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Opinion: Why 1.7 million iPhone sales = No big deal

June 29, 2010 | by Ed Clark

Android, Android OS, Google

Opinion: Why 1.7 million iPhone sales = No big deal

Many Android fans were awed and perhaps even aghast at the stunning sales figures for the iPhone 4. In just the past few days, Apple sold over 1.7 million phones. When you compare this with the “record-breaking” sales of the Sprint EVO, which totaled just over 66,000 in two days, you can see why folks are worried. Judging from a few recent blog posts on the topic, some are wondering if Android will be crushed out of existence by the hordes of iPhone users we have been seeing all over the media. However, I’m here to tell you: This is not a big deal for Android. Not yet, anyway.

THE USERS

Part of my evidence comes from a recent Crowdscience study which focused on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry users. The findings showed that iPhone and Android users were a lot alike: each group was highly loyal to their OS, was not likely to change platforms, and had very similar phone usage patterns. Blackberry users were the least loyal and the most likely to change platforms. So what does this data mean when you consider that there are over 25,000,000 iPhone users worldwide? (Apple sold 24.89 million iPhones in 2009). Simple. It means that Apple is likely to sell a whole lot of iPhones, many to the existing faithful.

As I have mentioned in my past articles, I have more than my fair share of friends and acquaintances with iPhones. Not surprisingly, most of them tell me that they are upgrading from their current 3G and 3GS models to the newest iPhone. (Some have actually decided to switch to Android, but that’s a distinct minority.) The Android side has the same pattern. Only this past weekend a friend of mine had just upgraded his entire family from G1s to the latest T-Mobile Android offerings. Obviously he could have moved everyone to iPhones, but he didn’t.

THE TECHNOLOGY

As Jobs pointed out in his keynote, the reasons to upgrade to iOS 4 include the following: better display, better processor, multitasking, and more flexibility for the user interface (custom wallpaper, app folders, etc). The first two items are already well-matched by high-end Android phones. The last two items are great selling points for iPhone users, but are almost meaningless to Android users, because these abilities were already built in to the core OS.

The App Store is the most common (and best) argument for iPhone supremacy. However, the Android Market has also been growing very quickly and has its fair share of spectacular apps unique to Android. While the App Store may have once had an incredible edge in terms of quality and quantity, that edge is disappearing. In the end, if the App Store has 600,000 apps and the Market has 250,000, no one will care that they can download 2,000 farting apps in one place vs. 1,000 in the other.

THE CONVERTS

My last bit of evidence is from personal experience. My friends in Southeast Asia really like iPhones, but they are hugely expensive. They tell me that owning one is like flashing the keys to your Porsche. As everyone knows, you can only get one kind of new iPhone from Mr. Jobs, but you can get into Android very cheaply through many vendors all over the world. If you’re familiar with the characteristics of so-called “disruptive technology,” you can understand why Android is a very serious threat for every other platform, including the iPhone.

I have also had lots of people ask me recently which Android phone to buy (very tough question, by the way, which I plan to answer in a series of posts), and most of them aren’t currently Android users.

This last part is the key. What will Blackberry, Symbian, and Palm users do if the mobile phone market does eventually come down to Apple vs Android? The sense I get is that if you bought a Palm or Blackberry instead of an iPhone in the past few years, you probably had something against the iPhone to begin with. In some cases, this is simply due to a dislike for AT&T, but in other cases people just don’t want to be part of the iPhone crowd.

So what would scare me? Have someone show me that Apple is selling their product to non-iPhone folks, at a rate significantly higher than Android is. That would be tough to do, given than Android’s market share has been growing like crazy, with no sign of letting up. Affordability, availability, and flexibility are really powerful marketing vehicles, and nothing has happened to make that change. While Steve Jobs tells 1.7 million new iPhone users that they are holding their phones the wrong way, Android’s growing presence keeps insisting that they are just holding the wrong phone.