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Day May 13, 2012

Android economics: An introduction

Android has had unprecedented growth. Based on activation announcements, it’s possible to estimate that thus far, about 370 million Android devices have been activated. The total number of devices in use is a lower figure which depends on replacement rate and retirement rate. This total number of devices in use at year end is estimated in the following chart.

I added the blue line which represents what Google had as an internal estimate in mid-2010.[1] The difference between the two lines shows that Android’s growth is far higher than what the company expected.  If the company itself did not expect this growth, it’s unlikely anybody else did either.

Unexpected, exponential user growth is usually accompanied by a dramatic positive improvement in the finances of a company and a higher return to shareholders. The curious aspect of Android’s success is that it has not had an impact on either. The market has not “discounted” the half-billion anticipated Android users into a price for Google shares that reflects this growth. It can only imply that those users are not very valuable.

But why would there be such a disconnect between the number of users and their value?