A slow leak is still a leak.
For a while there, Android seemed to be the miracle cure for struggling handset makers who couldn't quite compete on their own. Motorola was lifted out of their post-Razr doldrums by the Droid. Ericsson's sagging profits started to kip up once Android entered the mix, and now 60% of their smartphone sales come from the open-source OS. Things were even starting to look up for LG- and the launch of the new Optimus Tab and 2X only made things seem brighter.
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But now it appears that the vibrant power of Android may have reached its limit. Earlier today came news that Android's growth in the US smartphone market has stalled- and even reversed a little. Google's OS is down 3% as of this last quarter, largely due to a surge in popularity for the iPhone.
While Verizon's iPhone wasn't quite the earth-shattering blockbuster some of us expected, it was big enough to expose just how bloated Android has gotten. "Good" Android devices are a fairly small subset of the total Android category. The explosion of the brand gave them name recognition and drew in curious fence-sitters...for a while. But Android user satisfaction still lags far behind iOS.
As it happens, quite a few customers were only waiting for the iPhone to break free from AT&T. And if the iPhone expands to other carriers, like T-Mobile and Sprint, we can expect to see further contraction in Android's market share.
I'm not sure where this leaves manufacturers- like LG- who have hedged a lot of their bets on Android's further expansion. Sure, there's Windows Phone 7. But it too has dipped lately.
Fighting Apple will now mean more than just throwing devices into the waiting arms of a starving, eager crowd. Most phones purchased in the US this last quarter were smartphones. We're rapidly reaching the peak of this trend. Soon, every phone will be a smartphone and wild expansion will give way to a slow, bitter slog for users.
Android needs a new look to win that fight. It needs polish, and a reputation for ease-of-use and reliability that can go up against iOS. Fragmentation brings down the value of that App Market. Tons of cheap, low-quality devices ruin user opinions of the OS. Even high-end phones, like the Galaxy S, are plagued by manufacturers with a sluggish approach to update support. Google and her partners need to focus on the experience of using Android now, before more buyers start to eye the iPhone.