Anecdotal Evidence Spells Epic Doom for Android; iPhone to Win World Championship of Everything

Anecdotal evidence #1:

A little while ago I conducted two polls among my Twitter followers, asking the same question—what their phone model, operating system and carrier is—but separating my U.S. followers from the non-U.S. ones. It was by no means intended as valuable research data, as I knew up front that my audience is a largely iPhone-centric one, and in no way representative of the public at large.

The only demographic I feel is represented well among my audience is that of cutting-edge web designers & developers. I had responses coming from just as many household names in this industry as from people I’ve never heard of, but exploring those respondents’ Twitter bios it became clear that almost all of them are heavily into designing/building modern websites and applications (native and web). They are also very often early adopters when it comes to electronics—even if only because of the nature of their work requiring them to.

It’s safe to assume that such an audience has high expectations of the User Experience of the products they use, which explains why the vast majority (85–90%) of all respondents use either an iPhone or an Android phone. Blackberries were represented better in the non-U.S. crowd (8%) than in the U.S. one (2%), which actually surprised me a bit, especially considering that Android was also better represented amongst non-U.S. responders (18% vs. 16%).

iPhone users took 67% of non-U.S. responders versus 74% in the U.S.; Windows Mobile scored 3% in each, and the spoils were split between WebOS, Maemo and Symbian.

A lot of recent discussions online surround the impact the iPhone will have on competing phones and phone platforms now that it’s about to launch on Verizon, marking it the first time iPhones are available on two carriers in the U.S. But the anecdotal evidence from my polls suggests that carrier choice is far from a major factor. I think that it’ll matter more that the iPhone will be available in over 2200 Verizon stores across the U.S. than the fact that the logo on the store says Verizon. Now, I don’t mean to dismiss the latter aspect—Marco Arment’s remark about it being “iPhone versus Verizon” among regular people, rather than iPhone versus Android, holds quite true in my own experience—but I suspect that the iPhone has so much stronger brand awareness and selling power among non-tech people that it affects buying patterns more than people’s reluctance to switch away from Verizon.

Anecdotal evidence #2:

My friend Erika from California had major iPhone lust since the day it was announced, but AT&T has horrible service in both her own and her parents’ home area. Also, they were on a Verizon Family Plan which got them much cheaper deals across the whole family. She stuck with Verizon and was somewhat satiated that Christmas by an iPod touch. Still, three years later she went and bought an iPhone anyway, being unsatisfied with the LG enV phone she had before it. AT&T is still no better in her area, but Erika knows she’s moving in a not-distant future. The iPhone eventually won over despite the Verizon argument.

This example supports both Marco’s claim of it having been iPhone-vs-Verizon, as well as my own claim that the iPhone has such strong selling power and brand awareness that it matters even more than the iPhone-or-Verizon determination.

This makes sense: there is only one iPhone to think and talk about: the iPhone. Period. That’s not true at all for Android, which is spread so thinly across a plethora[1] of devices that its independent brand awareness exists almost entirely among geeks. It also doesn’t help that Android is “open” and thus sports various different operating systems across its devices. The marketing of Android devices rarely even mentions Android itself, which means that each individual device is competing with the iPhone on its own terms, and not so much all Android devices together. That may be true in sales, but it’s not true in consumer’s minds.

Anecdotal evidence #3:

Last week I asked my mom how many people at her office—the town’s had an iPhone, that she knew of. Three people, she said. And how many an Android phone? “What’s that?” I told her it was a different kind of smartphone. “Oh, what [my dad] has?” No, well, sort of. My dad has a Blackberry.

After I elaborated further, she did recall reading something about Google “getting a telephone license?” but she’d not heard of or knew anyone in particular who had an Android phone, or even just a non-iPhone smartphone other than my dad.

This is in the Netherlands, where the iPhone is available on multiple carriers, but consumers are very cost-conservative. The Dutch don’t grok the value of design when it comes to hardware or software. For a country so rich in artistic and creative history, it is a remarkable contrast to see the price of a product have a significantly greater influence on the buying behavior of its citizens. The tide is slowly turning as people, one by one, are realizing not only that Apple’s products are just plain easier to use than most of their competitors’ products, but that this ease of use actually has value and offsets a slightly higher purchase price. This trend has been going on in many Western countries for a while, but is only just now emerging in the Netherlands. That bodes well for Apple, and not so well for Android.

Anecdotal evidence #4:

Finally, the usability of Android. Chris, the non-geek founder of a company I worked for several years ago, was recently in need of a new phone. The CTO and SysAdmin at the company both have Android phones; the two other employees with a smartphone have iPhones. The question of “what phone should I get?” was thus answered with votes spread equally between platforms. Being co-founder, the CTO wound up helping Chris to an Android phone. Already on day one, the usability gap for non-techies became clear, with lots of “how do I…” questions answered by the iPhone users which turned out to require a lot more steps (and complexity) on the Android device.

The iPhone’s “Just do [x]” is rarely “just” on Android. But more on that another time, when I lament Android’s greatest problem: the menu button.

But what does it all mean, Basil?

Absolutely nothing. Just like the title of this post, and just like the analysis of countless of websites, blog posts and “analyst reports” that use similar phrasings. There isn’t going to be any device that is “the iPhone killer” (same for the iPad), and the iPhone is not the holy grail of consumer electronics either. Both of these platforms are selling really well, doing really well with consumers, and have a very healthy eco-system built around them.

However, the same cannot be said about Windows Phone 7 (yet?), and unless RIM and Nokia change course dramatically, even less so for Blackberry, Symbian and Maemo. WebOS may have a future if HP/alm’s upcoming tablet is a runaway hit, but I’ll await their February 9 event before making any comments on that either way.

The main reason I wrote all this is because I am tired of the extremes in language. It seems these days that the larger the publication is, the crazier their message has to be. Turns out, there’s remarkably little “killing” happening among consumer electronics. Change is constant, and great products slowly but surely will phase out all mediocre and bad ones. No single product is so much better than all others of its kind that the very vast majority of people will buy it. Meaning, a lot of these (competing) devices that we see are here to stay. That has a huge impact for my audience, a.k.a. you, dear reader, because it affects what we can do and have to do as we design and build interfaces for the Web and native apps. More on that another time, too.

But to not leave you in the dark on all this industry stuff, here are some suggested sites: for great industry analysis on electronics, read Asymco. For best-available news reporting on all things gadget-related, read Engadget. For Apple– or Apple-competitors related news, or just plain interesting things, read Daring Fireball. If something truly worthwhile ever gets written by PC Magazine, Fast Company, ZD Net or any similar large publication, it will be linked to by one of these sites. The scarsity of links to them on any given day should tell you that a lot of their stuff isn’t really all that good anymore.

And that’s a whole topic in and of itself.

  1. I use the word “plethora” consciously, because I truly feel the number of different Android phones is not “many,” but rather “too many.”

If you liked this, you should follow me on Twitter!