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If Android’s so popular, where are all the Android phones?

It’s “all Android, all the time”. That’s what they’ll tell you. It’s “totally blowing away the competition“.

According to Gartner, Google’s pet project (which as we all know, doesn’t generate any meaningful revenue) Android now commands 52.5% of the global smartphone market. Huh?

Where are all these Android phones?

On the face of it, the market share numbers make sense. You have a powerful operating system and ecosystem (second in number of apps only to Apple). You have numerous device makers, including HTC, Motorola, Samsung, SonyEricsson (now just Sony) and LG, pegging their future (at least on the high-end) on Android. With this sheer scale, of course it should be the leader? Right?

Yet in many markets, the picture looks markedly different. In the US, the split in smartphones right now is simple: Either you have an iPhone, or you have an Android phone. Competing platforms, including Nokia’s legacy smartphones, Windows Phone and RIM’s BlackBerry are fast fading to the periphery.

In Europe, the story is slightly different. But it’s in emerging markets, like South Africa, where Android is really struggling to gain market share. In South Africa, you could probably call it the “BlackBerry-effect”.

Vodacom’s smartphone numbers, released as part of its financial results, illustrate the point. At the end of September, it had over 1.5-million BlackBerry devices on its network, 200 000 iPhones and roughly 200 000 Android devices. And I’d bet it doesn’t look much different on the other big networks — MTN and Cell C (despite what Cell C tells you about it “loving Android”).

This number is alarmingly low. This might be simply because South Africans haven’t really bought LG, HTC or SonyEriccson devices in volume. This market has historically been a very strong one for Nokia (and increasingly Samsung).

This 200 000 number for Android is even more confusing, when you consider that Vodacom is spending millions driving the adoption of its Vodafone 858b Smart handset in the lower end of the market. This is a smartphone that retails for only R999 (just over US$100)!

200 000?!

One hurdle in cost-sensitive emerging markets is the flat-rated billing. On BlackBerry, monthly expenditure on internet, e-mail, social networking and messenger (BBM) services is R59. Rival handset makers (and operators) call this “fixed and predictable billing” and plans are advanced for this to be introduced at either an operator level for specific devices (or platforms), or by the handset makers themselves (a la BlackBerry).

Is this relatively low adoption rate of Android phone (especially given the wide choice) unique to South Africa? Or is it telling us something about all emerging markets?

Author | Hilton Tarrant: Columnist

Hilton Tarrant: Columnist
Hilton Tarrant is production editor at Moneyweb. His main focus is project management for the listed company’s local and international websites, and contributes to their strategic direction. From time-to-time, he also fills in for Alec Hogg on the SAfm Market Update with Moneyweb radio programme. In between, he covers... More
  • Agreed, SA definitely a prime case of the “BlackBerry-effect”.  

    Apart from BIS which is really BS (given the recent RIM downtime and Vodacom wanting to cap BIS users), its the reason SA is so BB “verskrik” is because we’re a conservative market. A market that primarily drives Toyotas. We do the tried and trusted and don’t try something new.

    Also BB has been around for much longer which means its gained a respectable market share.  Android has only been around for 2 years really while BB probably 3 times longer. 

    Also SA is 50m people.  US is 6 times that, so obviously the momentum of Android uptake will be that much more.  

    My last dig:  BB users love to flash their phone about (and iPhone users to a degree).  Android users don’t need to flash their phone about ;-)

  • The BlackBerry biased columnist strikes again…

    It is not representative of emerging markets, as you would have seen had you done proper research. It is really just SA and a hand full of countries who are BlackBerry crazy. The rest of Africa is Android crazy (Kenya, Angola etc) as they can get cheap phones than run Android.

    Also, the fact that you take a dig at Android not generating revenue, shows that you clearly have no concept of the strategy being pushed by Google.

    I’m by no means an Android fanboy, but I would appreciate a bit of unbiased, factual reporting

  • The point is the Android figures are not yet coming through in South Africa. Why? Maybe they will? This is not about being biased to BlackBerry. Its successful in this market. Will that continue? Probably not. BlackBerry has its own challenges, some of which its ignoring/not addressing.

  • Valid point, but we are most certainly the exception to the rule. The smartest thing BB has done is to announce support for Android apps in their next OS being released next year. 

    However, I think everyone (myself included) underestimated Nokia’s ability to make a comeback. They still have a massive footprint in SA and strangely enough Europe, and I think they might just take some market share with their WP7 phones next year. If they don’t, they might as well quit the game.

    If RIM do not deliver on their promises regarding their new range + new OS next year, they might as well quit as well, although I think it is already too late for them. 

    Either way, these are exciting times we live in, and as it currently stands globally, Android is swooping up market share at an enormous pace!

  • Hilton, I think that the main reason Android hasn’t hit South Africa in the same way that is has hit other parts of the world is Blackberry’s data offering. But I do think that as data prices go down, Blackberry will become less and less popular.

    I know people that love Blackberry but I also know people who are so frustrated by their Blackberries as well. Most consumers want a modern smartphone -whether it’s an iPhone, Android or WP7. They want big touch screens and they want apps. Yes Blackberry kind of offers this with models like the Torch but it just doesn’t compete well enough with other smartphones. Besides the possibility of Nokia releasing affordable smartphones, the only other OS available to the lower end of the market is Android. 

    I think when the time comes to upgrade and buy a new phone, the majority of new sales will most likely be Android just because they can target both ends of the market. It might take a bit of time. And some cuts to mobile data prices.

    Thanks for sparking the conversation.

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