The big news early this week about Apple (s aapl) isn’t the commencement of pre-order sales in nine international markets that happened Monday, it’s a report by the NPD group (via AllThingsD) that sees Android smartphones outselling Apple’s iPhone. The question is, why?
Sure, it’s a major milestone for the Android OS. According to NPD, which specializes in researching consumer data trends, Google (s goog) grabbed 28 percent of the market in the first three months of this year, compared to only 21 percent for Apple. Both still fell behind BlackBerry, by the way, with RIM’s (s rimm) phones taking 36 percent.
So Android’s selling well, which is good for Google. But is this a sign of trouble for the future of Apple’s iPhone? I think not, and I’ll give you a few good reasons why.
Android is Promiscuous
Oh Android OS, what device won’t you appear on? Google’s operating system has the definitive advantage of being a product any hardware manufacturer can license for use on its smartphone devices. That means that Motorola, HTC, and Samsung are all making Android-powered devices. Google’s made licensing the Android OS so attractive to handset makers that it was pretty much bound to become the OS of choice, with users soured on Windows Mobile (s msft) and Palm’s (s palm) failed attempt at a comeback.
If Android is powering, let’s say, 15 devices currently available from all of the major U.S. carriers, and Apple’s iPhone OS is only powering one (or two if you count the 3G and the 3GS as distinct products), then it stands to reason that Google’s operating system would have the advantage in terms of market coverage. In fact, it’s a surprise that it isn’t doing better when you consider how far it’s extended its device offerings.
Apple is at the End of a Product Cycle
What has 2010 brought for Apple so far? Only one of the most successful product launches in history, for a device that basically created its own niche. Of course I’m talking about the iPad. The iPad was bound to steal some focus away from the iPhone, and may even have nabbed some dollars previously earmarked for Apple’s smartphone.
And even if the iPad isn’t significantly affecting iPhone sales, people by now are probably becoming more familiar with Apple’s yearly product cycle, which means that many more would likely be aware that a new version of the iPhone is almost certainly in the works and on track for a June/July release date. I know I’ve advised anyone who will listen to consider waiting until after WWDC before making an iPhone purchase, if they were considering one to begin with.
Where it Wants to Be
Apple’s smartphone OS market share dropped in the first quarter of 2010, that’s true. So did the market share of every other OS except for Android. Which means that as Android catches on with manufacturers, the market is adjusting and making room. Apple’s drop still hasn’t been nearly as steep as RIM’s, Palm’s or Windows Mobile’s.
The bottom line is that Apple is still very much where it wants to be. It doesn’t need to absolutely dominate the market to be successful, and its design, sales strategy and product lifecycle all emphasize consistent growth and stability over the kind of meteoric rise and resulting volatility Android leans toward with its licensed software approach.
Related GigaOM Pro Research: Who Owns Android’s Future? Google — Or Apple?