When will Android-first be a viable launch strategy on mobile?


Apple’s Q1 2013 results were undisputably poor; its net profit fell by 18%, representing the first time in more than a decade the company has posted a quarterly earnings decline. Samsung, meanwhile, grew its shipments by 56% year-over-year, to 69.4 million. Apple’s shipments grew by a mere 7%, to 37.4 million, which is its slowest ever year-over-year growth to date.

The first quarter of 2013 also bore witness to an historical tipping point, although one that was wholly predictable: more smartphones than feature phones shipped for the first time. A similarly fundamental tipping point took place in February, when Flurry announced that China had unseated the US as the home to the most smart phones on the planet. And while Android overtook iOS in terms of absolute number of devices in 2012, Android’s global shipments marketshare experienced continued growth in Q1 2013 while Apple’s shrank by 5.7%. The below charts illustrate the changing dynamics of the mobile marketplace, both in terms of operating system and handset marketshare (all data is presented in percentages and was fetched from IDC’s recent Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker report):

Global Smartphone Shipment Marketshare by Manufacturer

Global Smartphone Shipment Marketshare Delta, Q1 2012 vs. Q1 2013

Global Mobile Phone Operating System Marketshare, Q1 2013

Global Mobile Phone Operating System Marketshare Delta, Q1 2012 vs. Q1 2013

Despite its momentum, Android remains relegated to a second-launch platform for most mobile developers: while revenue on Android is increasing, iOS, for the time being, delivers more money. Advertising network Trademob recently published an infographic highlighting some key differences between the app ecosystems of the two platforms: the most obvious are the number of app stores per platform (iOS: 1, Android: 40+, not accounting for private and “grey market” app stores) and tablet app download marketshare (Apple: 75%, Android: 17%).

It goes without saying that the Android ecosystem is fragmented, which is the source of the platform’s biggest hurdles in terms of app development:

  • Device fragmentation, especially at the lower end of the price scale, presents app coverage challenges. Ensuring compatibility with a large range of Android devices increases both development, QA, and customer service costs.
  • App Store fragmentation increases marketing and operational costs.
  • Many devices in Asia, especially in China, are counterfeit and do not facilitate carrier billing, rendering monetization nearly impossible.

But the above graphs underline growing consolidation in the Android mobile phone market; while the “Other” manufacturer category shrank by 1.3%, year-over-year, Samsung gained 3.9% global smartphone shipments marketshare. And Samsung seems to be the primary beneficiary of the continued surge in tablet adoption, with a broad catalogue of both tablets and so-called “phablets“.

The question remains: when will Android-first be a viable mobile launch strategy? My guess is that it will probably relate to Samsung, rather than overall Android, marketshare capture, taking place in the middle price tier in emerging markets.