Android: Through the Roof! Does it Matter?

It’s clear that Android (as an OS platform) will likely drive the vast majority of mobile and even not-so-mobile devices as we peer over the horizon. This has never been in debate; my predictions were a lot higher in 2007 (6 to 1) Android over iOS by the end of 2012. I mistakenly overstated this adoption rate but that prediction was pre-iPad, so I need a little bit of a pass. Why this should “scare Apple fans to death” (as reported in this article) escapes me.

While the quantity of OS installations impacts the eco-system, and there has always been a strong correlation of pervasive OS adoption influencing software development, this doesn’t necessarily translate to a similar outcome with mobile OSes.

In the PC era there was ostensibly a single hardware platform and hardware vendors all produced a very similar set of features – monitor, hard disk, keyboard, and mouse. There were few differentiations and very few IP rights defending any particular vendor. Software developers were not challenged by hundreds of possible form-factors and the Windows OS provided a safe haven for predictability and enterprise adoption.

The post-PC era is a far different landscape – there are hundreds of tablet form-factors and thousands of phones, many with unique and highly differentiated hardware features, most of which run only certain versions of OSes. There are devices that do not support touch interfaces and many that do. There are some that will run for a day without a charge, and many more that have very short battery lives.

Windows is a proprietary platform and enjoyed years of growth without significant threats of security attacks. Android is open-source and has already encountered numerous debilitating attacks with little defensive success. As Android adoption grows, so will the attacks.

One take, Matt Burns suggests that Xoom’s lagging sales were both predictable and the causes are coming from lots of angels.

“Apparently it’s not selling well with early estimates putting the Xoom’s sales numbers around 100,000. That’s about how many iPad 2s sold the first couple minutes it was available. The whole thing just smells of failure from all angles. This wasn’t just one man’s fault. Everyone had a hand on pushing the Xoom over the edge and into the barren world of niche gadgets. So who killed the Xoom? Everyone.”

Because the Android OS is unguided and at the whims of open-source developers who work primarily for hardware vendors, we have a very different landscape in the post-PC era OS. As such, the Android OS will continue to fracture even with some heavy-handed guidance by Google. Years from now there will likely emerge an Android standards committee, but the topology of versions will be so diverse (by then), categories of standards will be necessary to reel in core experiences.

Even with all this uncertainty, the most likely element to create market disruption in the post-PC era, are the patents associated with touch interfaces, another factor that didn’t exist in the PC era. IP-based influences on the development of mobile interfaces and competitive differentiators coupled with the consumerization of IT, are likely to make predictions based on overall adoption, difficult to nail down.

And if all these post-PC differences aren’t enough to create a highly turbulent and unpredictable horizon, there’s the consumer – a curios and odd variable who has been looking for the kinder, gentler computing experience for more than three decades and largely without success. As we get behind Android we must ask, does it deliver the kinder, gentler experience that consumers want to pay for?

Is Android’s adoption pace simply a reflection of marketing and consumer circumstances?

A consumer walks into a phone store and asks for iPhone. The sales person, who doesn’t carry iPhone, shows the customer something that looks like an iPhone, appears to work like an iPhone, and has a lower price for data and hardware – in fact, the phone itself may be free. The consumer leaves satisfied not because Android influenced the purchase, but because they think they have scored big – something as good as iPhone but at a very low cost.

Show of hands – how many of you didn’t really understand the true nature of iPhone until you actually owned one?

The purchase process described above is undoubtedly happening across the globe for mobile phones and will increasingly occur with tablet devices. But is this unknowing adoption of Android creating an unstable and unsustainable market that will make it difficult for software developers to earn profits?

But as we think about Android in the context of how businesses plan to deliver BI apps and solutions, how will they adopt the Android platform knowing there are so many potential issues that could bite them?

iPad is an amazing graphics machine, and BI is largely dependent on visual representations of data. Epic game developer and graphics expert, Tim Sweeney, has this to say …

“The blistering pace of graphics performance improvements on Apple’s iPad 2 will enable a new class of handheld gaming titles, but Android devices aren’t likely to get the same kind of attention due to platform fragmentation”

UPDATE: The Webby Debates provide some additional insight concerning the sustainability of Android and lessons [possibly] learned by Apple and Google.

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