Two ex-Google execs just gave negative assessments of the state of Android
Current Google executives aren't likely to run down Android publicly for obvious reasons. But even among ex-Googlers, you rarely hear people saying negative things about Android. The platform is one of Google's crowning achievements; it's the most popular computing platform on Earth, ever. And it's free.
So it is alarming when you hear Googlers saying depressing things about Android.
The backdrop here is that since the launch of Apple's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple's iOS system has stolen market share that used to belong to Android.
That's not a problem on its own, unless it signals a fundamental shift in the way consumers view Android and iPhone. It used to be that Android's role was the platform for the masses — you get all the phone for a fraction of the money you'd spend buying an iPhone. In turn, marketers and developers supported Android because 80% of consumers used it. (Apple, by contrast, took the 15% of the top-end of the market, the lucrative users who spend more money on devices and apps.)
In that scenario, Android's entire reason for existing only makes sense if it has the most users.
Consumers are switching away from Android to Apple, and it looks like even lower-income consumers are deciding that it's worth spending extra money on a device that they use all the time. Here's a chart from BI Intelligence showing Apple taking share from Android:
So, the FT's Richard Waters and Tim Bradshaw asked some ex-Googlers what they thought of Android at Google's big annual product event, "Google I/O," last week. For Android fans, this isn't pleasant reading:
"You can have great visions, but change takes implementation, it takes small steps," [Sebastian Thrun, former head of the Google X] said last week, after watching the opening presentation at Google I/O, the group's annual technology showcase event. "What I saw was Android playing out, Android getting into the mature phase."
Sameer Iyengar, a former Google employee who is now a co-founder of app maker Beautylish, questioned whether Google was being bold enough in laying out its tech vision: "The thought leadership is maybe absent, compared to where it was in the past."
That is not what you want as a response to your biggest presentation of the year.
To be fair, it's not clear exactly what Thrun is referring to when he says that Android is "playing out." But even at its rosiest, it kinda sounds like he is saying that Android is just filling out the edges of its existing universe, rather than powering up to some awesome next level.
Non-Google observers were even more blunt, per the FT:
"They have to make sure Android doesn't just degenerate into low-end devices and fragmentation," says Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC, the tech research firm.
That "degeneration" scenario is a complicated way of saying that Android might just end up as the system used by cheap phones from rubbish manufacturers who can't be bothered to keep them updated to the newest, best version. And it is a real possibility, according to Google's own analysis. This is the company's most recent chart, showing a percentage breakdown of Android users according to how modern their version of Android is (below).
The negative news is that more Android users are still on version 2.3 ("Gingerbread") launched in 2011 than are on the newest version:
Google was supposed to be fixing this, by cajoling manufacturers to keep their customers on the newest, best platform. But Android's biggest high-end manufacturer, Samsung, is in a full-scale collapse as people abandon the Galaxy line in favour of iPhone.
At Apple, about 80% of users are fully updated on iPhone after just one year. You just don't see this kind of mess on iPhone (although you do see a lot of people still wondering around with dismally old iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models).
So Google is way, way behind Apple in its efforts to provide app developers with an easy to work with platform (because if you want to make an app for the majority of Android users, you have to make sure it works on the last eight versions of Android before you start making versions for the different makes of phone).
Now put those three things together:
- Android's biggest champions saying uninspiring things about Android;
- iPhone 6 taking meaningful share from Android;
- Google failing to keep Android up top date for most Android users
None of this looks like good news for the planet's biggest platform.
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