The race to a billion users

I took the venerable Consumer Platform Adoption Ramps chart and added Android and the latest data on iTunes, iPod and iOS.

To make it more readable (but conceptually more complicated) I put the data on a log chart.


The time span covered is nine and a half years. The top of the graph marks the one billion threshold. Reaching one billion in less than 10 years is an interesting challenge for any platform and, at first glance, it seems that both iOS and Android have a shot at it. This does not seem likely for any of the other platforms.

The challenge is that as penetration grows, it’s natural for the slope for the lines to become shallower. Some platforms are simply not able to address one billion users:

  • i-Mode, AOL and other technologies with localized value networks are clearly limited to populations in their home countries.
  • iTunes is limited by the use of a PC, which has a small footprint in under-developed countries (dependency by iOS on iTunes should throw up a red flag here).
  • The iPod was embraced and extended by more ubiquitous mobile phones.

In contrast, mobile phones in general and smartphone platforms in particular have potential to reach a billion users (per platform.)

To wit, note that iOS and Android have similar curves to date and are both likely to overtake iPod and any other contender.

So for the obligatory theological question: Will Android follow the curve of iOS or will it diverge and continue on a steeper trajectory? Does it matter?


  • m4rkus

    Maybe you could add Win 7 (the latest I heard was a prediction of 350M copies sold by the end of the year), Facebook with 500M users (maybe more relevant as the growth is not through upgrades).

    As time passes the installed bases become more difficult to estimate as product life cycles vary for physical products.

    • ericgen

      Maybe I don't understand this correctly, but wouldn't the platform curve and trajectory of Windows with all of its versions combined be more relevant than just the trajectory of Windows 7?

  • iOS would have had a steeper trajectory the following were true:
    1) Apple had been able to manufacture enough units to meet demand
    2) Apple had not gone down the exclusivity route in the largest market for smartphones.
    3) Apple had been prepared to allow the telcos to control branding, the provision (or not) of updates and which applications were acceptable.

    Android doesn't have any of these holding it back, and in addition became a viable iPhone-like alternative just at the point when there was nothing else for the most desparate manufacturers to grab on to.

    Whether Android can keep up with the iPhone is another question entirely – but at the moment it is the telco's last best hope, so they'll do everything they can to keep it alive.

  • China's carriers, if they continue on the Android road, will drive Android past a billion. Since it's a Chinese fork that few in the West will be able to exploit, it's likely to be of limited relevance to developers and carriers here. If however Oracle's Java patent action succeeds, then Google is likely to be liable for damages worldwide since so much of the development takes place in the USA.

    • RattyUK

      Also Tim Google appears to have been cut out of that fork entirely. Not sure how Android succeeding in China without the Google bits in it that Google makes money from helps Google in any way.

      • Not only does it not help Google in any way, but a triple damage award for "knowingly, directly and repeatedly" violating Java copyrights and patents will be expensive for 600 million + users. Google really seems to be unnecessarily betting the company on Android, hence my article

    • Sevket Zaimoglu

      If Apple's only bet to arrest Android's rise is this patent infringement suit, which seems to be the case, then Apple must truly be feeling the heat of competition on its back.

      • If Google needs to peddle systems software to maintain its search business, it must be really feeling the heat of a fucked up business model on its back.

      • Major patent actions against Android also include Apple v HTC. One of the major problems with Android is that it lacks a deep patent pool to force cross-licensing with companies like Apple and Oracle. This means that if Oracle wins, Google will have to pay out and Android is unlikely to remain free. If Apple wins, HTC could well be forced out of the US market and parts of the Android User Interface will need to be re-engineered.

  • Rick

    Interesting graphs and comments — yours and others.
    One point: The iPod and iTunes may not be as tethered to the generic pc as we might think. The Touch now has iOS and iTunes is moving incrementally into "the cloud". It is not much of a stretch to see iTunes maintaining your playlists and music library in "the cloud" and permitting streaming to any iOS device, iPod included. We're pretty close to that right now. We already have integration between mobile mail and pc mail in a number of ways.

    I guess we will have to lump the Touch into the iOS device category. I'm waiting for the day when an iOS device (or Android) seamlessly moves from tower to hot spot and back again. T-Mobile already has that for voice. Sprint could do it for both and it has an unlimited data plan. You can do something like it with the iPad 3G and ATT if you have Skype.

    Most carriers wouldn't go for that, of course.But I suspect that if it happens iOS and Apple might be better positioned than Android to provide integrated solutions.

    • Sevket Zaimoglu

      You don't have to move all your music to the cloud, it's already there in the form of premium Spotify subscription!

      When consumers bought a CD, they bought a physical entity, so paying something like 20 dollars was a justifiable expense for most people. Furthermore, it was a unified thing, if you liked only one song, you had to pay for the rest of the tracks in the CD anyway. But when they bought an album at itunes it was harder to justify hence the average cost of an album had to drop. But still, it occupied some space in your harddrive, it gave you the false sense of ownership. When you move everything to the cloud, then all you are selling the consumers is the right to stream an album out of hundreds of thousands of albums. Its value is practically zero.

      • Rick

        Precisely what I meant, actually. You don't "move" your music to the cloud, just your playlists (an xml file, for instance) of the music you currently have on your hard drive. The music is already in the cloud, most of it at iTunes or whichever service you have.
        Your mobile device shows the same playlists and the songs are streamed if they are not already on your mobile device.

  • Tom Kaczmarek

    Get China fully on board and reaching a billion will will seem like old news. Is there a way to normalize all of this for the year in which the platform was introduced. What is the percent of the market at the time of introduction or after the ten years? There was an interesting talk posted on TED that showed data, e.g., total military budget .vs. GDP, that illustrated the importance of normalizing data properly. (By the way, I am always skeptical about the movie industry announcing new records in gross box office dollars.)

    • Ideally, the data should be normalized. But choosing on what basis is not so easy. Clearly both population and internet use increased between the early nineties (when AOL was born) and today, however is either of those the right basis? Arguably, the pioneering work of DoCoMo and Netscape laid the foundation for iOS and Android, but again, we can't measure these effects. The reader needs to apply some judgement and decide if 120 million iOS users are as spectacular as 30 million Netscape users.

  • I would be interested to see where HTML5 places on this curve over time. As the cross-platform alternative and an Apple-endorsed standard it could become the #2 application platform behind iOS, displacing Android as a target environment. This would not necessarily alter the Android curve in the short term but could limit the high end of the curve as other underlying operating systems can serve as reasonable replacements.

  • This seems to collect a few hardware and software platforms. Where are the services that are growing into their own little internet-based software platform? I would love to see Google, Facebook, and other internet services on this graph.

    Another independent variable that's missing is total world population. Believe it or not, we're growing very quickly on planet Earth the past twenty years, and I have a feeling these are all somewhat dependent variables. Fixing these would put stuff into context of time.

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