What's Behind Android's Success: the iPhone

Computerworld ran a story that briefly reviews the amazing rise of Android in just three years. Android is indeed an amazing story in and of itself and for Google and its position in the mobile market. 

The Computerworld article correctly attributes part of Android's gains to the massive Verizon marketing effort on behalf of its "Droid" brand. (The software has also dramatically improved since its launch.) The major omission in the story, however, is the iPhone.

More than any other market development the iPhone is responsible for Android's success. Without the iPhone Android, I would argue, would be a much weaker platform with sales not anywhere near where they are today.

ComScore, assuming the accuracy of its numbers, has charted the platform's remarkable growth in the US. If the momentum keeps up it will exceed the iPhone's overall market share next year:

Picture 16

Android's founding and early development work pre-date the iPhone's launch. But shortly after the iPhone came to market Android and its OEMs basically mimicked the Apple handset's look and feel and user experience, with some meaningful differences. Beyond the UX, here's the macro view of why I believe the iPhone is ultimately responsible for Android's success. 

When the iPhone entered the market it shocked the carriers and presented a fundamental challenge to other handset makers. They essentially had no response. It was two years ahead of everything and anything they had at least. Android was the only viable option at the time. Symbian and Windows Mobile weren't competitive with the iPhone user experience. Microsoft grossly underestimated the iPhone. RIM's BlackBerry OS was entirely proprietary. WebOS didn't exist yet. 

The only place OEMs could turn -- the only real choice they had -- was Android. And they embraced the platform with gusto. 

Verizon, seeing consumers head to AT&T to get the iPhone, embraced once-rival Google and developed a brand for its Android handsets. The company spent millions to build consumer awareness around "Droid." Verizon customers (and to a lesser extent Sprint and T-Mobile customers) unwilling to switch bought Android handsets to get the experience of the iPhone without having to change carriers. Now, with more than 100,000 apps, and a rapidly improving platform Android handsets are better than "good enough" they're generally quite competitive with the iPhone user experience. 

Had Apple broken with AT&T a year ago and made the iPhone more broadly available to consumers the comScore data above wouldn't look like it does. More people would be buying iPhones. (In Europe where exclusivity is gone, the market looks different than in the US.) Without the iPhone (and Apple's AT&T exclusivity) Android would just not be where it is today. Ongoing software and platform improvements are also motivated partly by Google's desire to "beat" the iPhone. There would be somewhat more complacency there if the iPhone didn't exist and Android were only competing against RIM, Nokia or Windows.

However now that a more viable Windows Phone has shown up it may divide the OEMs' loyalties, because they now have another option. It may also peel off some Android buyers. But we'll have to see. What's also interesting is that the new Windows Phones are a hybrid of the iPhone and Android: the iPhone's "coherence" and Android's multi-OEM, multi-carrier strategy.