Android users don’t know enough to matter. That’s the premise, and title, of a recent opinion article (read 3 page rant) by The Street’s Eric Jackson. Mr. Jackson’s article attempts to, poorly, make the case that Android users as a whole are pretty much a bunch of dumb schlubs that barely know how to turn on their phones, let alone make use of their features. Well, in the immortal words of another Mr. Jackson, “Allow me to retort.”
Eric Jackson’s opinion piece contains little in the way of hard evidence for any of his claims. While he does cite some limited studies for some of his information, he fails to take into account a number of factors that you would expect a writer with a Ph.D from a prominent university to examine. We’re going to begin with an oft-studied, yet flawed metric that Jackson focuses on heavily in his piece. That’s the web-browsing statistic of Android vs. Safari. One of the claims made is that “Apple users out-browse Google Android users by a 3.3x margin.” To back up this claim, Jackson uses data from NetApplications, as cited by SlashGear. The data used is from February, and since that time more up-to-date data has become available. The newer data doesn’t change the picture much, but it’s the flaws in the data that make it a bad citation to use.
The old data ignores several key points that are worth mentioning. First, StatCounter’s global usage statistics show a rise in Android mobile browser usage, which has steadily increased, placing Android Browser share ahead of iPhone Browser share by a few percentage points. It’s fair to mention that StatCounter’s data also divides Mobile Safari browser usage into different iDevices, the iPhone and iPod Touch, but does not take into account the iPad, which would certainly put Safari ahead of Android. However, there’s also other factors to consider when you’re talking about mobile browsers. Many of us Android users are browsing with browsers other than the stock Android browser. Dolphin, Chrome Beta, Opera, FireFox, and others account for a large amount of the disparity. Furthermore, many stock Android browsers set their user agent profile to Safari, in order to take better advantage of touch-optimized websites. That makes the data even more unreliable. Finally, Android users don’t need to use the web as often as other smartphone users. Android offers a great deal of “instant gratification” possibilities with widgets. Why hit the web to look up the weather, when it’s on your home screen? Why use a web browser for your news, when a widget can show you the headlines you want to read right on your home screen? There’s a lot of other examples, but I think that makes the point.
Mr. Jackson also points out the wide gap between those users running the latest Android version, vs. those running the latest iOS version. The figure thrown out by Scott Forstall at this year’s WWDC was 80% adoption of iOS 5 vs 7% adoption of ICS. That figure only takes into account official updates from carriers/manufacturers, rather than those running ICS in the form of third-party ROMs. Even if we take the numbers at face value, should that really be an overall concern? Android fragmentation isn’t really Google’s fault. It’s the bane of making an open source system. Allowing others to customize and use their software as they see fit is going to result in a degree of fragmentation. It’s just part of the game. it’s, also, not necessarily a bad thing. Fragmentation is something that users and developers have been dealing with on desktop platforms for years. It happens with Windows, Linux, and even OS X. There are still computers running another version of desktop software that doesn’t include all the newest features, and can’t run the latest programs. That’s not the fault of the software maker, it’s just how technology works.
That fragmentation of Android versions isn’t exactly a bad thing, either. Part of what makes Android a good platform is the variety of choice. Not only choice in hardware, but choice in software. The end user has a choice of purchasing a device that runs a stock Android experience (Nexus) or choosing a device that runs a manufacturer-skinned version, like Sense or TouchWiz. A savvy user knows that a skinned version of Android is going to take much longer to get official updates. If that’s a concern, they purchase a Nexus device. For the not-so-savvy shopper that isn’t concerned about running the latest, bleeding-edge version, it’s, obviously, not as much of a concern. If the current software has the features that they want and use, then they’ll be happy having those features until an update does come along. Apple is also guilty of this kind of thing to some degree. Siri is a good example of a feature that’s included on one model, and not available to other users. Apple’s mapping technology, when released, will be another example. There are features of newer iOS versions that are not available to all iOS users.
Users who have chosen a skinned version of Android may also be choosing it because of the cloudcentric features that are growing more popular. Samsung and HTC, for example, have their own cloud services that appeal to users of their products. Apple has iCloud, and at WWDC the figures given were 365 million cumulative sales of iDevices. Those that use the iCloud service for something amounted to 125 million. If we look at the figures given above, 80% of iOS users on the latest version, that means that roughly a third of those users are opting in to Apple’s cloud. Now, if we compare that to Google’s figures we get a different picture. Creating a Google account is part of the initial Android setup. It’s not required, and you can still use your phone without it. You just won’t be able to do a lot. By creating a Google account, which we can safely assume the vast majority of Android users do, you automatically opt-in to all of Google’s services. Those services perform all the same, and more, functions as does iCloud. It’s also safe to assume that a large portion of the iOS community uses a Google account for something, whether it’s GMail, maps, or just personalized search. Given that cloud services are becoming a more dominant form of computer/user interaction, it’s pretty clear that this metric matters.
Fragmentation, overall, is a touchy subject. In terms of having many software versions out there, it becomes more of a developer issue than an end-user issue. I can’t speak from a developer standpoint, myself. I only know from reading the many, many emails and comments from software developers that fragmentation of the platform is not as much of a concern as it is made out to be by the tech media. Android is a wholly different beast from iOS. Given the huge number of devices, custom tweaks, and variations in hardware, it’s something of a minor miracle that the majority of apps out there work on all of these devices in the first place. Apple, by comparison, has only a handful of devices to develop for. That’s their strategy, and it works for them. It, almost certainly, makes life easier for developers in many instances. However, it removes the choice and customization that makes Android a popular platform. If you remove those things, you have millions of devices that all look
the same, and have the same features. Like an iPhone.
Android users don’t know how to use WiFi:
A ComScorestudy in April found that 70% of American Android users can’t seem to figure out how to use WiFi on their devices…
– Eric Jackson
A ridiculous assertion that Jackson makes is that it “could take years” for Android users to learn to turn on their WiFi connection, and save themselves a lot of mobile data usage, “like the Brits.” Jackson cites a ComScore number of 29% of iPhone users connected to the internet solely through their carrier’s data connection. In the UK, 13% of iPhone users solely used wireless data connections, while in the US 68% of Android users relied on their mobile network for data, as opposed to using WiFi connections. When he put this data together, Jackson came up with the following:
If you put all these studies together, it suggests that Android users:
- Are not tech savvy
- Never use wifi
- Never do Web browsing
- Never update their operating system
– Eric Jackson
There are further lame-brained statements made after, however, we’re going to look at why Android users in the U.S. don’t use a WiFi connection as frequently as their iOS-toting counterparts. In the U.S. the largest iPhone user base can be found on AT&T. AT&T had the iPhone first, and a lot of customers have stayed with them. Verizon is the next largest iPhone user base, followed by Sprint. AT&T (and the iPhone) still use a 3G data connection, which should indicate why a larger number of iPhone users are utilizing WiFi connections, no matter what carrier. By comparison, a large number of Android devices are making use of Verizon’s LTE network, as well as T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network. Speaking only from personal experience, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network leaves AT&T’s in the dust in my area. It also fares very well against Verizon LTE, again, in my area. Add to that the commonality of “unlimited” plans on many carriers here in the states, and you have your answer. Android users aren’t relying on WiFi as much, because they don’t have to. In the days of 3G phones, I used WiFi wherever I could get it. In the days of unlimited data plans and high-speed connections, not so much. Personally, I use it at home just to save on battery life. I’d be interested to see if there is a spike in iPhone data usage vs WiFi usage, when Apple decides it’s ok for their users to have 4G phones.
Unlike Apple, Google’s Android users are not really an installed base. They have happened to acquire a cheap phone to make phone calls and text their friends, but they have no loyalty to the phone or no idea of what they can do with it.
– Eric Jackson
I can find a number of problems with that statement. Just by looking at the huge number of Android communities around the web, I would beg to differ. I’d also have to call foul on the assertion that most users have “happened to acquire a cheap phone.” When you look at the hype surrounding Android releases, and the sales figures of which phones sell the most units, they’re not the bargain buy Android handsets. They’re the top-model phones like the One X, Galaxy S series, Droid RAZR, and other devices that cost just as much, if not more than an iPhone. Android tablet sales can be measured the same way. The top-selling Android tablets, Kindle Fire aside, have been the more expensive models like the Transformer line or Galaxy Tab. Android devices don’t need to be the most expensive model, as a mid-range Android phone can perform very well, while only costing the buyer $70-$100 after carrier subsidies.
On the topic of brand loyalty, there may not be as much manufacturer loyalty in the Android community, true. Samsung and HTC certainly have those that are dedicated to their devices, and with good reason. However, when many Android users go out for a new phone, it’s usually another Android phone, meaning they’re staying loyal to the OS, but not necessarily the manufacturer. iOS vs Android debate aside, there are other reasons why a customer stays loyal to their OS of choice. Speaking only for myself, I chose to be an Android user because I believe in Google’s vision of the future more than I do Apple’s. For me, Google’s mission is one of bettering the world through the freedom of information, choice, and technology. Those values are important to me, thus I’ve chosen to back Google and their partners with my dollars. Is Android always refined, polished, and without hiccups? No. But that’s part of why I enjoy it. It’s a system that’s in a constant state of evolution. Google likes to try new things. Some of them stick, some of them don’t. That’s what I, personally, like about it, though. Release early, innovate often.
Playing Catch Up:
Google can keep trying to revamp their OS to keep up with iOS 6. But what does it matter if only 7% of their users will ever see it?
– Eric Jackson
Forgive me as I indulge in a bit of fanboism at this point. Google is leading the pack in innovative features. The last two major releases, at least, of iOS have been adding features that Android has had baked-in to the OS for months, or years. Apple didn’t bring much in the way of new and innovative to the table with iOS 5, 5.1, and will not again with 6. Giving credit where it’s due, PassBook is a nice feature, but it just took Google Wallet to a new level, so props for taking the leap, Apple. However, the majority of iOS features that have been added in the last few releases have brought nothing new to the table that Android did not already have.
Being an Android user, and an Android writer in an age of Apple-dominated tech media is often a trial. Though most of the time I can rise above it, there are some things that set you off. Denouncing all Android users as a bunch of dunderheads because they don’t use WiFi is a pretty small thing to do, Mr. Jackson. Basing your opinion of an individual, or in this case millions of individuals, on their choice of smartphone software is pure elitism and does not endear your readers to you or your publication. Unless those readers are as insecure about themselves (and their Apple stock) as you seem to be. The choice of a person’s mobile OS should not be the determining factor in whether you think they are worthy of breathing the same air as you. An OS is a choice, and people choose it for a variety of reasons. If iOS works for you, I’m just happy that you’re involved in the wider world through your use of technology. I’m very pleased to be able to read and mull over your ideas, opinions, and thoughts. Indeed, I’m a technology geek because I believe that it’s a tool for bringing a divided world closer together, and I don’t believe that we should use it as a means to further divide our species along yet another line. In short, I value your opinion, Sir, and have enjoyed debating it in the above text. Now, can we return to using our technology to further ourselves as a people, rather than using it as a basis to disparage one another? All opinions are welcome in the comments.