Android ranked second in the US behind the iPhone for the first time in over a decade. The free and open source operating system, which still powers the majority of the world’s phones, can be found on devices from Samsung, Motorola, and OnePlus. Even when combined with budget brands like TCL, Nokia, and Blu, Android phones just can’t beat the iPhone in the US.
From a global perspective, Apple’s dominance is an anomaly. The United States, Canada, and Japan are the only countries where Apple has an advantage over Android. Everywhere else Android is ahead, usually by a large margin.
The underdeveloped Android speaks to the stamp that Apple has created around the iPhone franchise. From celebrities photographed in coffee shops with iPhones to their ears to late-night hosts attending a party with an Apple Watch strapped to their wrist, Apple products are both practical and fashionable for America’s aristocracy. And thanks to iMessage, Apple has created a messaging department where the “haves” enjoy gardens of blue bubbles and the “have-nots” are relegated to a squalid environment. Heck, even movie villains can’t be photographed with an iPhone.
But there’s reason to be optimistic about Android’s attempts to retake the crown in the US. Google is building an ecosystem around the Pixel 7, including introducing the Pixel Watch. Pixel tablet coming next year. And Android has its own rabid fan base — even if they’re not on the Hollywood set.
So what can Google do to make Android relevant in the US again? Here are some ways.
Double the ecosystem
Google took too long to launch the Pixel Watch, allowing the Apple Watch to act as a Trojan horse and keep people cooped up inside Apple’s garden.
“Apple has a static ecosystem. Especially the watch, once you buy that watch you’re locked into the iPhone,” said Techsponential analyst Avi Greengart. Google didn’t have that until this year. “And until then, her first watch is truly a 1.0 product.”
Google’s slow attempt to bring the Pixel Watch to market means the Apple Watch is still ahead. There is now at least an option for Pixel owners to keep them from feeling left behind.
The US market differs from the rest of the world in that there is much less competition in the Android space. Concerns about Chinese tech companies tracking American consumers have made it impossible for brands like Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo to operate in the United States. That leaves a handful of brands that can sell replacements outside of Samsung and Google.
“Having more devices on the market also gives carriers more choice on which devices they can donate for free or do more promotions,” said Anshel Sag, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
The lack of manufacturer diversity is just one problem that Google faces. The iPad line remains a popular device with a second screen, serving as an Internet gateway for both young children and the elderly. Only one high-quality Android tablet comes to mind with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Plus, but its software isn’t anywhere near as good as the iPad’s, often looking like a big screen version of Android. Google has already announced its “premium” Pixel tablet for 2023, but it will really need to impress to attract the consumer crowd trained to view iPads as tablets.
Unfortunately, there is one area Google may not be able to offer a viable competitor to Apple and that is laptop and home computing. Google’s Chromebooks are excellent, affordable laptops for basic tasks, but they lack the power and flexibility to offer the functionality found in macOS and Windows. It’s a market already divided by Apple and Microsoft, which makes it difficult for Google to create a viable alternative. Even if it did, the installed base would be so small that it wouldn’t attract the best developers. Here, Google’s best bet is to continue to better integrate its products with Mac and Windows devices to offer a similar experience to iPhone and Mac.
The issue is important
One area where Google dominates over Apple is the smart home. Cupertino is rarely quick to move into new product categories, which is evident from years of rumors surrounding Apple’s alleged VR/AR headset and Apple car. Apple tried to make an effort at home devices with HomeKit, but it’s been largely forgotten. On the other hand, Google has a strong presence in the smart home with its voice assistant-enabled displays, such as the Nest Hub, Nest WiFi products, the Doorbell, and the Camera.
Unfortunately, the smart home industry has stagnated with a dizzying array of competing products overwhelming consumers. Someone who owns an Amazon Alexa smart speaker might be unsure if it will work with a Google Nest doorbell.
Enter Matter, a global smart home standard that will allow new home devices, regardless of brand, to communicate with each other. Even Apple, the company that enjoys creating walled gardens, has joined the Connected Standards Alliance, along with Amazon, Google, Samsung, Ikea, Lutron, Signify, and others.
“This is an area where Google could take some advantage, build more of those controls or just expose them more in Android,” Greengart said. This includes creating the user’s home page, user interface elements, and making connections between multiple devices. Greengart said it’s up to Google to let people know that smart home interoperability can be done better on Android.
Beat Apple on innovation
Google’s product events keep getting better, adding production value and excitement, but it still can’t get the same magic as Apple’s. The Cupertino, California-based company still has that ability to generate excitement around its range of products and services. Enthusiastic rhetoric from executives mixed with a high production value can make a person believe that Apple is delivering the latest technology and innovation, even if this isn’t always the case.
High refresh screens for optical image stabilization and laser autofocus, all features Apple is known for, came to Android first.
However, there are consumers who see beyond great macro shots and want to be the first to use the new technology. This is an area where Google should double down to entice enthusiasts.
Already, rumors have surfaced about a foldable Pixel device that could compete with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4.
“I suspect [Samsung’s] It’s really starting to gain momentum there. And I think it shows, but the problem is the price, right? That likely equals more sales and more competitive pricing. “
Google has also heavily advertised Pixel features, such as live translation in its 2022 World Cup advert. The Pixel 7 is also the NBA’s official “fan phone” this season, with a commercial featuring player Giannis Antetokounmpo and actor Simu Liu. Reportedly, Google has also placed the largest order for Pixel 7 devices, more than any previous iteration. Sales and celebrity endorsements aside, Google needs to make the Pixel feel distinct and exclusive, almost anathema to Android’s core vision as a free and open source operating system. Because, if Apple’s success is any indication, people like feeling as if they’re in “the crowd.”
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