February 23, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka
The eyes of the tech world were firmly on Barcelona during Mobile World Congress. Europe and Android were center-stage, surprising since the two subjects don’t seem to get along at the moment. Several weeks ago, IDC released a report suggesting that Europeans shy away from Android or don’t have any clue about the OS.
I immediately asked readers why they think Android fails to prosper in their communities, and we received a number of replies in the comments section and on Twitter. Responses centered on three key areas that need to be addressed. Europe was the temporary epicenter of mobile technology last week, so it’s fitting that we revisit how to improve the Android experience in Europe.
From England to Germany to Sweden, advertising was the number one reason cited for Android’s obscurity. I don’t expect to see Android promoted as an OS during a Champions League match; however, there’s no excuse for the poor advertising of Android-powered phones. Carriers in numerous countries have introduced Android phones without delivering any marketing presence according to several user comments. British commenter Ryan said, “I don’t remember seeing a single TV ad [when the G1 launched]… whereas O2 have been flogging the iPhone to death since they started selling it!”
The challenge to promoting Android is that it isn’t an easily digestible product that can be pitched. But companies aren’t even advertising the products well enough. Carriers and OEM’s should at least advertise their phone’s unique features and the great apps available on Android. Nokia runs the European market, so something must be done to increase Android’s presence. People will never consider Android phones as contenders unless they are made aware of their capabilities.
Don’t slight Europa
Europeans watched from the sidelines as Google delivered Google Maps Navigation and Google Voice to Americans. There are perfectly understandable financial reasons to explain that exclusion, but reasons do little to ease the frustrations of people who see yet another feature they cannot access. Even when they can get a new app at launch, like Google Shopper, the app lists prices in US dollars rather their a user’s home country.
Google needs to devise a plan to throw a bone to early adopters and European users. It’s bad enough to have fragmentation create angered users in one country, but constantly seeing “available in U.S. only” is not the way to attract loyal consumers overseas. Maybe it wouldn’t have hurt to delay the launch of Voice Search so there would have been more time to support British accents. Maybe Google could have added Goggles support for 1.5 or leaned harder for carriers to update, especially since so many Europeans are still on 1.5 or earlier. Yes, Google loves to deliver products early and get user feedback, but this model poses a PR problem. Someone’s always going to be mad, but at least minimize the damage of your pool of potential advocates.
Get paid apps in more countries…now
Smartphones are as much about apps as they are the device. Customers will be more likely to switch to iPhone or Windows Phone if they discover that their hot new phone cannot access the great apps that cost money. They will become frustrated and opt for new features in different platforms or turn to piracy.
I met Eric Tseng, Android Senior Product Manager, at CES. He told me that the thing holding up paid apps in most countries is setting up infrastructure to process transactions. Apparently, it’s not as simple as turning on the switch for Google Checkout. Whatever the hold-up may be, get it done ASAP. Readers in Scandinavia and the Czech Republic complained about being unable to get paid apps, and they are not alone. It will become critical to get paid app support in as many hands as possible as more of the best Android apps start costing money.
There are other ways to improve Android adoption in Europe, including adding more language support, but these are the three key steps to take. Several upcoming phones can compete with an iPhone, so the OHA must promote and support those products enough for people to make the comparison.