Mar 08 AT 3:19 PM Anthony Domanico 75 Comments

The Q4 2011 results are in, and it paints a potentially bleak picture for Android. Looking in depth at the numbers provided by AT&T and Verizon, Apple sold about 3 times as many iPhones as all Android handsets combined in the quarter. This could simply be a fluke, as Apple released the iPhone 4S in the quarter, and Apple’s sales tend to spike in the few months after a device is released.

There are certainly some positive signs for Android in the Q4 data; the percentage of new smartphone buyers in the United States last quarter choosing Android over iPhone was 57% to Apple’s 34%, according to the NPD. Samsung sold over 300 million phones last year, with a good chunk of those being Android smartphones, and manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC, and Motorola are betting the farm on Google’s operating system.

Still, the potential for danger is there, and unless things take a turn in 2012 and 2013, then iOS may once again overtake Android as the leading smartphone platform.

The Paradox of Choice: Why too much of a good thing is not a great thing

Though the fluke effect certainly could play a role, there is at least one other explanation that could be driving sales away from Android; a phenomenon explained by Dr. Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice. If you’ve walked into any carrier store recently, you’ve certainly experienced the abundance of choices available in choosing Android smartphones.

Handset makers and carriers have gotten a bit carried away with the sheer number of devices being released, and there are simply too many Android options for consumers to make an educated decision as to which smartphone is going to end up in their pockets.

According to Dr. Schwartz, when individuals are presented with more and more choices, the negatives associated with choosing (increased time to make a decision, increased energy expended, self-doubt, anxiety, and dread) increase the stress we experience until we become overloaded.

Though some choice is good, more choice isn’t necessarily better. As a society, our satisfaction with things decreases as the number of choices available to us increases. We’ve all felt that frustration of buying a new Android smartphone, only to feel buyer’s remorse when a newer and better model was released merely months later.

We have an abundance of choices when it comes to smartphones. To demonstrate this idea, one needn’t look further than Motorola and Verizon, arguably the  worst offenders of the bunch. On Verizon’s network alone, Motorola currently offering the Droid 3, Droid X2, Droid Bionic, Droid RAZR, Droid RAZR Maxx, Droid Pro, and the Droid 4, with 6 of these 7 devices all launching over the course of a 9 month period. Adding to these offerings, Verizon sells the LG Spectrum, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Samsung Illusion, HTC Rezound, Samsung Stratosphere, HTC Thunderbolt, LG Enlighten, LG Vortex, Pantech Breakout, Casio G’Zone Commander, HTC Rhyme, Samsung Droid Charge, Sony Xperia Play, and the HTC Droid Incredible 2.

Customers who walk into a Verizon store are presented with 21 different options for Android smartphones, and that doesn’t even count the number of customizations (16 vs 32GB options, multiple color choices, etc) offered by some of the devices. This compares to 2 models of iPhone (4 and 4s, each with a few layers of customizability), 4 different Blackberry devices, and 1 Windows Phone device.

The number of Android devices available outnumbers all other smartphone platforms by a factor of 3 to 1, though they were outsold by the iPhone by at least a few hundred thousand devices last quarter. This is despite Verizon heavily pushing their 4G LTE service, which currently only Android phones are able to take advantage of.

Adding to this problem, carrier stores are generally a big ball of disorganization, with high-end devices mixed in with entry-level phones, the iPhone generally off on its own display, and no clear signage telling people what’s what. I’ve walked into multiple carrier stores recently, and can see how easily people can get confused in these places. With confusion comes the feeling of being overwhelmed, as the choice of which smartphone to purchase is a long-term decision, with customers being locked in to that phone and cell service for multiple years.

Adding the abundance of choice problem to the disorganization in most carrier stores, one can see the potential of a problem spiraling out of control.

Who’s Buying Smartphones in the Next Few Years?

Android’s choice problem gets a bit more important when you consider the people most likely to buy a smartphone in the next several years. Though there will certainly be several folks upgrading to newer smartphones, these users are generally tied to their respective ecosystems. Several of them drop hundreds of dollars (or more) into applications that would need to be repurchased if they decided they no longer wanted an iPhone or an Android device.

The biggest potential for growth then comes from customers who still own feature phones. These laggards have largely stayed away from the smartphone market, either not wanting to complicate their lives with being connected to the internet 24/7, or they are older or technologically-averse individuals who don’t want the complications associated with learning new technology. These individuals have largely stayed away from the smartphone market, but will likely adopt the technology soon as the cost of these devices drops to the point of mass affordability. People in this category outnumber the current number of smartphone users, making this market the key to determine the market leader in smartphone OSes.

If Android doesn’t solve some of the perceived issues with the platform now, it runs the risk of losing out in this important battle for the mainstream customers.

Over the next few years, the smartphone market share battle will be waged over those customers who still own feature phones, and unless Android manufacturers change the way they do business, Google runs the risk of its Android platform on the losing end of this fight.

The Solutions

Solution 1: Remodel Carrier Stores to Provide Clearer Choices
One of the bigger problems is the sheer lack of organization (or, perceived lack of organization) in most carrier stores today. Sure, there’s a display for the iPad and iPhone, as well as one for other tablets, but when it comes to handsets, all bets are off. Phones are generally spread out throughout the rest of the store or, worse, lumped together so that all smartphones (and perhaps smartphones and featurephones) are placed side by side with little other than a little placard to tell them apart.

In a recent TED Talk, Dr. Sheena Iyengar highlights the choice issue further, and shows how businesses can make choices easier on customers by limiting the number of similar items they put on their store shelves. Though Dr. Iyengar mostly focused on retail and the number of brands of olive oil certain stores sell to customers, one can easily make the parallel to the cell phone market.

Carriers could even the playing field and help differentiate their products in an important way if they choose to lay out their stores differently. In a nutshell, carriers should section their store off into 5 different categories:

  1. High-End ($200+) Smartphones
  2. Mid-Range ($100-200) Smartphones
  3. Budget ($0-100) Smartphones
  4. Tablets
  5. Feature Phones

Placing phones into these categories would allow customers who want to purchase a smartphone to isolate their choices based on how much they’re willing to spend on a product. This will also keep the number of choices a consumer must make to below or around 10, which is approximately the number of choices we can actually rationally decide from.

Verizon is making progress here, as their new store layout somewhat splits devices off into categories. 4G/LTE smartphones have their own display sections, as do tablets. Still, though, as the number of 4G LTE smartphones explodes, we’ll likely have the same problem on our hands unless action is taken.

Solution 2: Commitment from Handset Makers to Reduce the Number of Devices Being Released
Though the carriers’ getting their organizational acts in order does much to reduce the problem, they represent only one side of issue. Handset manufacturers must also commit to reducing the number of devices they churn out in a given period of time. Ideally, instead of releasing multiple devices and hoping one is able to stick and penetrate the market, handset makers should focus their efforts on releasing no more than one entry into each of the above named categories in a 6 or 12 month period, with the possibility of releasing a 4th in the alternative form factors (slide-out QWERTY, Blackberry-like device, dual-screens, etc.).

This solution would have a dual-impact; not only will there be a more reasonable set of choices for smartphone devices, the quality of the phones being released should increase as research and development teams will be able to focus the same amount of effort on fewer devices.

Some manufacturers have already indicated that they are headed in this direction; HTC has recently announced that it will focus on quality over quantity in 2012, but have not yet given details into what that declaration entails. We hope that HTC sees the writing on the wall as well, and wants their bet on Android to continue to be successful in the long-term. HTC has taken some significant steps with the One series it launched at Mobile World Congress, and we hope these devices (and a de-cluttering of HTC Sense UI) are what HTC chooses to focus on this year.

But HTC is just one of the major players out there. Motorola, Samsung, and LG all should focus on quantity over quality, and release fewer devices in 2012. This will (should) allow these companies to spend more time and energy on UI development, and less thinking about bigger and better devices to release 3 months after their last great device (looking at you, Moto).

Final Thoughts

2012 has started off on the right track. Verizon and T-Mobile are rolling out new stores that they hope will better enhance the customer experience. We obviously hope that they take some of our suggestions and section off their stores so that they are better organized, allowing their customers to better make their phone purchasing decisions.

While HTC is leading the way in reducing the sheer number of devices available to customers, Mobile World Congress brought news of multiple new devices from the likes of LG and Huawei, and about 15 tablets from Samsung (okay, a slight exaggeration). Instead of releasing three 10″ tablets, we hope that Samsung puts all of their favorite features into one flavor of 10″ tablet and support the heck out of it. Similar too with cell phones.

Sure, choice is a good thing, and helps Android stand out from the few devices competitors offer, but when it comes to the significant (and sometimes stressful) choice about which device ends up in our pockets for too years, too much of a good thing does not amount to a great thing.

Anthony loves all things technology, from hardware to apps and games. You can connect with him via Google+ or Twitter by clicking one of the fancy doo-dads above.

    Most Tweeted This Week

  • thekaz

    I like to believe that I am very technical and knowledgeable about Android handsets, and I still have difficulty deciding due to the choices. I feel the issue is that it feels like for every high-end handset, you are sacrificing something another high-end handset has (battery life, ICS, SD slot, removable battery). There is no one overwhelming choice, but many choices where you need to sacrifice something.

    Sure, you sacrifice with an iPhone, but if you have your heart set on iOS, you really only have one choice, so the decision is easy.

    Another issue Android as an OS has is that manufacturers, in an attempt to appeal to people through cost, put Android on crappy pieces of hardware, thus marring the first experience many have with Android.

    That being said, the minute you start restricting hardware, the Apple folks (and others) will start saying, “see? it isn’t as open as you claim it is!!”

    Anyway, these are all great points and ideas.

    • professandobey

      I couldn’t agree with you more.

      Life got much easier (and better) for me once I made the decision to only buy Nexus devices (including Nexus like devices such as the OG Droid and the Xoom). The only exception I will allow myself is if there is some unique must have hardware feature with no Nexii looking to adopt it in my buying time frame (ex. Asus Padfone if I were to buy in the next few months).

  • MitchRapp81

    1) Stop allowing carriers to put so much crap on phones
    2) Stop allowing shitty phone makers to make Android phones (i.e. Sony)
    3) Make timely updates MANDATORY for all models/carriers up to a certain date.
    4) Stop being so nice with Apple and SUE THEIR ASSES for all the stolen ideas (notification bar, cloud sync, etc…)

    • Good_Ole_Pinocchio

      This is a great Write up by Anthony and I expect solid debate in this comment section… ^^^ doesn’t qualify. Please just stop spewing nonsense and read the article.

      • MitchRapp81

        Doesn’t apply to me – I buy Nexus devices only (N1, Xoom, now GNex) but seriously, think about those points (ok mainly 1-2-3 … 4 is just for fun)

        • Ed

          It does apply to you. And what you’re ignoring is that Sony is probably the next best thing to a Nexus device, what with their support of the development community. Sony is actually making something different for a change, and they definitely deserve to be a part of the action.

    • thel0nerang3r

      1. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. Carriers understand money. All of us complaining, but not switching carriers or buying Nexus devices just means to the carriers “hey, some people are complaining, but not leaving.”
      2. Anyone can release a phone with Android. Heck, you could if you wanted to.
      3. Carriers are on this one. They have to make sure their applications work with it. Besides, to the average user the version of Android means… nothing. Cyanogen mod is the most used ROM, it has 1 million installs. Android has around 850K activations a day? so, slightly over one day of activations.
      4. I agree that Google should sue them. However, I don’t see how that would help anything.

      • lfwrfqua

        7-inch MTK MT6573 Tablet PC, phone, dual SIM card!
        This Tablet PC to use more advantages than ordinary telephone or Tablet PC! Can be replaced by smart phone! And new products to market! Are favorable. Hot sales!

    • vhanded

      And also stop creating new name of the same device for each telco!! Especially samsung, I lost count how many Galaxy S2 variants in the entire world!

  • Lee Swanson

    I have a year before my contract is up. I may continue with the phone I have (Samsung Droid Charge). It has 4G, I don’t have many problems with it. If I upgrade, it will be to a phone that can plug into a table, that can be plugged into a keyboard. But my other option is to go with Republic Wireless. Budget Android with unlimited talk, text and data. I get my smart phone subsidized by work, so I might not do that for me, but for my partner.

    • Lee Swanson

      Tablet…not Table.

    • Fulaman

      Well get a bluetooth keyboard and bluetooth mouse, it has been done on the Galaxy Nexus. Galaxy S III looks promising.

  • Taylor Wimberly

    I love all the choices available, but I see how it is confusing for the average consumer. As you mentioned, Apple provides pretty much one or two choices for their smartphones and tablets, which are the best selling products in each category.

    • Fulaman

      I guess it’s too late to say this, but I think that Google who owns Motorola now should be the only ones making Android Hardware, however Samsung is a formidable Manufacturer and having only Google/Motorola be responsible for all Android Hardware will dramatically cut down Android sales.

      • Ardrid

        I would agree with your original premise with limitations. I don’t believe that Google/Moto should be the only manufacturer making Android hardware; as you’ve suggested, it would drastically eat into Android’s future sales and market share. However, I do believe that Google/Moto should be the only manufacturer making ‘Nexus’ phones/tablets. I truly think pure vertical integration of hardware and software, a la Apple, would allow Google to show carriers and other manufacturers how good a pure Android experience can be. Right now, I feel that the Nexus brand has lost some of that luster given that the GNex was largely a warmed over SGSII.

        • keridel

          i think you missed the point of what a nexus phone is.

          the nexus is supposed to show android in a phone designed specifically for that edition.

          th gnex was made, from the ground up to be ICS, to work with ICS exactly as it should.

          it doesnt matter which brand makes the phone as long as google have developed it to run the right version of the OS.

          oh and motorola havent made any devices that prove they are capable of making a nexus device.

          • Ardrid

            Except it arguably hasn’t done that since the Nexus One. The Nexus S and the Galaxy Nexus both borrowed heavily from Samsung’s flagship phones (GS and GSII respectively). The Nexus line is meant to showcase the latest iteration of Android on the latest hardware, providing the best experience available.

            At this point, it doesn’t appear to me that Google has much involvement on the hardware side of things, short of picking the manufacturer. The Google/Moto merger would change that, assuming Google was willing to get its hands dirty. The fact that Moto hasn’t “made any device that proves they are capable” is irrelevant now that they’ve been subsumed by Google.

            The Nexus should be to Google what the iPhone is to Apple: total vertical integration offering the best and purest experience as the manufacturer (Google/Apple) intended.

          • wildkarrde21

            I think technically the Moto G1 was the first Nexus device, although not in name. And at that time, it was a great Android showcase device.

            I can’t say the same of the Motorola that exists now, however…

  • aranea

    like thekaz I would consider myself among the knowledgeable crowd on Android related stuff. I totally agree with this article about too many choices are bad. If I need to add releasing so many devices in a year also reduces customer loyalty on two different levels. 1) right after you buy a high-end device they bring out one with slightly better specs and you feel like you are betrayed. 2) because they focus on the new devices they can’t/don’t bring software updates.

  • Max.Steel

    Google can’t do anything about it. This is in the manufacturer and the carriers’ court. Just look how many htc and Motorola devices were released last year compared to how many iPhones were released last year. Over saturation leads to complications.

    • Fulaman

      Let’s not forget Samsung as well (especially Samsung lol). It gets worse this year with new manufacturers like Sony, Panasonic, Fujitsu, Asus, Acer, and Huawei becoming more prominent, etc.

    • Andrey

      I’m inclined to disagree — google has final say over whether an android phone gets access to the all-important google experience (market, maps, gmail etc.), which they can use as leverage to enforce their own device policies. It’s probably too late for that now, because OEMs and carriers would just shift to amazon appstore and bing..

  • E

    Is all about each OEM makeing 1 model each kind of there own nexus in a way with a skin UI I feel like this would solve the drought of Android device that keep coming out every 3-6 months and or option two screw over the OEM’s Google and plain simple just make your own dam nexus alone lol I wouldn’t mind pure Android alone

  • spazby

    I think choice is great when you know what you are doing. Problem is for people who don’t know what they want and they do get scared of picking a phone – their easy way out is to go apple route… but hopefully as people get comfortable with smartphones, this may change but i doubt it. after people go apple route, i don’t see majority of them switching as at that point, they are in too deep…. android is a good model but not for all, not for majority…

    • Adam Brandt

      I know what I want, but after 2 years with Android I am thinking of going back to Apple. I too am sick of my phone being outdated in 2-3 months. With Apple I get hardware that will be SUPPORTED the next year. When an OS update is released, I KNOW my phone will work with it immediately. I love my G Nex, but my wishing Google would control and release a pure Google Android phone is basically what Apple does, except with iOS. I am just sick of the fragmentation of Android and the flooding of SO MANY phones. Any you may all laugh at me and say, go running back to Apple then, but that is exactly the problem. We are talking about the MAJORITY of people here, not just the hardcore users that write here. And those are the numbers people care about. Android better get their act together, but from the look of this year so far, there are ALREADY far too many new manufacturers, new phones, more fragmentation, and just more general BS in store for Android

      • Ishken

        Not to harp on your rant, but iOS 5 users just spent the last few months waiting for an update to fix call muting and severe battery drain; both of which occured because of a bad update. This happens frequently with iOS. A similar situation happened when the iPhone 4 came out and iOS crippled most of the iPhone 3′s still out there.

        Tech gets outdated before it is even released. Apple lives off outdated tech, of which they use optimized to make it seem like it is the newest and fastest. Do what feels good for you, but you need to understand that. Also, if you have a Galaxy Nexus, then you don’t have anything to worry about. If you think it isn’t going to last your contract, then upgrade early, which is what most Apple users do anyway.

        To switch back and forth between both systems and talk about fragmentation though sounds a little silly.

        • honourbound68

          How about if Google also enforced some sort of minimum hardware specs that would ensure a satisfactory experience? At this point, it’s also a branding issue with Apple vs Android. iPhones are now status symbols whereas Android runs the gamut from cheap throwaway-in-a-year phones to top-of-the-line quality. if you compare this to the auto industry, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda had to establish luxury car divisions to appeal to the brand-conscious. No one wants to drive a Yugo. Yes our Android phones can do everything that iPhones do AND more. But can we make sure we have devices with a little panache?

          PS @Ishken I wouldn’t say Apple lives off outdated tech. One look at Toms hardware/Anandtech benchmark tests and anyone can see that heir products compare well to their current counterparts in Android, Windows etc.

      • Update

        People always say their device is out dated when they don’t get update.

        Wrong vocab there

        It’s just being not up to date. It’s not being out dated.

        It has biggggg difference.

        If gingerbread is out dated I don’t know what iOS5 is…..

  • redraider133

    I think if each manufacturer would focus on 3-4 phones tops a year, that would cut down on the time it takes for updates and would be able to support the phones longer as it seems with their current model, after a few months most phones are already taking a back seat to the 2-3 new phones that have been released and updates suffer. This would really address fragmentation which everyone likes to use against android.

  • hubbu

    Same thing happens when I walk into an ice cream store.

    • Anthony Domanico

      Yes, but you’re not tied to that flavor for two years

  • sunrise

    I just want a few things, is it too much to ask for?

    1) microSD

    2) great battery life, and a removable battery

    3) Timely updates!!!

    Every time a new phone is released, they always seem to manage to leave something out. Do they do it on purpose?

    • h0ruza

      I think they do. Which is crazy.

  • droiddewd

    I also think I am somewhat savvy tech wise and it seems as though we can’t have our eyes on one shiny phone before another has to be put in front of us to drool over. Like they think we all are afflicted with ADD (Android Device Distraction) LOL

    I have started to pay attention again to specific phones again since I will be contract free at the end of this year and am hoping to snag a good phone. But I could not recall most of the phones that have come out in the past 6 months cause they just get replaced with another batch soon after.

    For carriers to make change though, they aren’t going to do it for Android or Google unless it affects their overall bottom dollar. However they get the money is all that matters to them. I have been in Tmobile stores since they re did them and I think the layout is better.

    I completely agree that handset makers have to put the brakes on new phones every 3 days.

    Anthony, your diligence in finding research and spelling this out is wonderful. This article is spot on and also notable for having the guts to look on how we can improve our own ecosystem for Android.

  • karrob

    Great write up! I think HTC noticed this and have retooled their line of phones. I am sure most makers will follow suit. Options are good but overwhelming options are bad. The chart below is probably the best I option for directing mobile phone buyers.

    High-End ($200+) Smartphones
    Mid-Range ($100-200) Smartphones
    Budget ($0-100) Smartphones
    Feature Phones

  • Angela

    Here’s an idea – customers can ask for a salesperson’s help in deciding which phone to get. They don’t have to go it alone.

    • Wayne Howard

      That’s probably the worse idea in this thread. They are last people I would suggest a person seek help from. Bring your nerdy coworker at least.

    • Max.Steel

      Surely you jest. They will just sell you a bad phone with an expensive plan.

  • David

    I don’t think the variety of phones is a problem when you sort by carrier, which is generally step 1 for most people. Secondly, I think the biggest problem with the tech-savvy crowd (read: tech blog readers) is the announcement of upcoming technology. I will have an upgrade in the next couple months, but I just don’t know if I can justify purchasing a current device when Cortex A15 is just around the corner.

  • sere83

    The thing is with android is that it has a number of glaring problems some of which I don’t think will ever be rectified.

    As people have mentioned before, buying an iPhone is an easy option for the average not hugely tech savvy consumer because it is very clear what they are buying who’s in control of it. There are also very few options and the shops and friends will always advise buying the latest model making the decision easier.

    The average consumer also gets the feeling they are owning something ‘special’ and ‘kinda cool’ when in fact the well informed all know that these devices are all made in the same factories by the same slave labour using mostly the same materials. They can also feel reassured as Apple ‘holds their hand’ through the whole process and offers a nice little apple care package and a ‘bring it in and one of our geniuses will help’ if you have any problems etc etc.

    The android platform on the other is an absolute consumer nightmare. There is a never ending tidal wave of sh*t android phones on the market. Soo many phones, all running different versions of the OS, some running sh** ARMv6 out dated Chipsets, some with horrendously implemented laggy as hell android builds, carrier junk ware installed, janky UI overlays, blah blah blah.

    Then you have the whole other question of, what eco system am I using? HTC, samsung, sony all have their own ‘stores’ where they are peddling some sort of ‘content’ and all sorts of janky badly implemented ‘services’ and ‘syncing’ options etc etc. Not to mention some of their own proprietary applications and different looking UI overlays to further confuse Joe Average.

    Apple simply have that well known bloatware favourite ‘iTunes’ that Joe Average knows from his iPod.

    So how in gods name is Joe Average going to chose which android phone he/she wants. when you have a cuagmire of junk to wade through and also a cuagmire of good phones to wade through? He/she does not care about ‘ARMv7′ or ‘Cyanogen Roms’ or any other tech jargon nonsense or whether it’s running ‘ice cream sandwich’ or ‘froyo’.

    So they usually go on brand recognition. But again they hit a stumbling block. They don’t know that some well known brands happen to make crap android phones with crappy laggy builds of the OS. So maybe they take a gamble and buy a sony?

    Then they eventually find out they aren’t running the latest software, they don’t get the buttery smoothness of iOS, just a laggy Sony phone with an ugly UI, and they are even missing some of the ‘great Apps’ their friends have. So what do they do? They run back into the comforting and reassuringly overpriced bossom of Apple.

    And people wonder why amazon chose to separate themselves completely from the google branding? It is actually a very clever move, because they know how important brand recognition and simplicty is to average joe. Kindle has a great reputation (unlike android) but they can still use the unerlying software system, but just market it as their own using their own store.

    The thing is all these companies are trying to do their own ‘ecosystem/aesthetic’ built around android, but it just confuses consumers.

    Also google made fundamental errors in the way the UI was rendered when they first built the core code for the platform meaning it will never be as smooth or as responsive as iOS or windows phone. This is not me saying this it’s google employees, look it up. And in a market where image is everything any edge you can get is crucial, why would average joe go for something which FEELS more laggy and unresponsive?

    Things have improved on that front but i’ve used a transformer prime, its still not as smooth as iOS or windows phone, but comes close.

    Any way a lot of this is rambling but the point is that googles lack of control over its’ platform which once could have been seen as advantageous (over the walled garden approach of Apple) has lead to consumer confusion and a ‘cheapening’ of the platform, as manufacturers are allowed to release underpowered badly implemented junk onto the market running googles OS. Lets not forget 1 bad experience with android and the fickle consumer will run to Apple, there are so many Apple sheep ringing their praises its only a matter of time before one of them ‘advises’ them to get an iphone.

    Personally I don’t think it will change. Android is too out of control and Google do not want to take control for fear of losing customers. I also think their lack of focus on aesthetics and the ‘lag factor’ due to oversights in the early days has cos them dearly. The fact that iphone apps look better is still a problem and early on their developers kit should have included more beautiful UI elements for devs to work with from the start.

    They also need to more closely monitor what apps are getting in to the market, again rafts of junk in there. They also should have not given the system to just any manufacturer out there and allowed them to make junk. They also should have given strict hardware guidelines from the start like Microsoft did with windows phone.

    I hate Apples Walled garden but I also hate Googles lack of control, there needs to be a middle ground. But unfortunately I think it’s too late.

    Don’t get me wrong I love the platform and all it has to offer but something needs to be done if they want long lasting success for the platform and they type of brand loyalty Apple commands.

    • ion orov

      You sir, deserve an award for “best use of paragraphs in an epic comment”. Agree with everything you’ve said.

      That “middle-ground” approach will likely be filled by MS… see their strategy with WinPhone 7. Perhaps they see how Google is flailing about and are trying to avoid the same problems. Must be a cold-day in hell… I’m actually rooting for MS to put Apple under pressure.

      > Android is too out of control and Google do not want to take control for fear of losing customers
      Sad but true. Talk about rocks and hard places… Google went out of its way to go between them.

      Worse thing is you know Win8/WinPhone8 is coming. You know MS is going to license them to the same OEMs that make tablets and phones. You know MS has deep pockets and will fight a war of attrition. They may even _pay_ OEMs to use Win8.

      Perhaps the Asus MeMo and Google 7″ can turn the tide. Maybe Google can start to offer a cut of Android Market app purchases to the OEMs. IDK.

      Google has a backup in the form of a subservient Motorola… but is it enough?

  • jamal adam

    This is a wonderful article. I definitely agree that stores can improve on their organization of the store and it would definitely help new customers to decided how much they can afford and what those smartphones have to offer in that price range.

    I think that all manufacturers should take up HTC’s model of having three categories of devices (x=high end, s=mid range, and v=budget) because this would simplify and make customers choices a lot easier to manage and is more effective.

    Hopefully, the carriers can address these problems and so can the manufacturers. Since, both carriers and manufacturers want to gain new customers and keep their old ones, the obvious thing to do is make it easier and simpler for their customers.

  • skugern

    Excellent (and timely) topic for an article.

    Shrinking mobile phone choices to less than 20 is a great idea, even from a business perspective. Fewer models means less training (and therefore confusion) for support reps and less machinery to make all those different models.

  • mustybooks

    That’s a really interesting video.

  • PhilH

    #1 The latest comscore numbers show the trend is getting back to normal.

    #2 I don’t think any of this has that much to do with it. While I like to see better displays and better focus on flagships this isn’t the real problem. The problem is the free marketing Apple gets. Even local news broadcasts make sure to mention an I device by name if it has anything to do with the story. If its any other device its just a cell phone. Average people refer to their iPhone by name. For instance the wife and I were in a verizon store last night and overheard a lady talking about cases and how she dropped her iPhone in the bathtub. No one is going to say they dropped their Galaxy Nexus or Android. They are going to say they dropped their phone. Android devices don’t even say “sent via Android” in emails by default. And finally look at this article advertising that iPhones outsold all other Android phones combined. Do you think an iOS site would talk about iOS being outsold? No they would ignore it and talk about some other figure and I commented about this on another article.

    Sorry but bringing attention to the problem in this manner isn’t going to get the OEMs or carriers to change. All its going to do is help fuel the Apple marketing machine. If you really want to help then continue to focus on the good of Android as if Apple didn’t exist. Quit worrying about when they have a spike because they completely ignore the fact that they are getting blown out of the water. Market the things that Google can’t and the carriers and OEMs won’t which are the great core features of Android that often go unnoticed by the masses. And market them without apology or hesitation as if its the ONLY game in town. Stop wasting time comparing to iOS and trying to keep a fair scoreboard. Its the best to just about everyone coming to these sites so call it the best. Go follow the Android folks on G+ and make the real complaints there.

  • foodog

    Good article Anthony, and quite the timely topic. The Paradox of Choice is certainly a real and consumer paradox, and is playing a role in Android’s recent slump. OS fragmentation, confusion of options for consumer, not properly delineating phone capabilities by the carrier, all of these problems persist with Android. I think though your missing the forest for the trees. Here’s the real issue, one word.


    Andy Rubin has already acknowledged this as the primary driver for a consumer choosing a mobile device. Referring to Android tablets specifically, Rubin said, ““There’s no organized way for consumers to recognize it as a viable platform, The educated consumer realizes it now that they’re either picking the Apple ecosystem or the Microsoft ecosystem or the Google ecosystem… we’re going to do a better job at making people understand what ecosystem they’re buying into.”

    The most disappointing aspect to Android’s ecosystem problem is that Google realized the Post-PC era was coming long before either Apple or Microsoft. Yet, they have provided a compelling story to tell the consumer, here’s what buying into the Google ecosystem provides to you as a consumer, and here’s our advantages over the competing ecosystems of Apple and Microsoft. In less than one year, Apple has turned around their completely miserable and offensively bad previous network attempts such as iDisk and MobileMe and has now taken a commanding lead with iCloud. The average consumer knows that now if he buys his media through Apple’s iTunes, he/she will have that same media available on all Apple devices. If you take a picture with your iPhone, you can edit on your iPad or your Mac. If you want to see a slideshow of your recent vacation pics, stream it to your Apple TV. This is a very persuasive story. This is also possible within Google’s ecosystem, but you’d never know it as a consumer. Google has just started to address this with Google Play, but they have a very very long way to go, and a very short time to get there. Microsoft will be nipping at their heels this fall with Windows 8. What’s very sad about this whole fiasco is Google’s incompetence on addressing this weakness, and NOT leveraging what was once their crowning achievement and letting Apple catch up and surpass them in key areas.

    When a consumer now begins to invest in a mobile platform, they will need to be told what they can do with the ecosystem they’re investing in. What if I want to play the movie I have on my phone on my tablet as well? On my television? Microsoft hasn’t really addressed this weakness in their platform yet, but they recognize their failings and are working on it. Google has a compelling ecosystem, but they haven’t even addressed the consumer with these options, or even come up with a compelling story to tell them. Apple’s biggest drawback has not only been addressed, they have now leveraged what was once an ecosystem weakness and turned it into their biggest advantage. I’m not sure if during their iPad presentation yesterday they mentioned the words “iCloud” once during the whole presentation, but it was present in every single demonstration they made.

    Where is Google’s story? So far, non existent.

    BTW, I’m a proud owner of both a Galaxy Nexus and a Galaxy Note.

    • sere83

      Completely agree

    • ion orov

      Completely agree. 2011 was the year for Google to make inroads into the tablet arena and really bring about the post-PC, post-MS world.

      But, as you said, they failed… and in the one area that is their strength no less, the cloud.

      Maybe Eric Schmidt was not so bad after all. Ever since he left the CEO role, things have started rolling downhill.

  • WlfHart

    I think HTC’s new approach is trying to remedy some of this issue. If other manufacturers jump on the bandwagon we could see good things!

  • Jason

    The market will shake out and already is. The top android manufacturers will rise to the top while others drop out. And the lineup for each manufacturer will also shake out. Samsung has learned that the s2 was great so that model (s3) will be the flagship. Models will drop out and resources will be allocated to the best selling phones e.g. HTC incredible, Samsung s series, Motorola droid etc.

    This is no different than the PC wars with overwhelming choices. Walk into a best buy today and you’ll see but a few PC sellers.

    These are just market forces folks let them work.

    • ion orov

      Problem is, Android is not alone in the market. What you said would be great if Android controls 90% of the tablet and smartphone world. What some here worry is that the “market forces” within the Android segment just ends up hurting it when fighting against Apple and MS.

      It works great for the PC segment where MS rules the roost and makers fight to be top Windows PC (and thus, top PC maker). But even here, you see Apple starting to disrupt. See how the Macbook Air is just squeezing the PC big boys who can’t respond with pricing and features.

      Now, look at the smartphone and tablet market, where Apple has the features _and_ competitive prices. For whatever reasons, Google can’t take control and force a coherent message amongst OEMs… and this is becoming a real problem.

  • the5thdimension

    It’s not that there are too many Android devices, it’s that there are too many piece of shit Android devices. I’m currently using a GSM Galaxy Nexus, which I absolutely love. I’ve been with Android since day one. I stood in line for a G1. I think it’s great that there are so many Android devices to choose from, but it sucks that a good majority are worthless phones. I’ve seen a lot of people buy crappy Android phones, have a horrible experience and then say their next phone will be an iPhone because it is so superior to Android. Some of these shitty Android phones are a real embarrassment and do a great injustice to the OS in terms of what it is capable of right now and what it will be capable of in the future. This is thanks to either hardware, or manufacturer tweaks. Sadly, the average consumer know not the difference. If it’s an Android phone than it’s an Android phone. Just like how an iPhone is an iPhone. Most people who owned a shitty low grade Android phone that constantly froze, power cycled, had horrible battery life, and constantly force closed on them will never be interested in a phone like the Galaxy Nexus. Why? Because it’s an Android.

  • Nate B.

    Variants are a fail for Android. To be honest I like Android open but there should only be the Nexus line or One beast of a phone from every Manufacturer, & keeping that beast of a phone the same across all carriers. Let their network decide for the consumer. And have the ecosystem leveled with the same hardware. I don’t see Android getting better anytime soon business wise and reaching their full success because of how they market things, beyond over saturated with phones that honestly don’t differ, & quality apps.

  • Adryan maldonado

    Bravo sir well done. love the article. while i love android and would never switch to IOS its good to recognize that android isnt perfect and that even one our beloved reasons for loving android can in this case start to be a bad thing if not kept under control.(i.e choice with way to many devices). Appreciate the article and im sure everyone here hopes the carriers listen to(though i doubt it)

  • Hall Lo

    Very well said. I think every manufacturer should try to slow down and focus on quality more than quantity, just like what HTC is trying this year.

  • anamika

    This is all good for a subsidized market. But consider a free market like India :) we like the numerous handsets and various price points.
    Top end starts not from 200+ but from 500+ with iPhone 4s at 900, S2 at 600, mid-range from 200 to 500.

    When you have to buy at full price you would make sure spend the hard earned money on the features you need and the price point you can afford.

  • LowItalian

    I think the number of iPhones sold in Q4 has a lot more to do with the strength of the Apple brand at present. EVERYONE knows what an iPhone is.

    Right now there Google has all the momentum it needs to smash into the mainstream and there are signs everywhere you look.

    6 months ago you’d see only iPhone apps mentioned on websites, but now you see available on iPhone and Android almost every time.

    You can say what you want about Android phones vs the iPhone but there hasn’t been a clear challenger up until the GS2 arrived. More quality handsets = better user experience, that is paramount to the future of Android. In addition to that with that we need better advertising that sits well with the mainstream.

    Another advantage of Android is that all of the low cost phones will be more affordable to folks in the 3rd world. Those people will add to the strength and reach of the ecosystem.

    I think it’s clear that manufacturers, carriers and even Google itself are learning a lot about the best ways to progress in this budding new phase of personal computing.

    You’ve made good points, and it’s good to be cautiously optimistic but I think things are only getting better. I think Samsung is becoming the model of Android success and it’s going to force other OEM’s to raise the bar or fail, in either scenario Android wins.

    • JoshJ47

      I definitely agree. The number of choices within the android ecosystem isn’t really the problem with the lack of android sales. It only presents a difficult choice to those who have ready decided that they want an android phone.

      The average consumer who pays no attention to actual specs of the phone decides based on what brand they have heard is the best. When the average consumer goes to buy a phone, they go into the store already believing that the iPhone is the best phone on the market because of the major apple brand boom going on now. As android phones continue to get better, and the media and the masses of society decide that android is better, sales will rise.

      Android customers are usually the very well informed customer or can’t afford an iPhone. Until android dumbs down its UI and gets rid of all lag whatsoever and becomes better than iOS in every way, Android will suffer in sales

      • Dirty_Azkals

        I find that whole “can’t afford an iPhone” a pointless argument in regards to Android customers. At&t proved already that there are affordable “iPhones” by selling the 3GS.

        It comes down to the ecosystem. Once you spent “x” amount in the App Store then its just makes common sense to stick with an iPhone. Steve Jobs was right where he said the iPod Touch was a trainer iPhone. Would you rather have one device that you can make phone calls with and play all your apps, music, etc or have that iPod Touch a third wheel since you bought Android?

  • h0ruza

    Feature phones suffered from there being to many versions and a small number of phones actually having all the feature’s people wanted.

    You can see this happening with Android already. The Gnex is a great phone but why choose lesser optics than the phone it was based on and remove the SD card?

    I’ve warmed to the new HTC one range but why have three almost similar flagship phones? There wasn’t even a physical keyboard version to set one of the phones apart.

    Manufacturers child look at this in two ways but there’s only one way to make the customer happy. Put it all in one phone, give us everything, all features so we know our phone can do whatever is possible and not have to think “shit! Should I have bought the phone with the x on the end or the one with the s on the end.”

    It makes it all to easy for someone who just wants a cool phone to choose an iPhone because visibly more people have the same iPhone, and they all work the same.

  • delinear

    When did being #2 in a market place become such a big problem? The article starts off by saying things are potentially bleak for Android, but goes on to point out Samsung alone sold 300 million devices. That’s not even remotely bleak by any measure, most companies in almost ANY industry would kill for sales figures like that. If lack of choice was a big selling point then Windows (with their more limited range) would certainly be making more of a dent in Android and iPhone sales than they are.

    The fact is the market is big enough to sustain at least two or three operating systems. On top of that, Apple will never open up iOS to other devices so Android’s real competition is from other multi-device operating systems who are all selling to the market who don’t want an iPhone, and in that sector Adroid’s still a long way in the lead (of course, that’s no reason to get complacent but it’s hardly anything to worry about right now).

    • Derek

      Samsung sold 300 million phones, less than 20 million of them were smartphones. Even fewer were Android smartphones. You have to remember Samsung sells other phones.

  • Daniel

    Yes, choice i a big problem. Thats why we hate PC computers, consoles, Hifi gear, printers, cars and anything else where we have a choice. Give us a monopoly darnit!

    Choice is not a problem, its a huge benefit. It may be problematic for some of the people selling the stuff but overall it drives competition ahead at a much faster pace than if there are just a few products. Just look at the OS market for an example of what happens when you have lesser choices. It stagnates and stops developing.

    For consumers, its a god given to have many choices of manufacturers. If you think its a problem, you probably miss Standard Oil and AT&T also right?

  • Marcus

    This is an amazing article! I think carriers should focus on releasing phones with more quality rather than more phones… I understand how it would be confusing for the average consumer to be faced with so much choice. Heck, it’d be confusing for the tech-oriented consumer.

    • Marcus

      Woops. Manufacturers* not carriers

  • z0phi3l

    People have been whining about “too many options” since Android hit the limelight, usually the people whining are Apple fans, because they LIKE not really having options, yet it is because of the many options available that Android took off like it did, remember when it was only the G1 on T-Mobile, the the MyTouch? It wasn’t till the first Nexus and Verizon getting the original Droid that the Android “revolution” took off. I say the more the merrier, make people think and make decisions instead of spoon feeding them into the Apple closed ecosystem, maybe once people start thinking about their phones will we see Apple’s eventual fall

  • LilSmurf2009

    I think that the problem is that there coming out with phones too soon, Just like the article said look at verizon and motorola, i belive like on a months time Verizon came out with the motorola razr,razr maxx,droid 4, and galaxy nexus. I think that carrier should give Manufacturers like a timeline of some sort of how many phones they can push out on a month or two.

  • Derek

    The fact that Apple outsold all Google phones by 3 to 1 is not a fluke. iOS is simply a better OS. Its not as customizable as Android, but it simply runs better, is better written, and most importantly…it simply works 100% of the time. Android is a buggy convoluted combination of a java runtime environment, graphical user interface all piled on top of a linux core. iOS is a true OS taken from their Mac OS X. It runs real programs compiled in C. Android runs craptastic java apps in a runtime environment. Even with the state of the art dual or quad core hardware and seriously powerful GPU’s Android stutters and is laggy. My original iphone 2G operates flawlessly on an old ARM11 500MHz CPU. Thats all the proof right there. I know that tech geeks (myself included) love android for the ability to customize and flash many different roms. But we make up probably only 5% of smartphone buyers. Most of my friends are not as tech literate as I am. They all had Android phones on Verizon, when Verizon got the iphone 4 and 4S every one of them switched and absolutely love the iphone and despise Android. They make up the huge, vast majority of smart phone buyers. Until Google invests heavily in the user experience and simplifying their code and making a more polished experience, the average user will despise Android. Android is flawed right down to the very root of it OS. Android engineers realized this when they acquired it in the beginning. But they had no time to fix it as the iphone sprung on the market, so they rushed out Android 1.0 and its been flawed ever since.

    • Dirty_Azkals

      What gives it a bad name is all the extra skins that’s layered on top of the OS. That’s causing the lagging, crashing, and general crappy experience when compared to iOS. Google should really “Apple up” in regards to QC on phones that say Android. When my Evo 4G kept flashing white with the HTC logo in the center before doing something I wanted to do, i.e. close internet browser or flip to next screen, I knew it was the Sense screwing up. HTC was at fault but the people new to Android will blame Google for making a laggy phone because it has its OS at the core. Don’t forget the Nexus phones aren’t even marketed to the mass market consumer. Most don’t even know what makes they different for the common Android phone released every month.

      Secretly I think Android manufactures love the ROM makers. People may bitch about Sense and Blur but they still buy the skinned phones so they can flash them. How does this prove that people dislike skin? Look at the lip service Moto gave to people about unlocked bootloaders. If the Android community still has the attitude of “Hey Noob just jailbreak and flash” then its pointless to ask the manufactures anything.

  • Al

    I’ve been looking to upgrade my from N1 for a while now but I get lost among the myriad of devices available. Say I want to get the Sensation. Suddenly I see Sensation XE. what’s the difference, I have no idea. I see device ABC and also device ABCX, I have no idea what the difference is and in the end i just give up.

    Now that HTC has unified their line up, I will probably get one of their devices, but I still can’t get rid of the nagging feeling I will end up with buyer’s remorse. Knowing my luck, they’ll announce an upgraded version of my phone the day it arrives.

  • haz

    This is what I’ve thought since the beginning. Manufacturers should create one phone (think Galaxy S, HTC One ) and equip with all the frequencies so a customer can buy that one phone and take it to any network they want. I think that’s how it works in Europe and with all carriers pushing to LTE here in the States, the consumers might actually be able to push for a similar movement.

  • BigCiX

    great aritcle!!!

  • alfleagle

    The sheep buy Iphones from AT&T. The techies buy Android from Verizon. (It’s all about the speed!) Oh, I’m still on AT&T because my wife wants to stay with Iphone. So I soothed my speed ache with a Galaxy Note. If it can’t be faster, it can at least be BIGGER! :)

  • AljNtEeL1

    If Google and android phones manufactures don’t change their policy with their customers in regard to tge ability of upgrading their phones to the last operating system, people will start leaving those manufactures as well as android operating system to another operating system like apples is as well as windows phones.

    Users don’t sit on treasure to buy every single phone comes with a new android operating system. Hope Google and manufactures think alittle of their customers rather than how to get money.

  • Charlie

    Forgive my grammar
    I currently own a 3gs and i will admit that its jailbroken, i could care less about customization as much as i care about security. By that i mean updates and user support, if i had a problem with my phone i google it and 90% chance solved right then and there. I like the layouts(ski s) of Android but there are too many choices plus i had a iPod way before i got my 3gs and i never heard of Android till a few months before i got my current phone, i looked it up and it was a mess to say the least. Plus IMHO iphones are more organized than Androids. My friend has an Android and i hate it because its bulky has terrible touchscreen usability and its easy to crack the screen and its uber slow in terms of internet browsing, the only thing good about it that yall seem to like is that has a physical keyboard which i hate because it makes my nails bend and break and its hard enough that the buttons are small and as i am typing this i keep wanting to chunk my iphone and smash it with a hammer since its a heat touchscreen so yes iphones have their vices too. But hey if they are successful more power to them. Androids have the chance to be great.