Andy Rubin, the head of Google's Android mobile platform division, quashed rumors he plans to leave Google and advised his Twitter followers on Sunday that more than 900,000 Android devices are being activated each day -- up from 850,000 on Feb. 27. However, the pace of growth for Android, which powers smartphones, media tablets, e-reading devices and other gadgets, is clearly slowing.
According to Rubin's Twitter log, more than 700,000 Android devices were being activated every day as of Dec. 20, 2011 -- a hefty hike from the 500,000 that were being powered up in late June of last year. By contrast, Google's daily Android phone activations stood at a mere 300,000 in December 2010.
Based on the mobile platform's slowing growth over the past five months, it would seem that Google won't see 1 million Android devices being activated each day until sometime next year. We asked Al Hilwa, director of Applications Software Development at IDC, for his assessment of the slowdown in Android's activation growth so far this year.
"Android's activation numbers are still pretty big," Hilwa said. "And we are bound to see some flattening of smartphone adoption as we cross the 50 percent mark of smartphone penetration in some geographies," he said.
Android's Tablet Shipment Shortfall
One of the biggest obstacles to Android's device activation growth is Apple's domination of the global tablet market. The iconic device maker shipped 11.8 million devices in the first quarter of this year -- equivalent to a 65 percent share, according to ABI Research.
By contrast, Samsung's 1.1 million Android-based Galaxy tablet shipments were less than 10 percent of Apple's iPad sales. What's more, sales of the Kindle Fire, which has Android buried under Amazon's custom interface, fizzled during the three months after last year's Kindle Fire holiday shopping season spree.
"Apple and Samsung have demonstrated staying power while other tablet vendors ebb and flow like the tide," said Jeff Orr, group director of consumer research at ABI Research.
Apple iPad sales during the first quarter were driven by the launch of new third-generation models as well as iPad 2 price reductions. Going forward, however, Google is hoping to get a tablet boost of its own through the release of a new Nexus Tablet in partnership with Asus this summer.
Still, several other brand-name vendors -- including Dell, HP and LG -- are also currently retooling tablet portfolios for midyear launches of Android 4.0 models, ABI analysts said.
Android's Smartphone Lead to Continue
IDC expects Android to maintain its leadership position in the global smartphone market throughout the firm's five-year forecast period, though the platform's market share is forecast to slip from 61 percent in 2012 to 52.9 percent in 2016. Moreover, IDC expects Android's smartphone activation numbers will increasingly be driven by Samsung's unit sales -- with the Galaxy S III being the latest model coming down the chute.
IDC believes Android fragmentation is bound to intensify as more devices powered by Google's mobile OS from a variety of phone makers enter the market. Hilwa said fragmentation is a serious issue for developers because it narrows the opportunity to make money to a smaller set of devices and increases the amount of work needed to deliver an app.
"Developers end up making choices around screen size, OS versions, hardware capabilities and such that end up making the app look better on some Android devices and unattractive or unreliable on others," Hilwa said. "App developers generally find iOS more attractive because they can target a lot more devices with one tested version of the app."