How Google’s little green man scaled the mobile market
The following excerpt is taken from the Oct. 24 issue of Marketing. Subscribe today.
It’s understandable if you missed the news that Android—Google’s mobile phone operating system—has become the hottest thing since the flip-phone.
Its main competitor brand, iPhone, has been a headline hog since its launch in 2007 due largely to Steve Jobs’ mastery of public relations, turning every product launch into international news. It’s at the point where many consumers say “iPhone” when they mean “smartphone.”
Even as Jobs neared death, his legacy was being carried forward in the circus that preceded the announcement of the iPhone 5… er, the iPhone 4S.
But what Android lacks in hype it makes up in marketshare. Google says more than 150 million Android devices have been activated worldwide with 550,000 more coming online every day. By the end of Q2, research company Canalys claimed Android had 48% global marketshare, up from 33% six months earlier and a massive gain from the 2.8% share it had in Q2 2009. In North America, comScore’s latest numbers show Android as the clear leader with 42% marketshare over Apple’s 27%.
Canadian numbers aren’t available, but service providers agree the product is a sales juggernaut. Android is Bell Mobility’s fastest- growing platform, becoming its biggest smartphone operating system overall in July, eclipsing Blackberry. “By Q4, the busy holiday season for wireless, we expect Android to account for the largest volume of new activations,” says Wade Oosterman, president Bell Mobility and residential services.
In a way, this success doesn’t make sense. The iPhone is a singular, beloved product benefiting from a cohesive, well-regarded marketing campaign, an association with Apple’s incredible brand, and media attention that would make a Kardashian jealous. By comparison, Android isn’t a single “thing.” It’s an operating system (and an abstract product to sell) available across hundreds of phones of varying quality made by every major manufacturer. It has no large-scale, cohesive marketing campaign and relies mostly on handset manufacturers and service providers to advertise.
“I bet if I showed 1,000 people the little Android logo, none of them would know what it is,” says Les Tapolczai, director of marketing and planning at digital agency Henderson Bas Kohn.
But Tapolczai and others with skin in the mobile game believe that scattershot product distribution is the main reason for its success. Being available on so many different phones makes it far more flexible than iPhone’s strictly regimented product.
“It gives a lot of choice to customers,” said Reade Barber, director at Rogers Wireless. “The breadth of the manufacturers who use Android is large, and with that you get different features and functionality—screen sizes, cameras and memory configurations. From a hardware perspective, you get a lot in terms of what people might like.”
And with such variety comes a broad range of price points. Apple does offer each iPhone with some options (the iPhone 4S, for example, will launch at three price points: $199, $299 and $399), but contrast that with the more than 400 Android products that range between the $120 Alcatel 908s and the HTC EVO at $550. (For novelty sake, you may also consider the $49,500 Chairman smartphone from Ulysse Nardin.)
Also, because Android is not locked to a single manufacturer’s production timetable and is open-source to allow manufacturers to change it to suit their needs, new phones emerge constantly to take advantage of new technology—Android is always evolving right in consumers’ hands.
“There are so many manufacturers playing in that ecosystem, you usually have the latest and greatest hardware running Android, which usually isn’t the case for [iPhones],” says Nick Barbuto, vice-president of digital solutions at Cossette Media.
And just as the iPhone got a leg up through its association with Apple’s brand, Android is reaping the rewards of being a Google product, even though Google wasn’t known as a mobile company before Android’s launch.
“One of our clients is LG and they make Android phones,” says Tapolczai. “We always tell them to make sure the word ‘Google’ is attached to those phones. That’s a huge selling point.”
There’s more! To read the full article, get the Oct. 24 issue of Marketing. Subscribe today.
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