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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?

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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?

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