Android is doomed, part 1

Android's US market share appears to have stagnated last quarter, and there's been a predictable round of doomsaying from the business/Apple-partisan press. A lot of it strikes me as pretty silly, but this article from Business Insider is more thorough than most. So let's examine its assertions one by one:

Argument 1: Android still hasn't achieved parity with iOS as an attractive platform to develop apps for. If Android keeps lagging in terms of apps it will begin to lose its appeal to customers.

Response: This is actually a pretty valid point. Android lags behind iOS in a lot of app development metrics. Generally speaking if a dev is going to bring out an app it will be in his best interest to code it for iOS first and Android second, if ever. The reasons for this are multifarious and not all of them are things that Google can necessarily rectify - I think a large part in the difference in profitability between apps in the App Store and in the Play Store (which will always be the Android Market in my heart) is just that Android, for all its explosive market share growth, still hasn't caught up with iOS among the demographics most likely to actually buy apps (young, trendy, marginally though not extremely tech savvy). Still, I tend to think this point sounds worse on paper than it actually has turned out to be in real life: the vast majority of worthwhile apps can be found on both platforms, and Instagram was actually one of the last holdouts in this regard. Bottom line: Android's app environment is lagging behind iOS much more than it should be, but not actually enough to make a serious difference for the average consumer, since for most major developers it will always be worthwhile to develop for both platforms.

Argument 2: Android has failed to make inroads into the tablet market, this demonstrates that on a level playing field Android still loses out to iOS.

Response: This one I'm not sold on. Android has thus far failed to make inroads into the tablet market because the OEMs have done a shitty job developing worthwhile tablets, and because Honeycomb was a rushed and inferior stopgap OS version. I don't think we can read any more into it than that: I'm sure we all know plenty of dedicated Android smartphone users who still buy iPads when push comes to shove simply because it's the better product. Let's wait until the Nexus tablet comes out and Google gets serious before we declare Android doomed in the tablet space.

Argument 3: The Kindle Fire has demonstrated to OEMs that they can irrevocably fork Android and still release a competitive product, so they'll be more and more likely to do so in the future.

Response: Forking Android works for Amazon because they sell content. For them it's worth it to release a product with less competently-executed software (and I think everyone agrees that the Kindle Fire's OS is a mess even compared to Honeycomb, much less ICS) in order to force the people who buy it into their content ecosystem. This simply doesn't apply for Samsung or HTC or Asus or most of the other OEMs: they don't sell their own content, at least not in any way serious enough to actually attract customers, so they have nothing to gain from forking Android. On the other hand, they have plenty to lose: Google makes good software and the OEMs have to realize that they just don't. If given the choice between a stock Android tablet and a forked tablet from one of the hardware OEMs at the same price point I don't think anyone would buy the fork, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. The only OEM I can see tempted to go down the fork Android route is Sony.

Argument 4: The other OEMs are "obsessed" with Google's purchase of Motorola and are desperate to bail out of Android.

Response: This is just silly. Firstly, if anyone still had any doubts that the OEMs are completely fucking retarded here it is. Google pretty clearly wants nothing to do with Motorola's hardware assets, and if someone somewhere wanted something to do with them they'd unload them in a heartbeat. Secondly, this seems like impotent griping: even if the OEMs are legitimately terrified of Google owning Motorola they don't really have any choice but to keep churning out Android phones until Google actually does something to justify their fears (and even then they wouldn't have much of a choice). And Google owning Motorola's hardware division might actually serve to keep them in line, since if they start defecting Google might be tempted to actually act in the way that the OEMs are terrified it will act.

Argument 5: Zomgz the carriers are going to switch to Windows Phone!!!!

Response: Lol. OK, I guess there's a chance that dismissing this out of hand is hubris and that Windows Phone will turn into a serious competitor sometime soon, but. . .nah.

Argument 6: ICS adoption is super slow, this will cause Android customers to become disillusioned and switch to the more reliably-updated iPhone.

Response: There is no evidence that anyone gives a shit about Android update speeds. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that they don't, because if they did the Galaxy Nexus would be the best-selling Android device in the world and it's not. My hunch is that the vast majority of smartphone buyers don't even realize that their devices occasionally get updated to new software versions, and that the smartphone buyers who do realize this tend to just buy the Nexus devices in the first place. Furthermore, in terms of raw features (and subjectively in terms of UI) ICS is already arguably ahead of iOS 5: Android OEMs have until the fall and the release of "the next iPhone" to get their act together, and there's no reason to believe they won't eventually pull through, at least on their flagship models.

Argument 7: iOS has arguably started to outsell Android in the US.

Response: This really does appear to be the case, and it should be worrying to Google. Still, this may just be the beginning of a new cyclical sales pattern, with iOS winning during the quarter that a new iPhone is released and Android, which is less dependent on any single model, winning the rest of the time. We'll have to wait and see. And, in any event, we have no evidence thus far that this pattern, if indeed it does exist, applies anywhere but the US, which is a rather peculiar (albeit extremely important) market due to its relatively strong carriers.

Conclusion: So, there you have it. A couple of valid points, smothered in a lot of nonsense. We may now rest easy.