The question is not whether sales of Google Android smartphones will overtake Apple’s iPhone, but when. AdMob’s Brendon Kraham has just predicted that Android users will outnumber iPhone users by the end of this year, though that seems unlikely to me. Still, the trend is clear. Gartner’s numbers for this year’s first quarter showed Android jumping from 1.6 per cent to 9.6 per cent of the market, with the iPhone on 15.4 per cent; ComScore’s latest US research shows Android gaining four percentage points to 13 per cent and the iPhone dropping a point to 24.4 per cent. Android has momentum.
There’s also no doubt that Android is getting better faster. There’s a new version every six months or so, and the latest Froyo (2.2) can run Adobe Flash 10.1. There are new handsets almost every month, and already more than 50 Android phones have been released. Most carriers and network operators support Android, so it can reach a global market much faster than a single phone from a single hardware supplier.
Even Apple’s dominance of the apps market is under threat. This month, the Ovum consultancy predicted that between 2009 and 2015, Android’s share of the downloaded application market would grow from 14 per cent to 26 per cent, while the iPhone’s would fall from 67 per cent to 22 per cent. Partly this reflects the growth anticipated in the international market, especially in Asia Pacific, which will make the iPhone’s US dominance much less significant.
In fact, Android apps could be far more widespread than Ovum’s research suggests, because it will be so easy for people to develop their own. This week, Google announced App Inventor for Android, a block-based drag-and-drop development system that anyone can use (it’s based on educational research at MIT and has been tested in schools).
However, the real point isn’t about whether you want to develop apps, it’s the contrast between Android and Apple. Android gives you the freedom to develop and distribute apps however you like, including Flash apps; Apple doesn’t. You have to develop iPhone apps the way Apple likes, and then ask Apple to put them in its App Store.