Why it’s bad that Android has 850k daily activations

34 Comments

With a year-on-year growth rate of more than 250%, 850,000 new Android devices are activated each day, jetting the total number of Android devices around the world past 300 million.

These numbers are a testament to the break-neck speed of innovation that defines the Android ecosystem.” — Andy Rubin, SVP, Mobile and Digital Content, Google(s goog)

Rubin shared this data in a blog post on Monday, coinciding with the Mobile World Congress event. Aside from some Windows Phone(s msft) news, the MWC show has been a non-stop Android event: multiple phones with quad-core chips, high-definition displays and LTE mobile broadband radios. Rubin speaks to “speed of innovation” as a plus, but it can be just as harmful.

While Google gains from more Android handsets in the wild, handset makers are trying to one-up each other to stand out from the crowd. Motorola (s mmi) tried in 2011 and agreed to be bought by Google as the company couldn’t break out from the pack with multiple handset and tablet models. HTC quickly rolled out many phones last year too, but sales growth stalled, partially due to too many similar variants of the same designs. And then there are the consumers who run the risk of buying a new Android phone only to see an improved model arrive soon after. If you don’t believe that, just talk to a Motorola Razr owner who saw the Razr Maxx launch just weeks later.

The other issue in the ecosystem is software-related. Google is refining Android far faster than handset makers and carriers can test and push out to consumers. Nobody can keep up with Google’s “break-neck speed of innovation”, which is a negative, not a plus. I think this could be hurting developers who may start coding using one set of Android APIs but then see new ones with each Android release.

As a long-time, daily Android user, I like the experience, control and functionality my phone and tablet provide me. But I’m pretty tolerant of change and the fast pace of technology innovation. It’s great for Google that activations are growing, but what’s the cost of such speed? Instead of focusing on activation numbers and a fast development pace, maybe the Android team should take 6 months off and let the rest of the ecosystem catch up.

34 Comments

Ryan McDonald

As an actual Android developer, I can tell you all the FUD about changing API’s is total bunk. Developing for Android is about as smooth as it gets.

Will Twomey

APIs are forwards compatible. If you write an app for 2.1 it will work on 2.1+

Kevin C. Tofel

Michael, yes that’s correct. But I think you missed my point. Two months after the Razr arrived at $299 with a standard battery, the Razr Maxx launched at $299 with the larger battery and Verizon dropped the price of the original Razr to $199. So during those first weeks of sales, people paid $100 more and/or got less run-time on their phone than a similarly priced phone from the same carrier. Hope that helps explain that part of my post.

trip1ex

Also remember Android is slapped onto many more inferior phones compared to ios. TMobile for example sells $100 prepaid Android phones.

Yet all these Android phones from not much more than a feature phone to those competing with the iPhone are lumped into the same 850k activations per day numbers.

Sid

850k activations a day.. Wait, how do you define ‘activation’? Signing in with your google acc. on the device? Access to the android market?

Sa'eed

Kevin, I enjoy your articles and tips but I have to disagree with you on this: “Nobody can keep up with Google’s “break-neck speed of innovation”, which is a negative, not a plus”. I do not have the space in this forum to back up my argument; ultimately, if you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, get the hell out.
If and only if, all manufacturers will stick to stock Android, 80% of fragmentation is out the window, win win for consumers and device makers.

Kevin C. Tofel

Good point on handset makers sticking with stock ROM; they would just need to make sure their builds are optimized for the specific hardware components to keep up with Google’s pace. Unfortunately, they have even fewer ways to differentiate themselves from one another, so it’s an unlikely scenario. :(

Khürt

Android OS handset makers aren’t just competing with Apple they are also competing with each other. The consumer will ask “Why should I buy a Samsung over an HTC?” If the differences are negligible then the handset makers will be forced to compete on price. That may be great for consumers but bad for the profits of handset makers. How ‘s the PC market working out for Dell and HP lately?

rektide

It’s been a rocky road these three plus years, but that’s what you get when you start at version 1.0 of a brand new mobile OS. The path forwards ought have more advancement faster, not less, since there’s a stable proven core now. The days where that core was hard to make run, where changes were wide-reaching, those days and their excuses are over. Remaining problems won’t be “too fast” on Android’s side, they’ll vendors who’ve done a miserable job of building sane build systems and sustainable workflows. Disagree.

Pepetideo

Come on… if apple was activating this many devices a day they would be singing their praises… yes android has some issues to be addressed but stopping development is not a solution… yes manufacturers have to learn to streamline their offers and not release 12 devices a year… HTC has learned this the hard way this year. And yes they have to come up with a way of separating the core features of the os from the UI elements to make it easier on manufactures to skin the OS with their modifications. But stop development so that they can catch up with google????!!! What the hell is this guy talking about??.. Rubish

duarte

Come on… if apple was activating this many devices a day they would be singing their praises… yes android has some issues to be addressed but stopping development is not a solution… yes manufacturers have to learn to streamline their offers and not release 12 devices a year… HTC has learned this the hard way this year. And yes they have to come up with a way of separating the core features of the os from the UI elements to make it easier on manufactures to skin the OS with their modifications. But stop development so that they can catch up with google????!!! What the hell is this guy talking about??.. Rubish

Brian

Interesting POV, but I would wager that Android OEM’s probably aren’t too concerned with catching up to the latest release of Android? Why? Because that means after six months they can sell you a new handset with all of the “latest features” (some negligible bump in hardware and the latest OS release).

Samsung seems to be especially guilty of this. Promising updates and then not following through. As the first commenter said, unless you have a Nexus device, you can pretty much forget about updates.

ronald

Reminds me of:
“the law of large numbers.

Also known as the golden theorem, with a proof attributed to the 17th-century Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli, the law states that a variable will revert to a mean over a large sample of results.”[1]

I mean the numbers are impressive but numbers don’t show feedback loops over time. Here we can assume that the iPad numbers or what Andy Rubin pointed out as ecosystems [Apple vs none awareness of Google’s in Android] might have a negative effect over time. Let’s see if they can fix that or if it’s just talk like the upgrade path from last year.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/25/business/apple-confronts-the-law-of-large-numbers-common-sense.html?_r=1

Khürt

Rapid OS development may lead to rapid product release cycles (assuming devs can keep up) but will also lead to rapid obsolescence. Will the consumer be willing to buy a device with a 2 year contract knowing that hardware and software support for that device will end in 6 months (or less)? I don’t see handset makers providing support for hundreds of variations of their devices.

Able Lawrence

The whole contract system which subsidises the profit of apple when every one else pays with extra charges is wrong. People should be willing to pay for their phones and then both phone prices and call/data charges will come down and every one will be a winner.

Khürt

I agree with your statement except for the part about Apple. From my knowledge of the industry all of the smartphone handsets are subsidized.

Dan G

850k is great. More and more people have better access to information, with lots of choices on Android devices. Many of those 850k are most likely in the developing world. Android is, more and more, extending the usefulness of mobile beyond voice and SMS. With Android, I have a Verizon Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and a Huawei IDEOS is affordable to many Kenyans.

John Harrington, Jr.

Either way, more Androids being activated every day means more are entering the workplace…making the need for MDM (mobile device management) and MAM (mobile application management) higher priority for companies across the world: http://bit.ly/AgpU6q

cheese

A good article. Makes you stop and think. There are two sides to the rate of innovation.

Go back a decade or 2..would you have liked a new PC/OS version coming every 6 months (or even sooner)? We should’ve been on Windows 30 or so by now ! Thank God for a more reasonable pace of innovation at Microsoft ;-)

On second thoughts, probably the world would have got it’s first tablet 10 years ago if only MS had been as innovative as they should have been.

The rate of innovation does not have to imply that each of us get enslaved by it and are forced to buy new products sporting minor mods over previous ones. I wouldn’t replace my existing phone for 3 years if it keeps working. Yes, I’m a statistical minority, but hey, I can live with a phone that’s 3 year old! And make a quantum jump when it makes most sense (including RoI on my old gadget).

ParityOdd

Are you kidding Microsoft pioneered the tablet with “Windows for Pen Computing” in Windows 3.11 (1991 time frame) I loved it when working on CAD software at the time. It felt so futuristic.

cheese

Thanks, am aware of that, but what I meant was Microsoft failed to capitalize on the nice/cool concepts – their tablets never became a commercial / cultural success a la iPad. I didn’t mean to blame Microsoft for that – their focus was largely on software – and there, boy, did they make a killing ! The Office remains the best software product suite till date. Compare that with the tablet concepts they created and you’ll know what I meant.

Kwasi

Like RB said, not developing Android so manufacturers catch up doesn’t really make sense either.

Things like “No ICS for the Galaxy S” were manufacturer choices. My Fascinate ran fine on ICS before I got a Nexus, so if there was any reason not to officially upgrade it was either for TouchWiz or to push sales of more current Samsung phones. Keep in mind the Galaxy S 1 debuted with Eclair shortly before Froyo was announced.

Given that I got ICS on my Transformer within a few (what 4?) months, and that companies are putting out Beta ICS ROMs it seems like people are taking the ICS upgrades somewhat more seriously, as if consumers are entitled to them. Can we accept the fact that there is a period between the release of a version of Android and when everyone gets it? It’s not like the “blistering pace of innovation” is directly leading to current phones being 2 or 3 versions outdated because each new version is so different that manufacturers have to spend more and more time each upgrade.

Do you really propose that Google not try to predict future features and support future hardware and technology? Are you really arguing against developing Android as much as possible, or are you just commenting on what happens when you have a fast upgrade pace?

If so, don’t iOS and even Windows (desktop) put out Betas and RTMs to developers and hardware manufacturers to incorporate new features? Sure they don’t declare the OS “out” until a definied period is over, but since Google doesn’t have a closed process, it seems like that’s not an option for them. Only once the source is out can any testing take place from a dev/manufacturer standpoint. In other words, if you were to put an imaginary beta period around the release of on OS of say 6 months (even though it’s longer for desktop OSes) wouldn’t you have to say the Android ICS readiness process is not going so bad since some companies (Acer, Asus, HTC, Sony) have either upgraded hardware or put out Betas?

Apple released an iOS Beta in June before releasing it in October. Given that Apple only needs to worry about developers do you think it’s fair to give Google’s ecosystem a little bit more time to get in sync since manufacturers are allowed to do whatever?

Theli

In the end, the only bottom line is the bottom line. And for Google that is directly linked to the number of Android users. Reducing fragmentation, helping developers and letting the ecosystem keep up is only important if it increases the number of Android users.

David Pat

Android OEMs are suffering what happened to Detroit. Stagnate and die.

RB

Woud you also propose to the smart kids in a classroom to slow down, so the stupid ones can catch up?

John

That is what no kid left behind is for and in new york state, teaching to the regents exams.

Andrew Z

if you go to a school that makes you take regents then you are in the wrong school.

Jeff Kibuule

With all of the “choice” in the Android world, unless you get a Nexus device, you’re stuck with an outdated OS almost all of the time.

Ravi

Agreed – Google needs to focus on migrating to a new legal agreement with hand-set makers to align with Google’s update servers (not requiring device users to upgrade, but making it possible). I hate the fact that Google already announced this long ago and has not followed through.

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