Why Android Could Fail

Google’s Android platform faces colossal challenges in all three of the factors that determine success in the handheld market.
Posted November 18, 2009
By

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan


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Back in May, when everyone was hailing the coming age of the Palm Pre, I predicted -- correctly, it turns out -- that the Pre would fail.

With 20/20 hindsight, that prediction sounds non-controversial. But at the time it sounded crazy to many, and I got a lot of hate mail for it.

After all, the Pre was viewed as essentially an iPhone, but with a physical keyboard and a more sophisticated user interface. The reason most pundits got it wrong is that they made the classic mistake of ignoring both market segmentation and human nature. The fallacy that most observers fall into is the mistaken belief that good product = market success.

The gold standard for market success in the cell phone handset market is, of course, the Apple iPhone. In today's market, as I pointed out in my Palm Pre prediction, only three things count: brand appeal, simplicity and applications.

In all three of these measures, the iPhone earns an A+. Apple has a top brand, easiest-to-use phone and the most and best applications. As a result, the iPhone is steadily -- and predictably, I might add -- devouring the smart phone market with no sign of slowing down.

This is the problem competitors face with creating the elusive "iPhone killer." In order to beat the iPhone, a cell phone would have to at minimum equal the iPhone in two of these measures, and surpass it in the third. In other words, an iPhone Killer would have to, say, be associated with as good a brand as the Apple and iPhone brands, be every bit as simple to use as the iPhone, and have more applications.

See what a challenge this would be? How will any competitor achieve this?

Microsoft, for example, has a pretty good brand, with both Microsoft and Windows as part of its Windows Mobile platform branding. But Windows Mobile gets a C on user simplicity, and a D- on the apps experience. That's why Windows Mobile is a market loser, falling from 11.1 percent market share in the third quarter of last year, to 7.9% this year. (During that same period, Apple's iPhone rose from 2.8 percent share last year to 13.3 percent this year.)

The success of the Android-based cell phones is much harder to predict, because so much about future products -- and which companies will build them -- is unknown. But even without that information, Android has serious disadvantages. So far, Google is failing in two of the three measures: Brand appeal and simplicity. And the jury's still out on applications.

Specifically, here are the potential barriers to Google's Android success.

The Brand Problem

Google blew it by inventing the word "Android" to describe their platform. Google is a great brand, Android is a loser brand. The reason: it's not one that will usually be directly used by consumers to describe the phone itself. For example, all iPhone OS phones are iPhones. iPhone is the brand. Clear. Simple.

Android is the "platform," but phones will be sold under other brands. Google says that there are or will soon be at least 18 different phones running Android. Worse, different brand names have been contrived for the same phones running in different countries or versions.

Android is barely getting started, and already the platform is associated with the following phone brands: Xperia X10a, Eve, Eris, Desire, One, Streak, Calgary, Motus, Dragon, Liquid, A1, Moment, Behold, DROID, Milestone, Archos, CLIQ, DEXT, Spica, Galaxy Lite, i5700, Pulse, Mini i3, Hero, Tattoo, Galaxy, Magic, myTouch, 3G, Dream and G1.

Next Page: The Simplicity Problem


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Tags: Google, Android, iPhone, apps, cell phone


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