Android No Longer Competes With iOS

The Google I/O keynote on May 28th 2015, confirmed a thought that I have had for a long while.

On April 3rd 2013, I wrote a post (in Japanese) titled “Predicting Android’s Change Of Direction: Thoughts from Andy Rubin’s Demotion” (「Androidの方向転換予想:Andy Rubin氏の降格を受けて」). In that post, I argued the following;

  1. Andy Rubin considered Android to be very valuable in and of itself. For him, it was important to make Android the best that it could be. This meant being better than iOS.
  2. Larry Page is not very interested in Android itself. His interest is in Google’s cloud services, and Android is only one of many initiatives to maximise their user base.
  3. Hence Android’s market share itself is not important, nor is controlling Android an imperative. Even if iOS, Firefox OS or Tizen expanded their market share, that would not be a problem as long as they used Google’s services.
  4. Android does not need to be the best smartphone OS.

From this, I predicted that Android would stop trying to copy iOS in the attempt to get iOS users to switch. Instead, Android would probably focus on the low-end in order to expand the use of smartphones in markets where iOS would not have a strong presence.

The 2015 Google I/O keynote strongly suggests that this indeed has been their strategy ever since. The signals that I observed were;

  1. Android M itself (excluding the cloud services that would also be available on iOS), no longer adds major features that would give it an advantage over iOS.
  2. The announced Photo service is also available on iOS from day one. Now on Tap which is not feasible on iOS which is why there isn’t an iOS version.
  3. The improvements on offline connectivity are geared towards countries where Internet connectivity is unreliable or expensive compared to the average income.

Google itself mentioned that Android M is mainly about fixing bugs and annoyances in Lollipop, and if that is to be believed, then the next version of Android coming out in 2016 should have many more features. However, since I am now more confident of my reading of Google’s strategic imperatives, I am pretty sure that this will not be the case. I predict that the 2016 version of Android will also not have any major new features.

In short, I am now sure that Google no longer intends to compete with iOS with Android. Essentially, they are giving up the high-end smartphone market to Apple and they are cool with that. Instead, Google sees Android as a vehicle to spread their services to market segments that iOS cannot penetrate.

How will this strategy fare in the future?

This strategy is sound if Google’s sole objective is to learn about what people are doing. However, from a financial standpoint, there are many risks. By far the largest risk is, what if Apple is successful in distancing itself from Google? What if Apple somehow succeeds in significantly reducing the number of Google searches performed on iOS?

There are several dark shadows on the horizon in this regard.

  1. Google search may no longer be the default search engine on Safari. (link)
  2. The vast majority (75%) of mobile search ad revenue comes from iOS (from Goldman Sachs)
  3. Apple has been working to reduce iOS’s search reliance on Google, and the ability to display Wikipedia search results in Spotlight have reduced Google clicks(9to5mac).

It seems that either these reports are false, are insignificant, or simply that Google’s management is oblivious to these threats.

Either way, Google’s strategy makes it financially vulnerable due to an over dependence on iOS. Since Google still lacks a strong alternative revenue source to search ads, anything that causes it to lose this revenue will significantly slow the company’s growth. The only way to mitigate this risk would have been to attempt to capture the high-end smartphone market in collaboration with Samsung. This is very much to opposite of what Google’s actions suggest.

In conclusion

I am now quite sure that Google’s management gave up on the high-end smartphone market at the time when Andy Rubin was demoted on March, 2013. The past two years has seen Google focus on the low-end smartphone market, while deemphasising high-end features, and even fighting with the vendor that dominates high-end Android phones.

2015 is the year when we might see this strategy backfire. There are multiple reports that suggest that Apple will more aggressively distance itself from Google, and that this will have a significant impact on Google’s growth.

Importantly, by neglecting the high-end smartphone market, Google has burnt the bridges and has no backup strategy if this is indeed what happens.

Content Creation on Smartphone, Tablets and Watches

It surprises me that some people still say that smartphones and tablets are only good for content consumption, and not content creation.

That is only true if you totally ignore all the status updates on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. and declare that content on these social networks is too trivial and unimportant to be considered content.

One has to understand that the meaning of “content” has changed a lot with the development of technology. The content that was inscribed on the walls of the pyramids, for example, is very different from the random BuzzFeed article about Justin Beiber. Similarly, the content in the mobile age will be very different from the long-form blog-ish content of the Web 2.0 era. It will be more short form, more photos, and more multimedia. And for this type of content, smartphones generally trump PCs as content creation devices.

This will also be true of smartwatches. Whether or not smartwatches will become content creation devices depends not so much on whether they are good for writing long emails or blogs, but more on how communication forms evolve. And we can make a sure bet that the communication forms will evolve towards the most popular devices, hence if smartwatches become popular, then content will evolve to be better suited for these, which means shorter and more textual or emoji. With the huge strides being made in speech recognition, it is very likely that smartwatches will easily gain the capability to create these kinds of content.

What is important is that one has to recognise that both sides of the coin will evolve in concert. Saying that smartphones and tablets are not good for content creation basically shows how outdated your view of content is.

What Apps Might Work On The Apple Watch

Just a few quick thoughts on what kind of apps would work and what wouldn’t work on an Apple Watch. This should also apply to Tizen and Android Wear.

  1. The scrolling experience is very bad on the very small screen. Apps that display a lot of data and require you to quickly scroll through are not going to work. This includes any application that has a low signal vs. noise ratio. Many social networks including Twitter, and also news applications have a low signal vs. noise ratio, and I think it is unlikely that they will work.
  2. Apps that increase the signal vs. noise ratio through opt-in, location and time can be quite convenient. The information should have a certain immediacy to it. A weather app that, instead of giving you an overview of the weather, simply tells you when a rainstorm is approaching is a good example. It uses your location, the current time, and information from the cloud to increase the signal vs. noise ratio. It also demands immediate attention so the taptic engine on the wrist is the best way to get notifications for this. Public transport apps are also an obvious target.
  3. Sports news is another genre which you give opt-in information about which team you follow. Although there isn’t really an essential immediacy to it, fans like to know what has happened, as it happens.
  4. I suspect that a new, more local (like 50m radius) kind of Groupon scheme would work. The shops that you frequently visit could do some time-limited offers (like 30-mins) and you would get notifications as you walk by. The time limit creates an artificial sense of immediacy which is good for sales and makes good use of the watch.

From a sales and marketing perspective, I expect brick & mortar stores to exploit the scheme that I showed in item #4.

A good argument can be made that Google Now can offer the same things and in an even better way. That is something that needs further study.

The interesting thing is that the Internet originally freed you from time constraints. Both the WWW and email allowed you to visit e-shops and to communicate with your friends in an asynchronous way, and you were 100% free to do it at your convenience. I sense that the Apple Watch will reverse this trend. It will pull us back to synchronising with what is happening immediately around us and tempt us to act immediately. I think the implications are going to be quite big.