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Why is Android’s growth rate suddenly flat? (Hint: Android is not the same as Google Android)

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While many examined the financials in Google’s(s goog) most recently quarterly results on Thursday, the Android activation figures are also worth a look. Android adoption has enjoyed stellar growth for some time, having surpassed Apple’s(s aapl) iPhone, and it is still growing. The growth rate, however, is now completely flat based on the numbers Google provided on Thursday and compared to prior figures earlier this year. What’s up?

A little history of big growth

First, let’s take a look back to see how Android has grown through 2012:

So has 2013 been kind to Android? Not nearly as much.

Nine months hasn’t birthed as much growth

Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt, said in April, 2013 that Android activations were 1.5 million per day. That’s a noticeable slowdown in growth from seven months prior. Schmidt also said 750 million cumulative devices were activated. Not too bad.

One month later, Google shared Android figures at its Google I/O developer event. The numbers: 900 cumulative activations. 150 million in 30 days is pretty good: That’s actually 5 million per day. But Google didn’t report the 5 million number at I/O; I simply did the math, making me wonder if the prior cumulative activation figures were too low.

This brings us back to current day: Google just reported data from the quarter ending June 30, or 45 days since it’s last activation update. Here are the figures: 900 million cumulative Android activations and 1.5 million more per day. In other words: the growth rate is completely flat now.

What happened to Android’s upward momentum? Granted, 1.5 million new Android devices in use each day is still a huge number. But that number hasn’t seemed to grow much since last September. It works out to 15.38 percent growth in daily activations over 9 months, which isn’t much and surely a much slower rate of growth over prior time periods.

Android is not the same as Google’s Android

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that Android itself is actually growing more than Google Android. What I mean is: Anyone can use Android to build a device, but it can’t use Google’s Android apps and services without licensing them from Google. That means an Android device that doesn’t interact with Google will never be activated by Google and won’t count in the data.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD tabletsDevice makers in Asia have been using Android for a few years without Google’s services. So, too, does Amazon(s amzn) with its Kindle tablet family: Buying and using a Kindle slate doesn’t count in Google’s figures for this reason.

My gut says that with the bigger smartphone growth in China, India and other regions, consumers are buying Android devices without Google services. And not a single one of those directly benefits Google in any way, shape or form: No licensing fees, no data gathered from Google accounts and no revenue from sales in Google Play. Competition from other smartphone platforms is likely playing a part as well, but I think the non-Google Androids are having the bigger impact.

There’s no doubt that Google Android is big and still growing. With Android freely available without Google’s services, however, Android itself could be even bigger.

24 Responses to “Why is Android’s growth rate suddenly flat? (Hint: Android is not the same as Google Android)”

  1. Shoomkloom

    “And not a single one of those directly benefits Google in any way, shape or form”

    When the total Android install base increases there are more and better Android apps and that benefits the whole Android ecosystem.
    So you are right, Google does not benefit directly but it certainly benefits indirectly.

    Go Android!

  2. Android not growing? Make up a story where it’s still growing.

    Mobile is going flat? Spin it otherwise.

    Am waiting for the laptop revival of 2014 to be spun furiously the other way (yes am serious it will happen and the press will be the most surprised).

  3. Ramesh

    The two comments about Android in India and most Asian countries (except China ) shipping with Google Play support are correct. In China there are a lot of Android products without Google Play support and sideloading is the trick there. I have myself bought local Android tablet in China with the stated challenge.

  4. About China, I m unsure but about india, I really don’t see Android Phones selling without google services . What exactly i mean as well is almost every Android device getting sold in various towns are at-least some brand using some build of android with Google apps in it .
    Can you site how you concluded india in your report as above . And if it counts as you say as a significant number, i would really like to know who are those some of the brands who are doing this out here

    • redscorpio

      you are right kartik. actually no android phone can be registered without google account. so how it can be not to use google services in india ?? i dont know abt china. but in INDIA am sure everybody who uses android phone have GOOGLE ACCOUNT and SERVICES

  5. Anuraj Jain

    Almost all smartphones sold in India come with google services. I would suggest removing that statement because its factually incorrect.

  6. Good open source systems crush good proprietary systems. iOS and Win 8 are being crushed. As a developer, why would I choose to write software for a tiny (and shrinking) platform that has final say on whether I can publish my app or not? Therefore, Android.

    • George Nostej

      Lol. Hyperbolic much? Where is this proof that open source system crush proprietary systems? Did you mean like windows vs linux? Or perhaps iOS vs Android (iOS owns the majority of both dollar share and traffic share).

      Oh, you meant crushed in terms of number of viruses and malware. I concur with you on that one.

      • No I really meant crushed, just as Google defines it. Linux (aka: Android) is destroying Windows and iOS as we speak and by the way, you guys really need some new metrics – Android is now beating iOS in both “dollar share and traffic share”.

          • Valentine North

            Not exactly Windows vs Linux vs iOS, but more like proprietary software versus open source.

            Open source, when people are interested always will be better than closed source. When people aren’t happy with it, they just rewrite their own version, their own patch or plugin, or simply ask or read on the forums how to solve the issue. With proprietary software, you get a very limited time to use the software, after which you’ll have to wait for the next version, and maybe, just maybe you get the features you need.

            As for Android’s “fragmentation”, it’s mostly artificial. Vodafone, Orange and their ilk create their own bloatware they force feed people.

            I have an old Samsung Wave, last software update broke most of everything, had to downgrade, no other solution exists for it, if it weren’t so resilient, I’d have gotten rid of it long ago (scratch resistance, metal case and long battery life are very important things for me).

            Oh, and did you hear about the Chrome remote? Android for desktop is already here and Microsoft still hasn’t noticed yet …

  7. Are activations counted by new Google Play accounts? You’d think a significant percentage of non Google Android devices would add Google Play or at least sideload desired Google apps. Google is still going to get a lot of data from those users. How many people added Google Maps or the full Play store to their Kindle Fire which was probably much more locked down than the Asian brands you mention?

  8. fred phoesh

    Erm, perhaps there are not an INFINITE number of people in the world, and once all those who see Android is better than iOS have come to that conclusion and bought their phones, there are bound to be less activations, surely?

    Secondly, mobile phone technology exploded over the last 7 or so years,… the whole industry is much slower now, look at how little the apple corporation has innovated in the last two years… now its some crappy watch, silly glasses or naf finger print unlocking… who gives a toss? The whole industry is saturated, and a bit non-plussed at this point.

    • You do realize that because of Android, the whole market grew too saturated in such a short period of time? Of course saturation is bound to happen, but with the iPhone being introduced it wouldn’t have happened until 2025, or 2030 because it takes a long time for a closed competitor to take the world by storm. Now when you just put Android on any electronic phone, it becomes too saturated, and that’s why smart phone sales are slowing because there’s simply too many Androids in the world. It’s Google’s fault, they decided to f*** everyone, so you know what, screw them and your reasons too..

      • Anuraj Jain

        You have an issue with more people in the world having access to better technology? That is just absurd! Apple was way too expensive for everyone, especially in developing countries. Android gave people like us an option. Fred makes a lot of sense but you’re a stupid stupid man, Tor :)