motorola deal. If Google only makes good software, which somehow conflicts with some interests of Android OEMs, e.g. – if HTC decides that it does not care much for Android 5.0 and decides to develop Sense UI on Android 4.x in some other direction – there may be very little Google can do to make them see the way.
But if Google owns its own Android OEM, and can put great devices with their great software to directly compete with vendor whims – HTC, Samsung and others will have to take notice, and Android will move in the direction Google wants it to.
Google’s troubles with Android. A blip or a start of a bigger trend?
All the signs I mentioned above – stalled growth, Verizon thing, troubles with Android vendors – taken separately, do not mean much.
Last year, after a huge spring/summer spurt, Android growth also leveled off before holiday season. Verizon thing can be just my imagination, or a conscious decision by Google to form closer relationships with other U.S. carriers. Android OEMs may be just hedging their bets some, but still in love with Android. And the patent threat may get resolved somehow in the near future.
But taken as whole, they look to me like a start of a new trend. The heady days of unabated Android growth are coming to an end. There might be one more Holiday Season daily activations jump left for it, but that’s about it.
If patent infringement lawsuits do not kill or seriously cripple it, Android is certainly not going away. It is already a hugely successful mobile platform, and will continue to do do great. But sooner or later this exponential growth we so got used to had to come to an end. And that time is either upon us already, or will be here very soon.