Android's Success: What Schmidt Didn't Say

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt boasted of Android's wins against the iPhone during an interview this week. But Google can't just sit back and relax.
"Android is ahead of iPhone now," crowed Schmidt during Wednesday's on-stage interview at the annual Le Web tech confab held in France.

"What kind of lead? [It's ahead] by unit volume, with ICS [Ice Cream Sandwich] features, prices are lower, with more vendors, more price points--do I need to continue the list? It's free."

Schmidt doesn't mince words, does he? Obviously, he's proud of Android's achievement, which has gone from zero to hero in three short years, toppling the likes (and fortunes) of the once-mighty Nokia and Research In Motion to take the worldwide smartphone crown.

To say that Android's rise has been nothing short of phenomenal is an understatement. Google is activating 550,000 new Android handsets per day, and those users are downloading new apps at the rate of 1 billion per month. Google this week announced that Android users have downloaded 10 billion applications since the Android Market launched in 2008 (still about 50% behind iPhone's numbers).

[ Apps are one reasons Android is doing so well. View a slideshow on 10 Epic Android Apps. ]

Questions from attendees of the event took Schmidt to task over the quality of those apps, however. When asked why Android apps aren't of the same quality as iOS apps, Schmidt responded, "Six months from now, you'll say the opposite. Ultimately, application vendors are driven by volume. The volume is favored by the open approach Google is taking. Whether you like ICS or not, you will want to develop for that platform, perhaps even first."

At this point, there are still more iOS devices out there than Android devices, but that probably won't hold true for long. Apple's daily activation rates are far lower than Android's. Android's momentum, mind share, and opportunity are clear. Many developers still target iOS first and Android second, but Schmidt sees that changing in Android's favor.

What Schmidt is forgetting, however, is Android's update story.

According to the stats published by Google, Gingerbread versions 2.3 through 2.3.7 account for 50.6% of all the Android smartphones out there. This is the first time that Gingerbread has been the dominant version of Android on Google smartphones. (Reminder, Gingerbread was first released in December 2010).

Android 2.2 Froyo fell to second place, with a still-too-large 35.3% share of Android phones. Android 2.1 Eclair is on 9.6% of Android phones, and, shockingly, Android 1.6 Donut is on 1.6% of Android phones.

Right now, Ice Cream Sandwich's share of the Android Market has to be under 1%.

By way of comparison, about 40% of iOS device users have updated to iOS 5, the latest version.

Schmidt is not wrong to be proud of Android and not wrong to be confident in its future, but that doesn't mean Google can sit back and relax. It still has plenty to tackle. It has to work with its handset maker and carrier partners to get Ice Cream Sandwich onto as any handsets as possible, as quickly as possible. That's a more difficult task than I think Schmidt seems to realize.

Here's Schmidt's full interview.

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