This may seem like a crazy prediction given various Android phones' recent successes, but I think the Verizon iPhone is going to drastically impact sales of Android. Outside of the tech community consumers have no concept of open source or understand the difference between a Droid and a Samsung Galaxy S. Many would have no idea those two handsets both run Android. Two recent articles did an excellent job of echoing various thoughts that I've had in the back of my mind for some time on this topic. Watts Martin wrote "Who's Afraid of the Verizon iPhone?" and Marco Arment wrote an untitled followup to Martin's article.
Do be clear, when I refer to "people who buy X" in this article, I'm talking about the mainstream. I'm not talking about the tech community. There are Google/Open Source fanatics out there who buy Android phones to jailbreak/hack them into becoming an IR remote to control their media center PC and bittorrent client to get last night's episode of Furturama. I'm not talking about those users. I'm talking about your non-tech savvy friend who is your same age and wants a smartphone but doesn't know much about them.
Before reading any further, please go read those articles first. Okay, done? Good.
I want to point out these three paragraphs from Watts Martin's article:
The theory is this. There’s a subset of tech-savvy consumers who buy Android phones because (a) they want to run Android specifically as they think it’s really the best mobile operating system for their needs, or (b) they see it as a political/philosophical statement (pro-“open,” or simply anti-Apple). Here in Silicon Valley or in other nerd-o-centric places, you’re going to find a disproportionate number of people carrying Droids and Galaxies and the like who fall into these groups.
But my hunch is that most people don’t care much about the operating system on their phone. They make their purchase based on branding, availability, quality perception, availability, price, availability, and did I mention availability? When many consumers want to get a new smartphone, or move from their old feature phone to their first smartphone, they go to their carrier’s store, and then they apply their other criteria: what phones in this room with me right now are ones that I’ve heard good things about, that I like the looks of, and that I can afford?
Granted, some people may actually choose their carrier based on their desired phone—I switched from T-Mobile when the iPhone came out. But that’s also the rub. I’ve heard of many people, both nerds like me and non-nerds, who switched to AT&T for the iPhone. But how many people switched to Verizon for the Droid? I can think of some who switched to an Android phone on Verizon or T-Mobile either as a political/anti-Apple statement or to get away from AT&T—but that’s not the same. I’m sure they’re out there, but without exception the people I know who own Android phones either fall into one of the two groups I outlined above, or bought them because they were already on a non-AT&T carrier and couldn’t or wouldn’t switch.
In Marco Arment's response to Watts Martin, he made some excellent points. These points align more closely with what I think the truth is: people don't buy Android phones because they like Android phones. People buy Android phones because they're the most iPhone-like phones available on Verzion...until now.
Sure, Android has moved a lot of volume. But the platform’s various devices seem to lack most of the passionate customer demand that iPhones have always had. Nobody’s lining up the night before to buy them. Even the gadget blogs have a hard time feigning enthusiasm for this week’s hot Android phone because they still haven’t taken the shrinkwrap off of last week’s.
Whenever I’ve overheard conversations about smartphones in real life, by “normal people” (not geeks like us), it has always been clear that the true battle happening in the U.S. phone market wasn’t iPhone versus Android, but iPhone versus Verizon.
The decision that people were discussing wasn’t “Do I get an iPhone or an Android whatever?”
It was always “Do I get an iPhone or do I stay on Verizon?”
I get the feeling that very few people except anti-Apple geeks really care about Android itself. The buying decision for most seemed to be, “I’m on Verizon and don’t want to switch, so which of the phones in the Verizon store looks best? They say this one is just as good as an iPhone. I guess I’ll get that.”
My sentiments exactly. Marco hit this one out of the park. I'm sure I'll be ridiculed by Android fans and anti-Apple radicals, but I'm sticking to my guns. I think that the release of the iPhone on Verzion, and perhaps now Sprint too(?) is going to drastically curb the growth of Android in 2011 or at least put a significant dent in it now that users can buy an iPhone on whatever carrier they choose.
I'll let Marco sum up:
But I suspect that the media’s conversation about Android versus iPhone is going to be very different in a year. Even moreso in two years, the duration of the average Verizon contract. And it’s not looking great for Android.
The iPhone is going to gain a lot of U.S. marketshare by being on Verizon, and it’s going to come significantly at Android’s expense. (BlackBerry will lose some of their Verizon customers to iPhone, too, but I bet Android will lose proportionally much more.)