The Android (in)adequacy: How to tell if a platform is good enough

About 10 years ago I met an advertising executive in New York who explained the difficulty of advertising a new brand of deodorant to consumers. “Most people never change their deodorant,” I remember him saying. “They pick one brand when they are young, and stick with it for a long, long time. If it works, why switch?”

The same theory can be applied to customers who are making the switch to smartphones today. Once they have picked a type of phone, whether it’s Apple iOS, Google Android or something else, it’s difficult, and often expensive, to switch. Consumers become comfortable with the interface and design of the phone and the apps they have purchased on that platform. If it works, why switch?

Many Smartphone Customers Are Still Up for Grabs –

This quote says a lot. The notion that customers remain captive to a platform is well understood. After all, it seems impossible to get people to switch out of Windows (or Mac or iPod). Platform vendors are aware of this as the land grab for users seems to be running at full pitch.

However, there is a critical condition described in the quote above: “If it works, why switch?”  The condition which keeps users loyal is that the product they chose is good enough–i.e. “it works.” That’s a symptom of over-service and commoditization. If a product, like deodorant, is good enough you won’t be tempted to move to another brand even if it’s marginally better since the new brand has switching costs in the form of uncertainties (“Will it be as good? What if I don’t like the smell? etc.) People are inherently conservative and you can’t compete with comfort and familiarity by launching a marginally better product.

So with that in mind, why is it that millions are switching mobile platforms?In this blog I’ve cataloged the massive shifts occurring away from mobile platforms that have been around for years with deeply entrenched user bases. Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, Nokia’s Symbian, Palm’s PalmOS and RIM’s Blackberry have collectively lost tens of millions of users. A net of half a million Blackberries are being abandoned in the US every month.

So we would need to say that the condition of “it works” or being good enough was not met with those platforms. The attraction of something better is clearly greater than the switching cost.

So this highlights a good test for how to tell if smartphones are good enough: If users are fiercely loyal with a given platform then it’s probably good enough but if they are willing to switch (i.e. disloyal) then it’s probably not good enough. It seems like a trivial observation but it’s a very important clue to the bigger question of whether we can “call the end” of the market. Just like it would have been premature to call the end in 2006 when Symbian and RIM seemed unbeatable, it will seem premature to call the end now in the event that a significant innovation is yet to appear.

The correct calling of the end has profound investment implications. Do you (like Microsoft) invest billions in a new platform if you know that there is no more room for entrants? Should Samsung bother with Bada or HP with WebOS if the game is already over? Even more, should Apple even bother to improve iOS if they have no shot at switching a billion likely Android adopters. Why not just nurture the current installed base and work on building walls and moats around them?

So with this hypothesis in mind, it makes sense to analyze whether Android or iOS, the current presumed champions, are “good enough” on the basis of how often users switch out of them. My bet is that neither is good enough and that there will be increasing churn between platforms. I imagine that Android is less sticky (and hence less than good enough) based on app consumption but there is little evidence of churn because most phones in use have been bought less than one device generation ago. More importantly, there have been few opportunities yet for switching as many Android buyers don’t even have the choice of other platforms either due to where they live or how much income they have available.

To really tell where we stand, we would need to collect stats on switchers to know just how satisfactory the platforms may be. Remember that a choice of a new deodorant on the same shelf at nearly the same price is the test for loyalty. For an adequacy test we need to see better distribution and more choices for consumers. It’s still very early even in the US for any conclusions to be drawn about the adequacy of Android.

  • Fred

    The Apple ecosystem is more sticky than that of Android due to the hardware – iPods for kids, iPhones and iPads for parents, the sunk cost in hardware is too great to consider leaving for another incompatible platform.

    Not so with Android, where tablets and the hardware ecosystem is very immature and relatively unpopular, and even those Symbian users that would have slowly migrated away to other platforms, they broke into a mad dash once Elop announced the death of Symbian and those former Nokia customers don't seem particularly interested in WP7 (who does?) but instead traded up to iPhone and Android. Maybe some of the latter will come back in the not too distant future (when their current contracts expire) but most of the former will certainly not.

    The tablet as a companion device is a great innovation, as it cements the relationship between the consumer and the ecosystem – leaving the ecosystem means throwing away this substantial investment. The trouble is, the only company with a successful tablet solution is Apple – Android, RIM and HP are all floundering, and Microsoft are not even in the tablet game. This means that WP7 really is the least "sticky" of the current platform/ecosystems and will remain so for a long time to come – cheap apps (most of which are crap) are unlikely to keep consumers, but sunk hardware costs will.

    • Jerrell G.

      Not to skip your entire idea and focus on a single point, but why do so many people harp on the crap in the app store? I've seen this more sand more lately arriving with the news of 100,000 iPad apps and I just don't understand the critique. Isnt the ration of quality to quantity generally the same across all platforms?

      I know I've seen games for the xbox, playstation, wii, and even general computer programs for the Mac that are outweighed by their crap but lauded for their quality software. Why is iOS different? And why wouldn't the same adherence rate for those systems because of their quality programs not apply to this ecosystem?

      One theory I have is that we aren't used to having all of our software readily listed for us to be compared, rated and critiqued. I think that if the entire xbox software line up (not even including the indie games" were laid out right in front of someone, the ratio would be similar to what we find in the app store.

      • The answer to that question is no. If you've ever been to a country where choices are limited, but the same basic products are all represented, it might seem to you that the ratio is basically the same so the needs everyone can be met. This is true. BUT, if you come from a perspective known well to people like Malcolm Gladwell, you know that not everyone wants to have the same kind of experience. In Gladwell's example, people want a variety of styles to choose from. In an app store with 5000 apps, you might have one or two different ways of accomplishing almost any task/game/whatever. In a store with 300,000 apps, you have a myriad of choices of experience for any activity you might choose. While you CAN accomplish photo sharing with one or two apps, being able to accomplish it with one of 20 apps that might fit your specific needs, usage style, etc is a much better choice.

      • If you want to be scientific about it*, it's 10/90 cream to crap. This is not based on any evidence, merely the 10/90 rule. If convenient, apply the rule as fact, "It's a well known fact that 90% of everything is crap."

        I'm not suggesting that you should be intellectually dishonest, just that you needn't waste time on handwavers claiming most apps in the iTunes app store are shite.

        *Not really scientific.

      • asymco

        The value of a large catalog is not in the specific choices but in the potential for experimentation. Consider the Internet. Nobody bothers to count web sites but we can be sure that if there is something interesting in the world today you can find it on the internet. So the large numbers signal that "there's an app for anything" and as a consumer you don't feel there are any limits. It also means that there are experiments going on and something extraordinary could emerge.

        I also fear that you are equating apps with Applications or Games. Apps are something completely different.

      • Could you go into the differences between Apps and Applications? Or if you've covered that already, could you direct me to the post? Thanks!

      • Since Horace hasn't answered yet, I'll take a crack at filling this in.

        I believe the primary difference is that Apps are treated more like content.

        1. They are cheaper, encouraging users to shop, experiment and delete.
        2. They focus on a small task, instead of a whole project
        3. Their use case is often to fill in the user's empty time

      • asymco

        Yes, thanks for answering first. Apps are a new medium. They are functional, but their functionality frequently serves a whimsical purpose, for example entertainment in niches of time. I won't give a complete definition here but perhaps you can imagine the difference as the same between calling twitter a “microblogging” service or calling it a new form of communication. Technically, twitter is a blogging service, but its constraints have made it into a different phenomenon altogether.Likewise with YouTube. It's a place to upload and share videos but it's generated a new type of content and new business models for producers. In the 60's the meme of “the media is the message” was born. Now perhaps the saying should be “the technology is the media is the message”?

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      I don't think the hardware has anything to do with it, because it always wears out and has to be replaced. So the switching is going to happen between hardware generations. I have an iPhone 3GS that is 2 years old, so pretty soon I am going to buy a new phone, and it will cost be $199 for an iPhone 4 or $199 for various Android phones. So the cost of switching hardware is $0.

      The reason I am going to buy an iPhone again this time is that Apple has trained me to expect my phone to be able to run a multitrack recording studio (FourTrack), and world class presentations client (Keynote) and many other things that an Android phone simply can't do. They've trained me to expect the interface to whiz around and the battery to last a long time and the 3rd party apps to be malware-free. I'm spoiled for other phones.

      • You have a point.

        I have, as many others as well, used WinCE, Palm and BB OSes. I did make investment in software for each platform, but that wasn't enough money to prevent me from jumping to another platform, mainly because there wasn't enough choice.

        With iOS, things are different. Since there is no dearth of SW, I have invested a lot. Even though most of my apps are free, the ones I use most, and feel safe about, are the ones I've paid for. In addition, the UI of these apps is much better than the ones I've used previously on other OSes. Also, many apps are Universal, working with both the iPad and the iPhone, so I have continuity. These are powerful reasons for me to stick with iOS.

      • George Slusher

        "I don't think the hardware has anything to do with it, because it always wears out and has to be replaced."

        How does an iPhone "wear out" in 2 years? Does the touch screen stop working? Does the backlighting fail? Does the memory stop remembering? I ask because I have a Palm TX that is a LOT older than 2 years and it still works. Even the battery still holds a charge reasonably well. There are a couple of points where the digitizer doesn't work reliably, but the TX uses a pressure-sensitive screen, not a capacitive screen like the iPhone.

      • asymco

        For one thing, software updates tend to orphan older devices. Another thing is that these are personal devices and are subject to a lot more wear and tear than a desktop. Buttons stop working, they get dropped, screens crack, they are lost and eventually the battery loses charging capacity. Although the iPhone is a fairly robust, the pace of improvements in devices implies they are not kept in use more than 3 years.

      • asymco

        I should also mention that the same is true for laptops. They have a shorter life than desktops.

  • How many handset manufacturers are making a handset they were making in 2007? I'm not an android user but it seems to me from the outside of that market that the turnover of new handset models is pretty furious. If I wanted to switch to a new version of the same HTC android handset that I found met my needs… could I?

    Also, how easy would it be to sync up my old data with a new phone. This is easy with an iPhone and iTunes (and even easier now with iCloud and cordless syncing) but i don't get the impression it's quite so easy on any android device.

    These considerations make each new purchase a decision point for every Android user. Not so much for every iPhone user.

    • asymco

      Fragmentation makes staying within the same platform (but perhaps switching devices) as expensive as switching to another platform. To extend the deodorant analogy, it's like changing the packaging, applicator and perhaps even scent and brand every few months. If you do that there is no "familiarity" and no comfort with the product.

      • I remember an advertising class that I took once that hammered away on the point that it takes a long time for an advertising campaign to secure itself in the customer' minds. It argued that a corporate logo ought never be changed radically because it was a sign of trust that customers could grab onto.

        How much more so with something so personal as one's phone.

      • name99

        We see this in the context of the Apple-Samsung lawsuit.

        The issue here (IMHO) is NOT that Apple has taken "obvious" icons and insisted they are Apple's alone. The issue is that, in SO MANY cases, icons are not obvious — look at the BT icon, the WiFi icon, the iOS Settings icon, even the iOS Camera icon.

        The difference is that Apple methodically and consistently uses the same visual language across all its product, across time. Samsung (like Sony, like HTC, like Nokia, like Canon) uses a random visual language (and UI language) that varies within a single model of phone, let alone across models, and across years. I have no idea WHY these companies operate this way —maybe, as Jobs said in a different context, it reflects the fact that their management have absolutely no sense of taste. But the consequences are that no-one picks up a Samsung phone with an expectation that it should look a certain and behave a certain way; and few people feel that they'll repeat an experience they liked if they buy another version of the phone.

        It wouldn't surprise if Samsung are actually baffled internally that Apple were so hostile to their "homage". For all I know, they weren't even explicitly thinking "iPhone is doing well, let's copy them from now on". Rather the thinking was "what random collection of misfit UI should we slap together on this phone? [Do a web search…] OK, let's grab some of those Apple icons, they look OK."
        They don't understand what they did wrong because they do not understand the very concept of a visual design language and its consistency.

      • Out here in Asia, Samsung has the reputation of copying everyone's designs and then trying to undercut them on pricing. I'm sure that they weren't "baffled", but I would say that it's built into their culture. They are really good at being a fast follower in the hardware space.

      • davel

        If you care about User Interface then the elements you note from Apple will be universal and consistent. Companies that don't care about UI ( almost everyone else ) are haphazard. You want an interface to be clean, simple and consistent. Most people do not get that. It is too loosey goosey. Most dismiss it as irrelevant and a waste of time.

    • "Also, how easy would it be to sync up my old data with a new phone. This is easy with an iPhone and iTunes (and even easier now with iCloud and cordless syncing) but i don't get the impression it's quite so easy on any android device."

      I think this is actually easier with Android (at least until iOS 5 ships) since the phone ties into your Google account. Just log in on a new phone and your contacts, calendars, etc. are already there. iCloud, however, will do the same but will also give you access to music, your last 1000 photos, etc. which I don't think Android devices do (someone correct me if I'm wrong).

      • name99

        "I think this is actually easier with Android (at least until iOS 5 ships) since the phone ties into your Google account."

        We've been through this before. Google syncs "all" you data automatically for some special meaning of all unlike the normal English meaning.

        The Android fans think it doesn't matter that that large amounts of material (eg app prefs, files on the SD card, etc) aren't synced, generally with arguments along the lines of "I want to set up apps on the new phone in a way that best matches the new phone" and "I'll just swap the SD card from one phone to the next". The extent to which you think this is an acceptable answer (eg what if your SD card is lost/stolen) is up to you.

        On the third hand, there ARE backup apps in Android marketplace that claim to save your entire state and then restore it. Do they work as seamlessly as iOS transfer from one device to another?
        Especially in real world circumstances where the phone you were using was Android 2.1 on Samsung and you're switching to Android 3.3 on HTC?
        Who knows?

        Certainly, however, it seems to me wrong to state that the problem (as described — sync old phone to new) is better handled on Android.

        It IS the case that (until iOS5 ships) the DIFFERENT problem of "keep my two Android devices in sync" is better solved on Android for a particular subset of your data (including things like contacts and calendar). This Android subset is of vital interest to some people and of extremely little interest to other people — hence some rather ludicrous screaming matches about how great it is/isn't.

      • "I want to set up apps on the new phone in a way that best matches the new phone"

        I see this as a big negative. Ideally, the phone should conform to the user's needs, not the other way around. I'm not sure if Apple is better in this regard (it's Steve's way or the highway is a common complaint).

      • Users don't know what they need.

      • Hi Steve!

      • t'sup

  • praev

    I don't think comparing deodorants to smartphones is very apt. How much innovation is going on in the deodorant space vs the improvements being made in the smartphone game. No one is switching deodorant brands because they pretty do the same things, until there are big breakthroughs in deodorants it's going to be end of market. Not so with Apple vs. Android, and smartphone tech.

    • FalKirk

      @praev: I think the article is pointing out the DISSIMILARITY between deodorants and smartphones. Deodorants are "good enough". That makes the switching costs too high. Smartphones are not (yet) "good enough". When a product is unsatisfactory and the cost of staying with what we have is greater than the cost of switching, then we switch. (Or, at least, we're open to the possibility of switching.)

      • Another factor in the dissimilarity is that buying deodorants is so trivial that we just grab what we usually buy. It's not worth the time to make a decision. Again, what we are used to is good enough and the price is cheap, so why expend any thought on it? Phones on the other hand are much more expensive, so people might put a lot more thought into which phone is best. Of course, such decision-making can be agonizing, so some will buy a phone based on friends' recommendations, on what is popular, or even on the last advertisement they remember seeing.

      • The agony of the situation is a good sign that Android and iOS are well differentiated. Compare that to the average user buying a PC. Outside of HP, I don't think they see a difference between other manufacturers.

    • I think you missed the point of the comparison, although you included the point in your own comment.

  • In the pre-apps/pre-Apple world, switching platform or device was relatively easy. Mobile phones and smart phones were primarily communication devices and stickiness was mainly driven by inertia, brand and probably the phonebook.

    But the app economy has changed that. Investing in apps for a certain platform makes users continue with the same platform. The next level of stickiness is represented by the ecosystem, in a more wider sense than the app ecosystem. Apple gives us an example, with the iCloud and iOS. If you are part of the Apple ecosystem your devices are seamlessly synchronized using the cloud, and you can nicely stream content between them.

    If your devices are part of one ecosystem your experience is great, if they are not, you may not have those experiences or eventually have degraded/fragmented experiences.
    More and more this is a battle of ecosystems and the different platforms are creating switching barriers.

    For a platform is certainly very important and essential to be good but probably it just needs to be good enough to retain customers if its ecosystem is competitive. Once customers invest in one ecosystem they are less likely to switch.
    The nurturing and growth of the platform ecosystem is the next step to customer loyalty.

    • FalKirk

      "Investing in apps for a certain platform makes users continue with the same platform."-cdelrosso

      I used to think that. But Apps haven't seemed to provide the "lock-in" that I expected. Perhaps it is because Apps are so inexpensive. Perhaps it is because the App library is growing and changing so rapidly that the Apps we own quickly become obsolete. Perhaps it is because no "killer App", which runs on only one platform has emerged. Or perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps there is App lock-in.

      In any case, I'd like to see some objective data on this, one way or the other. Subjective evidence is insufficient.

      • I agree with what you said. Probably a better wording is that apps are becoming an hygiene factor. In order to compete, a platform has to have a strong base of "must have" essential apps. After that, you do not acquire a competitive advantage. That´s the need for the next wave of ecosystem "lock in".

      • Not quite getting the hygiene factor. All that comes to mind is that "Cleanliness is next to Jobsliness."

  • davesmall

    If you are an Apple customer, iCloud will bind you even closer to their ecosystem. Your Mac or PC will automatically sync songs, media, calendar, contacts, emails, and documents between your computer(s) and your iOS devices (iPods, iPads, iPhones). This will be automatic without the need for the user to do a thing.

    Contrast that with what happens when a customer has a mixed system such as a Zune, a Windows desktop, a Chromebook, a Blackberry smart phone, and an HP tablet. Keeping those incompatible systems in sync would require the user to be a geek at best, or to employ a systems administrator at worst.

    As we move forward, the smartest customers will first select the ecosystem and then purchase devices that work within that ecosystem.

    • FalKirk

      "…iCloud will bind you even closer to their ecosystem…"-Davesmall

      Agreed. I don't think that the pundits have picked up on this yet. Apple has been selling their products through vertical integration. They provide the retail outlets. They provide the tightly integrated hardware/software combination. They provide the content via iTunes, the App Store and the Mac App store. When you buy an Apple product, you immediately get their ecosystem from top to bottom.

      Now Apple is binding it's products together horizontally. Your iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV (which means your home's large screen TV) will all seamlessly share content via AirPlay. But more importantly, all of your Apple devices will carry the same content no matter which device you use to edit that content, no matter which device you use to access that content. Your contacts, calendar, email, applications, books, backups, documents, photos and music will always be there for you – they'll be there for you, that is, so long as your using an Apple device.

      With iCloud, if you own one Apple device, you're going to want to own another. And another. And another. And, YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO WANT TO LEAVE. Because you won't be leaving your device. You'll be leaving your content.

      • Walt French

        Yes, this looks about right. If I ran Apple marketing, I'd be gearing up about how this is the new internet, with YOU and your control over YOUR stuff, at the heart of it. Yes, empowerment sounds a lot like lock-in, but it might be true anyway.
        And I likewise see more efforts to make Google your portal to the internet, whether that portal is Android, with built-in Google+ and nifty apps from Google that work best or only on Certified Real Android Phones; ChromeBooks, with its constantly-being-updated-automatically browser, into which Google features are integrated, while Google.Com search or other browser portals into its services are the gateway drugs.

      • dave


        If Apple executes iCloud is huge.

        The pundits and the analysts either miss the point or are being coy right now.

      • That's a good point. Execution is what will matter. On one hand, we have Apple's well known emphasis on fit and finish. On the other hand, Apple has a poor-to-middlin' track record in this area: mobileme, eWorld, .mac, etc. The point is that Apple has never been best of breed in online services for the consumer.

        I'd give good odds that Apple will get it right, but it's not a done deal.

      • famousringo

        Apple's history in online services is not that clear-cut. There's Ping, then there's the iTunes Music Store. There's .Mac, and there's the App Store.

        It seems to me that the difference is in whether the online service is a flagship or a "hobby." iCloud is obviously a flagship service.

      • davel


        Ping, MobileMe and others were abject failures. Hosting email and social has never been an Apple strength. The vision provide by Mr. Jobs was sound. I think it works. I think the pieces and how they tie together is a compelling environment. They fact that it is free is great. Apple does not have to make money in this. iCloud is infrastructure to compel buyers to get more shiny Apple toys.

        Both Apple and Google are going against their strengths now. They have to fight off each other and FaceBook.

      • Jet

        The biggest reason MobileMe tanked was that it cost money in an era when email (+etc) service was given away for free, and not only that, mobileme's free competitors were better. You can only charge for something when it's dramatically better than the free alternative. The moment I saw that mobileme was "anything but free", I knew it was doomed.

        That's what's going to make the difference with iCloud. Not only is it free, but (like gmail) it's free AND does something no one else has been willing to sacrifice the server space for (remember, gmail offered unlimited storage in an era when email topped out at 15mb of storage for their nearest competitor).

    • LM, Aust

      That argument is only valid now and not for the previous four years.

      Also, if I told my wife to buy i/Droid for the ecosystem and not the fancy phone, she'd give me a look that says 'Whatchoo talkin' bout Willis?' Ecosystem selling points are for nerds, not consumers. The benefits of iCloud will filter down to regular folk, but it will take time. We bought our iPhones as they were best of breed, not cos of MobMe or vapourware.

      MS' Windows Mobile ecosystem will get there eventually, look at what they've done with the XBOX 360.

      • Best of breed hardware but I bet the wife looked at the wide choice in cases, etc. (the ecosystem) and that had an influence – Might not have worked if "you'd" have decided to try to push android on her. It'd have been "Whatchhoo talkin' bout Willis, there aren't any good cases for that thang" 😉

  • poke

    The interesting thing about Apple and Android is that the distribution models are different. Apple is trying to sell directly to consumers through its own retail channels and give them a choice of carriers. Android is a way for incumbents reliant on the old model (where the consumer picks a carrier and the carrier gives them a choice of phones) to apparently match Apple feature for feature. But, of course, Android doesn't match Apple's distribution model and the distribution model might be a feature in itself. The Apple model might appeal to costumers on its own and arguably it is actually tied to the other features of the iPhone – that it's a mobile device before it's a phone, that it co-exists with other mobile devices, etc.

    So the question is, What value does this have for customers and could it be a defining feature for them? Could it be the reason to choose an iPhone? And secondly, Could some of the differences we're seeing in the behaviour of Apple and Android users (i.e., the relatively lacklustre performance of the Android Market compared to the App Store) be explained by the fact that Apple's customers are moving to this new model (where they buy a mobile device from an Apple store) whereas Android customers are sticking with the old model (where they buy a plan from their carrier and choose a phone to go with it)? The two different approaches could lead to different mental models when it comes to using the device.

    Now, right now, Apple's model is only marginally different. It has its own retail channels, it controls the branding of its devices, it controls the advertising and marketing, it doesn't allow carrier customisation, etc. They have FaceTime and will add iMessage soon. All these things make the iPhone more like a device sold directly to customers than like a regular phone. But there's clearly more that can be done and it's been clear since the original iPhone was released that Apple's goal is to wrest as much control from the hands of the carriers as possible. If Apple makes more moves in this direction it's difficult to see how Android could ever match them. If the new distribution model is taken to be a feature, can Android ever be good enough?

  • Walt French

    Many people of my generation, anyway, identify with their cars, only buy GM or Honda. Switching costs, pretty near zero given how generic dealerships and salespeople are. People ARE sticky but might move just for fashion or curiosity. “Good enough” is only part of it: if Apple didn't have the knocks against it for being “closed” and disallowing tethering or other geeky freedoms, many currently-now Android types could just try iOS. As many Apple types who hear enough good things about flexibility of Android might.

    To date, Android has strongly emphasized generic, browser-based services, for which switching costs are zero. I suspect that's the reason for the much greater emphasis on Android, Google+, ChromeBooks, etc. be a portal to everything. (Ads are, of course, one of the things you want!) I'll be surprised if Google+ isn't a default feature in Android 4.0

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      Cars are a bad example because all cars still suck. They are way, way behind smartphones in the state of their evolution. Any car with a tailpipe is just as bad as any other. People just buy the one in their price range that is the easiest to purchase, or which had marketing that appealed to them. If somebody brought a car to market that was as revolutionary as iPhone, then people would switch wholesale. You can already see that in a limited way if you look at how the richest people in Silicon Valley all switched to Teslas. The difference between a Tesla and almost any other car is much, much greater than the difference between any 2 typical cars. All-electric and zero emissions gave users a reason to switch.

    • Fandroids vs fanbois is awfully reminiscent of Ford vs Chevy, isn't it? And I have never heard of any murders coming from the Apple/Google rivalry.

  • lrd

    Apple, Microsoft & RIM have a relative simple task at hand- weaken the mass producers of Android phones to the point of 1st lower quality and then out of business. Motorola is weakened to the point that one bad lawsuit result or a poor decision to put out a substandard product, like the Xoom, can weaken it enough to send it to bankruptcy in three or four quarters. Samsung, on the other hand, has seen profits decline 30% recently and too is under patent infringement attack by Apple to name the most prominent.

    If we can weaken the latter two, we can cause a whole lot of mis-confidence in Android to the point that the platform could fall apart.

    • Marcos El Malo

      Who is "we", pale face?

      [From a joke about the Lone Ranger: The Lone Ranger and Tonto are surrounded by bloodthirsty Indians, (brigands, cattlerustlers, whatever). The Lone Ranger turns to his faithful Indian companion Tonto and says, "We're in a tight spot, old chum. What do you think we should do?"

      To which Tonto replied, "What do you mean by "we", pale face?"]

      I come to this blog to get insights into the rapidly changing world of mobile business. I don't come to hear cheerleading.

      • Waveney

        The joke only works if they are surrounded by native North Americans so the 'we' has extra meaning in context.
        But I do agree about the cheerleading being misplaced.

  • Niilolainen

    One of your best

  • So here's what we have so far (Horace's post and comments) since it's a little too involved to keep in our heads…

    To measure and MAP the fluidity and churn of the marketplace we would have to at least track…

    • influence of peers (e.g. wanting something a friend gushes about and seems significantly better)
    • investment lock-in (cost of hardware, cost of content, cost of apps, and mental cost of learning curve)
    • extent and influence of ecosystems (e.g. pc/phone synced apps, ease/confidence of purchase)
    • dissatisfaction with carrier (e.g. billing practices, complexity, dropped calls) causing one to shop anew
    • support (spanning from no one around to help you, to popping into the nearby Apple Store for a sec)
    • pleasure/fun vs. pain/frustration experienced with one's device(s)
    • dependencies on subscriptions to content (magazines, podcasts, etc)
    • "allure" of the platform and it's advertising to entice first timers. (why vs. what)
    • non-homogeneity of customers (some care only about social, others content, others games)

    And many of these smear with each other and aren't that discrete, but perhaps different enough to list separately. And what Apple is doing with AirPlay, for instance, is in a class by itself with no peer as of yet. So there are outlier factors, as well.

    One thing we can say is that the different competitors are (or should be) trying to "optimize" all these factors, or position themselves to put some of these in place to further attract and lock in customers.

    It's complicated and sooo fascinating. And so easy to discuss inadequately in the tech blogs (except here!)

    • Several of the components you list could fall under the rubric of branding (peer influence, allure), and Branding is key to securing . . . Brand loyalty. (Yes, I am a genius!)

      Anyway, that's an interesting breakdown; thanks for taking the time to do it. The carrier dissatisfaction component seems to me to be an intersecting problem to analyze, complicating it. In the U.S., we have number portability*, but two year contracts predominate (and probably have a lot of effect on churn). In other countries, different policies and practices regarding number portability are going to impact customer turnover, which will have an effect on switching telecom providers. I can't imagine waiting more than a day for a number to port. Apparently the wait can be as high as two months in some countries.

      • Good catch. And because you replied I can't go back and edit my post, so we can add yours and another that I forgot (and something I notice but don't hear anyone else discuss).

        • brand loyalty (which Marcos mentions and Walt French alluded to)
        • inherent "dynamic range" of platform (ability to do more with less effort by a wider range of people)

        We will have to wait for the test of time but I get the strong feeling that WP7 has so much style that it has a narrower "dynamic range" since it takes some getting used to (yes, it's cool) but it may have a lower ceiling because of how things will be organized differently by both Microsoft and the user. We'll see. They may have a solution. But at the present time, babies and grandmas may have a little more trouble with WP7 than iOS.

    • Childermass

      It's great to have a way of tracking what may be the end game of this market, but I have to confess that I'm still thinking about how people choose their system in the first place.

      The stickiness of retention can only come after a choice has been made about adoption and the biggest bit of this market still seems to be about adoption.

      My start point would be to distinguish between leavers and joiners. Those who are giving up on something and are looking for a (any) replacement and those who get the new something because they want it.

      Leavers are obviously just plain unhappy. In this group peer-pressure, fashion, word-of-mouth and follow-my -leader behaviours will all play a big role. Probably far more than technical specifications. It seems logical that the second group, joiners, will be more interested in technical specifications, but the other social forces will still be very strong.

      The leavers, having decided to leave, then have a new problem: what to buy? This group will be heavily influenced by the sales and marketing the OEMs use and, to a lesser extent, that the OS suppliers use. They don't know what they really want, only not what they had, so the sweet deals and slick talk will have greater leverage.

      This process must be a key driver in the ensuing likelihood of them sticking with what they have, either by OEM or OS.

      So I would ask Mark H to add 'why they bought it in the first place' to the top of his list of variables.

  • Forget about #1 and #2 … what about #3. Has Microsoft become the best third place option in the smartphone universe?

    There are almost always three positions in these markets … the dominant, "cool" position for people without budgets, the second-best value position for people where price matters … and the third, up-and-coming third position for early adopters of the next big thing OR some other unique advantage.

    The third position is always the interesting one … it where Apple WAS not all that long ago when desktops were all that mattered … remember, when it was mostly just Windows and Linux pcs and laptops … and, way back there, where nobody was paying attention, a few Mac users, mostly design-types? They were back, steadily working away on their Macs, zealously clinging to outsider self-images inspired by that 1984 Super Bowl commercial.

    Now Apple has dominant reputation in smart phones; it's the pricing leader. Android has the value reputation; it's more of a pricing follower but it [still] has more share. Apple and Android serve different market segments. Neither can really destroy the other's position … both sort of need the other.

    The interesting segment is the battle for the third position … even though the numbers are smaller; it's about who might challenge #1 or #2 … in the third position for smartphones, it's not so much about apps … apps do matter, but app developers will follow where they think the users will be in the future. It's really about the cloud or what else the phone offers … that's why RIM and Nokia look like they are history because they don't offer something more than the phone, a web browser and a few apps .. they have. nothing special to match up with iCloud / iTunes OR Google+ / Maps / GooglePlex … RIM and Nokia do not leverage Big Data.

    This cast Microsoft WindowsPhone7 as the up-and-coming third option … the one that might offer something more. But what? Are Skype/Azure and other things that might integrate with Windows desktops enough? Are there enough dinosaurs / dinosaur companies out there who want to edit their Microsoft Office documents on their smartphone? One should never underestimate the power of inertia, but … it seems like there should be more.

    What about Facebook? What about Amazon / AWS? Does somebody else have a viable candidate for third place? Is Microsoft the best third option?

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      Apple was never in 3rd place in PC's. By volume, Linux has always been the smallest platform.

    • davel

      To follow up on the above linux was never in the race, at least at the user level.

      companies were risk averse because linux was unix and they already moved away from unix. consumer just don't understand linux and the upgrade path for linux was terrible.

      but your third place point has merit. i have read a lot of good things about win 7 mobile. if nokia can put out some solid hardware and others ( like htc ) can roll out their versions, microsoft has a chance to make some noise like they do with bing.

      • Just you wait, you guys! "The Year of Linux on the Desktop" will surely be 2012! 😀

    • Waveney

      ' One should never underestimate the power of inertia, but …'
      Point taken, but perhaps we should be also asking- is it sticky? I would argue that Windows wasn't really sticky but possessed greater inertia potential than other platforms particularly in business(and still does) due mostly to a lack of innovation in the PC world. I would also argue that IOS is far stickier than Android as a platform due to it's broader integration across Apple's products and services which offer a more consistent experience. Android will always suffer in this regard since they don't control all aspects of the Android experience. Inertia in the mobile world is almost impossible with the current rate of development in both soft- and hardware. MS has the potential to replicate Apple's stickiness with WP7 and become the default 3rd option.
      Execution is the big question in this case

  • RobDK

    An important aspect to remember is that In many markets Android is sold without the Android name being used. Here In Denmark all HTC android phones are sold and marketed without the android name and logo.

    If most android purchasers do not know it is android, it is difficult to have a sticky brand…

    • asymco

      Android is a trademark of Google. You can get the Android code for free but using the name (and many of the apps and marketplace) requires licensing. Vendors may pick and choose from these options, but how is consistency maintained for the user? Imagine if Windows was sold the same way. In some PCs it is branded, in others it isn't. You have some features in some but not in others. Would Windows have become dominant under these conditions?

      • This might be stretching it, but MS did have problems with what we could call "Marketing Fragmentation" of Windows at one point. Consumers were confused by the many versions of Windows available. I think there were 7 different "editions" of XP.

  • melgross

    I recall a survey done sometime last year. According to that, stickiness for iOS phones was 89%, that of Android, 73%, and for the Blackberry, 44%. Those numbers were for owners of phones on each platform who planned to get another phone on the platform when they bought a new phone.

  • vangrieg

    Here's your answer, sort of:,1871,iid=29805

    Granted, there are serious doubts about whether the sample is representative, methodology etc. etc., but it does explain market dynamics rather well. Android isn't "sticky enought", it needs improvements in experience department, iOS is doing fine and isn't going to see significant churn anytime soon, and WP7 needs more "apps" and going beyond AT&T, but most importantly it needs to grab users one way or another. It CAN do so at the expense of Android, for sure, the latter has many possible defectors, but it's not going to be easy. And fragmentation and inconsistent quality ARE real problems for Google.

    • davel

      this is interesting.

      i notice iphone call quality is low in all the charts. i wonder if apple is just weaker than the others in making calls or if it is att. i am assuming this is a usa survey.

      • vangrieg

        From my personal experience outside the US, it's considerably weaker, at least as far as the GSM version is concerned. AT&T drags down reception quality scores for all platforms, which especially affects Windows Phone, by the way, because at the time of the poll only AT&T had sufficient number of respondents.

      • It's the consumers' fault for not holding the iPhone in the correct way! And all phones have problems with their antennas! 😀

  • Jameskatt

    I just had an Aha moment.

    Android is much less sticky than Apple iOS because consumers are far less willing to invest any money on Android apps than iOS apps.

    This is because once you spend a lot of money on apps, you will tend to stay with that platform. That platform is good enough to invest your hard earned cash in.

    • Andrew


      Seems pretty obvious to me. Every Windows user who has bought a Mac has had to figure the cost of abandoning or re-purchasing their apps. For me getting an iPhone meant abandoning my Palm and the PalmOS apps I had bought. Now I have apps for my iPhone and iPad that I have paid for, changing to something else will be a major investment.

      The more I have invested, the less likely I am to change, unless there's a major shift, such as when OS X replaced 9 or when Vista made XP apps unworkable. If I only have a stock Android phone and a few free apps, I have nothing to lose by switching to WP7 or iOS …..

      • James Katt

        Andrew, that is not the point. It is NOT about being trapped on a platform. My point happens BEFORE purchasing a platform.

        The point is:

        Even BEFORE purchasing an iPhone, people are WILLING TO INVEST money on apps for it.

        Even BEFORE purchasing an Android phone, people ARE NOT WILLING TO INVEST money on apps for it.

        People realize that Android is NOT an adequate platform. Thus, they are not willing to trap themselves in Android by purchasing a lot of apps for it.

      • gslusher

        "Even BEFORE purchasing an iPhone, people are WILLING TO INVEST money on apps for it."

        I'd go a step further and guess that people buy an iPhone BECAUSE they want to get apps. They see apps as adding value and are willing to pay for them. As I recall, free apps are a larger portion of downloads for Android apps than for iOS. This could also be partially because a fair number of Android buyers are young males (teens, twenties), who are used to downloading free stuff, like peer-to-peer sharing of music, videos, etc. I'v known a few who scoff at the idea of anyone actually PAYING for content. One said that only an idiot would pay for a DVD or CD or buy music from the iTunes Store or Amazon.

      • davel

        but there are software solutions to run windows side by side with macos or dual boot.

        u dont have to give up windows apps.

      • It's a great benefit of OS X, but too complicated for the average user. It's a minor selling point at best, one small bullet point to overcome objections, but I doubt it's a major factor for most switching from Windows to Mac.

      • addicted44

        I think its a major selling point. Not because many will use it, but for the comfort factor. Basically, consumers think "Well, even if I dont like the mac, I can always switch back to Windows without investing another $1000 on a new laptop". I dont think its a coincidence that mac sales took off when they gained the ability to run Windows natively (i.e. Intel and Bootcamp).

  • davel

    I do not understand the deodorant analogy. Conceptually I do, but since they are cheap what is the deal with switching? You try something else and if you don't like it you go back. It is not like there is any barrier there. It is a few dollars. Perhaps people don't want to change. I understand that, but I do not see anything but emotional bonds to prevent someone from trying something else.

    • Walt French

      “It is not like there is any barrier there.”
      Uhh, I think that’s exactly the point: people can be incredibly resistant to switching. While Horace has put it in marketing terms, there’s recent Nobel Prize work on information costs and their impact on market friction. Employers not able to tell a good candidate will do the job or not. Macys getting a general reputation as “not too expensive” so people knowingly pay more even tho, with a few hours searching, they could save $8 on a pair of shoes.

      WRT the smartphone market, there’s a lot of FUD floating around; some of it is true but possibly irrelevant (thousands of fart or otherwise useless apps); some is subjective (quality of main apps in stores); some is raving paranoia (a suggestion that Jobs would sue his customers). These help to reinforce people staying put.

    • unhinged

      That's the point – there is no barrier to switching because the different products are essentially equivalent – they are "good enough" to do the job.

      Smartphones, on the other hand, are not "good enough" yet and thus there are barriers to switching.

      That's the argument put forth by the article.

      • davel

        yes. read it again,


  • davel

    As for the point in question. People are creatures of habit and do not like to change for one reason or another.

    Apple was successful because they were a game changer and offered something compelling.

    In my mind Android and iOS are substitutes for each other. If the price of one or the other changes enough it can cause consumers to choose one or the other. The interfaces are similar enough as Android has done a good job at copying Apple.

    I have noticed that those waiting for Apple on Verizon got tired and bought an Android phone and love it. They do not want to switch. They are happy with what they have. People I know who have Android will buy another one when the contract is up. Same for iPhone. There are few people I know who want to switch to Android. I know a few people who have waited for Verizon so they can get an iPhone on a carrier that will give them a signal

    • sve

      You are probably correct right now regarding Android people and iOS people sticking with their current type phones. There really is nothing at stake in staying since both camps cover the same needs – today. The future is not so clear to me but the battleground is. Google with their Google+ initiative and Apple iCloud will be battling it out for customer data primacy. Customers will stay with whatever ecosystem they become strongly invested in. History suggests that there will likely be only one leading ecosystem because 2 strong rivals is inefficient for the industry.

      • davel

        yes. i dont know too much about google+ ( terrible name ) – interface desgned by original mac guy hertzfeld.

        i don't understand the winner takes all analogy. to date the phones are still phones. with cloud and hosted apps, does the platform matter as much?

      • Walt French

        “[W]ith cloud and hosted apps, does the platform matter as much?”
        I think that's EXACTLY the scope of the competition now. Google is hoping to gain network from web-hosted apps of its construction, with links out of their scope via paid ads. Apple is encouraging developers to have their own little worlds (twitter, facebook, etc.) all unified by Apple. To the extent that you spend more time in the Google vision, the less you need first-class phone-based apps: just a browser will do, thank you. And the more you like the Apple developers' versions, the less you'll get of the Google juggernaut.

        I recently took a swag that Google gets very roughly $1/week of revenue from every one of roughly a half billion fairly frequent users. Not a bad business, and my share of it was matched to using it to search for a briefcase (not bought), some specialized lightbulbs (scoped out but bought locally), and some other articles; yes I got my $1 worth.

        But I have a hard time understanding how that grows at anything more than the rate at which we spend increasingly more our time with our noses glued to the tiny screen. While developers appreciate not worrying about having months of work rejected capriciously, the spirit of the Googleplex seems to offer developers next to nothing in terms of how they can collectively have a bigger share of revenues. This should exacerbate the contrast between the two models, as there's no incentive to fine-tune the Android apps. You see it already on tablets and it's hard to imagine the growth of the phone apps to support more linkages, connectivity and features.

      • davel

        I agree.

        I think Google's environment benefits them with the ads. From what I have read 3rd parties benefit not so much. Developers are on there because there are so many Android devices and they have to get on or get left out.

        Every qtr Apple makes a big deal of how much revenue its partners take in. That is a powerful statement to its developers. As much as they may hate big brother telling them what to do, it is the most lucrative environment to be in and Apple reminds them of it all the time.

    • Except that the story is also about growth. I'm sure you're right about many early adopters that went with Android because they didn't want to wait for the iPhone on Verizon, but I bet there are many who did wait or who switched as soon as the iPhone became available. I also remember reading stories (or seeing headlines) about the Verizon iPhone boosting corporate adoption.

      I'm not saying you're wrong, just that it's not clear what is really going on.

  • berult

    Android isn't sticky, …a Google account is… whereby the customer stand thin client to Google's servers, hence a watering hole to cash cows and flea herders. Android and its apps market, and eventually Chrome os, along with Google search, port 'in-house'…effortlessly the various consuming auras to the Google experiment.

    The geeks at Google burn a midnight oil refined from pure consumer crude. Android is but one pipeline amongst many, most being of Google-alien proprietary ownership, i.e. IOS/OSX. In the big scheme of things, it is indeed good enough. A cog in a gear system engineered to process consuming practices information and monetize them in one fluid motion to pull further along the navel-gazing Google Experiment.

    There is no goal however a yin can accomplish that a yang couldn't humanize in a heads up experiment.

    As Google moves information from servers-to consumers- to servers, Apple does it human-centric wise: from end users- to servers- to end users. The tinkerers at Apple distill best human interactive practices from clogged up communications and institutionalized impediments. Growing from a human seed to a critical mass of self-sustaining transparency implies a dynamics …mind-bendingly demanding on the creative mind. Focus and unyielding faith in the enlightened side of human nature; a rare metal …a rare mettle …and a grid…, a generic disruption, a reversal of roles in assisted human evolution…

    iOS/OSX as empowering thin client to the probing, networked human mind…

    iOS/OSX as the Lingua Franca of Apple's enfranchisement experiment is building up quite nicely. Good enough for a business model; it stands pretty much alone as a systemic end user hooking/steering mechanism. Not near good enough yet to reverse the tide of endemic consumer alienation, the ever expanding realm of server-side autocratic entanglement.

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    There are low-end and high-end deodorants. Right Guard is at your drug store next to a bunch of other very similar low-end deodorants, and Armani is at the cosmetics counter with other high-end deodorants. The Armani costs 4 times as much as Right Guard, but it lasts 4 times as long, and it's made with ingredients that are much, much healthier for you, and it is made with a fragrance based on a high-end cologne, and it is in a much more attractive form factor that is much more pleasant to use and it has style and fashion and branding and a culture of its own.

    What Apple does is get people to stop buying their deodorant at the drug store (generic tech) and start buying it at the cosmetics counter (Apple Store.) That is the key switch. The user doesn't change from one brand to another; they change from one kind of shopper to another. Once they do that, they are not even seeing Right Guard and Mennen anymore, because they are not even going to the drug store. Instead, they are at the cosmetics counter choosing between Armani and Issey Miyake. You got them to stop just deodorizing and start enhancing their lives with cosmetology and fashion. They aren't going back to the drug store.

  • Android users use deodorant ? 🙂

  • The Apple platform has a blessing and a curse. The blessing is Steve Job's forceful, creative and business genius. The curse is his need to control the platform to the point that at any moment he can kill my app.

    • Let's do the numbers: how many iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch users, hown many apps and how often did Apple kill apps inside a user's device?

    • gslusher

      Consider why Apple might "kill" an app, rather than just take it off the App Store. It would probably be because it was illegal–infringed copyrights, or abetted piracy, for example, they found that it violated their privacy rules, they found out that the developer was engaged in fraud, or the like. Can you give specific examples where YOU have had an app killed?

  • Brenden

    I have a friend who is very smart but cares about different things than I do, and she recently replaced her dying iPhone 3G with a new Windows Phone. I asked her how she made the decision, she basically said that it was cheap ($50) and good enough. She had a bunch of apps on her iPhone that she did like and use, but they weren't worth the $150 difference in price between the phone she got and an iPhone 4.

    There was no point mentioning to her that the $150 she saved was a small sum compared to what she'd be paying for service. I think she figured a $50 3GS would not as good as the new phone she got, since the 3GS model is almost as old (and looks the same) as the phone she was replacing.

    This example seems a bit different from what Horace is talking about, but I think it's interesting to consider, especially since I think she's probably more of a typical consumer than anyone reading Asymco. Her old phone would have been "good enough" if the battery hadn't died, and an iPhone 4 would have been "good enough" if it had been cheaper, but it all came down to price. I think another motivation for switching is that uninformed people such as my friend are inclined to equate the current platform with their old phone rather than the latest iteration, so in her mind she was probably comparing the new phone to her 3G rather than an iPhone 4 with the latest OS, and the new phone looked pretty good in comparison. In cases like this, having a familiar platform may actually to some degree be a liability for vendors, because the people who know it will most likely know an older version.

  • JJJJ

    The key is the conditional phrase "If it works." "If it works" depends on your definition of "works." With the Iphone, Apple redefined what "works" meant. Then competitors came in and attempted to fit their products to the new definition. So, Apple tries to push its definition of "works" further. For Apple, that means strengthening the Itunes link.
    In the death match, "Mac vs. PC," Macs really didn't begin to gain ground until Office for Mac harmonized with Office for Windows. They still don't play that well together, but well enough.
    When Itunes harmonizes with Google's version of Itunes, then Android has a fighting chance. Right now, the Android-Itunes harmony is discordant, and ICloud is Apple's effort to keep it that way permanently.

  • Client Número Neuf

    Rather than pontificate in front of a computer, why not ask consumers why they switch? You would be suprised by their answers, which are different than your pontifications. Focus groups or depth interviews are simple tools which provide practical insights.

    • berult

      Breed and nurture in-house focus as well as in-house critical thinking and let creative hocus-pocus take care of business. Inward looking development models get you through the metaphorical 'faster horse' dead-end, on to a feasible, practical, alternative 'leap frog' metaphor.

      Explaining success, be it that of Apple or that of Asymco, is bound to make an a postiori pontiff out of an a priori agnostic. The magic of success casts its spell over the lexicon, the grammar, and waning …legacy rhetorics. It's renewal time on the canvas…

  • Allon Freedman

    This is indeed a very interesting post. In the long run, I think it will be important to analyze churn not only between platforms but also within each one.
    The reason is that, in my opinion, churn between platforms won’t be very high (at least in one direction which I’ll explain shortly). First there’s the overhead of learning a new OS but that’s probably negligible as both iOS and Android are very usable (perhaps Windows Phone as well but I don’t know first hand). The major obstacle in switching platforms is most probably how much one has already invested in it – mainly in the form of content (apps) and perhaps also peripherals. Would I really be willing to switch platforms after spending over $50 on apps or even more on accompanying hardware?
    I agree with your observation that in this perspective Android is probably less sticky. There are more free Android apps than iOS apps and iOS users tend to buy more. Therefore I see the Android–>iOS churn being potentially higher than the other direction.
    However, we should also look at churn within each platform. Since iOS isn’t licensed, Apple doesn’t really care if users switch iPods or iPhones as they’re selling both. However Android device vendors are competing both with iOS and other Android device vendors! That makes their life much harder because they have to differentiate themselves from competing companies running the same OS.
    This might drive innovation forward although I doubt it. Android innovation is being driven mainly by Google which means all handset vendors benefit equally. Historically they’ve proven incapable of competing in software (otherwise they wouldn’t have needed Android in the first place) and it seems to me their current tinkering with Android comprises mainly of customizing the UI skins. And with modern smartphones – hardware isn’t enough.
    Therefore, I believe the future churn amongst Android handset vendors will be high unless they manage to build brand loyalty. This is important because it’s unclear how much profit they can generate in such an environment (your charts clearly show that there’s a huge discrepancy between market and profit share in the mobile industry) which will surely have a huge impact on the future of Android and competing platforms.

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