Powerful Smartphones with fast mobile connections to great web services

Hey Google - time to get serious about Android

, posted: 3-Feb-2010 21:55

Hey Google, 

[Author comment 10 June'10: this article was originally written in Feb'10 and since then Android has continued to grow very strongly in the U.S. It is still struggling outside the U.S. and I believe that most of what is written below still applies. In fact with Froyo 2.2 announced the OS fragmentation issue has gotten more confusing.]

I’m sure it’s been a blast working on Android over the last couple of years but I am concerned that your focus seems to be on the U.S. and that you are struggling for market share outside the US. You seem to be missing a great opportunity as Smartphones (or ‘Superphones’ as you call them) move from the early adopters into the mainstream market. The quality of the latest Android phones is getting very good and there is so much potential to connect them to your ever increasing on-line services that play to your strengths. But there are some basic execution issues that seem to be holding you back.

Up until the end of last year I worked for a mobile operator and I watched the HTC Magic Android get outsold by the iPhone by over 40 to 1. This seems to line up with recently reported NexusOne sales figures. We were the only mobile operator in our market with either the iPhone or the Android and we sold them both on identical plans with the same subsidies - so a perfect head to head test case. In fact the HTC Magic could get 3G across our entire nationwide network but the iPhone 3G(S) only in main urban areas. The Android retail price at first was between the iPhone 3G and 3GS 16GB and then we dropped it to substantially below the iPhone 3G - but this had almost no effect. Also I have heard from several of your OEM’s that in the Asia/Pac region they are getting no traction at all with their Android powered handsets (across a number of countries and mobile operators) and they are frustrated that you seem to have no plans to turn this around.

This post was initially prompted by my 9 year old son who asked me the other day: “Dad, can I play a game on your phone thing…I’m not sure what to call your Google phone, I mean it doesn’t have an easy name like your other iPhone.” It struck me that even someone who has spent quite a bit of time playing with a phone running Android doesn’t know what to call it. I can hardly imagine the confusion for your customers in the U.S. who have to deal with the G1, G2, Motorola ‘Droid’ and recently the Nexus One which is somehow more Google than the others as it is sold on-line by you. And apart from the weird names they all seem to come out with slightly different versions of software which actually have quite different features!
[Author comment 10 June'10: Google has in fact discontinued its online sales model]

I assume you are wanting to get as many Android based mobile phones into users’ hands as possible because this drives up mobile web usage that you can monetize - at least that‘s my simple understanding. For this to work then you are now going after the mainstream market - as are your competitors. You want everyone to at least consider an Android when they next upgrade their mobile phone. 

Well, this mainstream market won’t know the subtleties of the Smartphone world (and neither should they) and the place they will go to compare your handsets against your competitors and get advice is the stores owned by the mobile operators or their resellers. This is partly because there will be questions around upgrade deals and contract sign-ups and waiving certain fees, but also because given the amount of money being spent they might actually want to see and touch the phones and have them explained by a real person. 

When considering any Android powered phones a prospective customer will immediately come up with a number of good questions:
- What‘s it called?
- What’s does Google have to do with making an actual physical mobile phone? Aren’t they a web company?
- What can it do and will it do everything I need it to?
- What’s the difference between these different ones that all have Android on them?
- What’s this Chrome OS I am starting to hear about - how is that different to Android?
- Why should I get it instead of an iPhone?

And the poor mobile operator or channel sales person really won’t be able to answer any of these because neither Google, nor the OEM, nor the mobile operators has clearly explained it to them. And neither has any other communications that they might have seen from Google or elsewhere. (Perhaps the US$100m spent by Verizon and Motorola went some way to addressing this in the U.S. only.)

As it stands the Android devices are still failing to get good cut-through in many markets despite the increasing number of OEM's that support it. The iPad and iPhone (with iOS4) remind us again that this class of device is ‘Personal‘ - it is with us most of the day and performs several critical functions so we really need to be able to trust it. And we know this world is changing fast so we want to make sure we are in some way ’future-proofed’.

So guys, here’s what you need to do:  

1. Decide who your customers are:
This is easy as outlined above it is pretty much anyone even remotely considering upgrading their mobile handset - which is nearly everyone at some point in the next 3 years.

2. Nail the core proposition:
There must be a rock-solid set of features that must be in every Android handset everywhere in the world. And when a major new release comes out it will automatically upgrade on all existing handsets. Absolutely differentiate on your strengths of mobile access to on-line services but make that consistent. 

At the moment there are different features on different software versions which are coming out simultaneously on different devices. And some features (Near me now, turn-by-turn navigation) are only available in the U.S. You are Google - I thought you were about turning stuff on for the whole world at the same time?

You need to answer questions like:
- How do I get media files between my handset and my PC or the cloud? 
- What music download service is widely available?
- How can I create ring-tones?
- Are all standard email attachment formats supported (incl. MS Office and PDF) and native MS Exchange support?
- How do I tether it?

Only once all this is in place can you let the OEM’s layer stuff over the top - HTC Touch Sense or Motoblur or whatever - as long as they don’t interfere with the core proposition.

3. Get your Channel Model pumping:
The on-line sales play is OK but I really think it’s a bit early for that until you have much more momentum and customers are comfortable to purchase this way. As above I’d argue that the starting point for most people in selecting a new handset will be the mobile operator they are already on and even mobile operators own on-line sales efforts do a tiny number of sales compared to their physical resellers. 

Frankly you have to get some feet on the ground in each region/country to engage the mobile operators and their sales channels directly. To position the proposition to their Marketing departments and to conduct channel training sessions for their resellers. To run sales incentive and rewards programs in combination with the OEM‘s. I appreciate this is a bit old-school for you but you’ve got to get momentum underway and you can’t just leave it to the OEM’s. If you don’t do this then the OEM’s aren’t going to be aggressively pushing their devices onto the carriers.

4. Get your communications together:
This might sound trite but please tell your prospective customers about your product, its features and the benefits to them. Excite them and give them trust and confidence in any Android powered device - and of course its differentiators. You need to talk about Android - with individual phones as examples of the core proposition.

You have a number of amazing mobile features that are barely known about e.g. Latitude to follow your friends, mobile Streetview, local search in the browser, Google Goggles, heck even Google Talk and the Marketplace, Wikipedia layer.

What is your customer facing website with all the key info anyone could want - no matter where they are in the world? Neither android.com nor google.com/phone are quite up to scratch.

And perhaps you need an identifiable person or persons front and centre to represent this class of products and other similar ones that might be coming. I’ve seen some great interviews with Eric Tseng recently [Author-he has now joined Facebook] and that seems to work well. 

At the moment it feels like you are not really focussing on many markets outside the U.S. This is a momentum game and at the moment I think the amount of tech media coverage is way out of step with your real world sales. 

Good luck and all the best,

Other related posts:
Brands producing apps only for iPhone
Steve Jobs: Rock Star!
The features Kiwis miss out on with Android 1.6

Comment by Damager, on 3-Feb-2010 23:10

Hi Tim

Always enjoy reading your articles. I think it will be very difficult for Android to develop an identity outside of the geek/tech world. While Android has some great advanced features, it's difficult for the lay person to get confortable with the features. The iPhone has a reputation now that is very difficult to try and match. 40 to 1 sales of the iPhone vs the HTC magic.. amazing, but understandable. i can very well imagine that a decent proportion of the iPhone purchasers are purchasing purely on Apple and the reputation. You could demonstrate all the mean features of the HTC Magic, however the non tech person will still gravitate the iPhone, even with no demonstration. They feel safe with the comfort of knowing that heaps of non tech people have an iPhone also.

As you said, Google needs to really put Android out there. Lets hope 2010 gets it done!

Comment by chiefie, on 3-Feb-2010 23:31

Google has real difficulty to support paying customers, heck they're fresh new into enterprise sector and they rely and recommend their regional resellers to do their "support" work. But there are cases that the paying customers need real technical support directly from Google where the regional resellers would have not have the expertise nor the ability to look into the problems. With the recent case of Nexus One 3G issues in US, where Google redirects affected users to seek either t-mobile or HTC, and you can guess, t-mobile told them to check with Google (or HTC), and HTC told them to check with Google for t-mobile. It was a mess, then later Google agreed and HTC picks up the hardware and software support of the affected users. Crazy isn't it? I think Google is over ambitious to take on the enterprise sector or even trying to support paying customers across all their products. Maybe they're great at support free products as it is customary to expect free/beta applications don't always behalf too great hence Google can be a bit more relaxed with supporting issues. But with enterprise sector and paying customers, this is where Microsoft has been doing great. There is something that Google can definitely learn from Microsoft, and that's to learn how to support enterprise customers, and how to listen and act on quickly and take on great responsibility to support paying customers.

Comment by Draffodx, on 4-Feb-2010 00:53

You cant exactly compare the mature iphone to an extremely new and immature Android, the Iphone has had years to mature and become the package it is, Apple's had strong marketing campaigns and the iphone has had a massive head start over Android. Therefore comparing sales of the iPhone against one of the first Android powered handsets is unfair. Just today results showed that the Iphones market share fell for the first time while Androids rocketed. Google made a huge mistake with the way they sold and dealt with Nexus one complaints however they have learned from it and are currently hiring a support team for Nexus one and future Android phones. Your comment on how phones should automatically update to new Android releases is invalid as if they done that then developers who create there product for a specfic target device and target Android version would have a huge headache. Developing on each Android release is not the same and developers can target which version they want to create there application for. You criticise the various versions and various handsets that Android is on yet this is actually Androids strongest point, it is an open source operating system that any handset manufacturer is freely allowed to customise and use on there phone. This means much more choice for consumers from the cheap HTC Tatoo that still has all the features from Android 1.6 to the expensive Nexus one and Motorola Droid that has Android 2.1 The whole idea of Android is to do the opposite of the Iphone and create an open solution that developers are free to work on with minimal restrictions and give consumers plenty of choice. The Android platform in itself has practically saved Motorola from extinction with the Droid so Android is gaining plenty of momentum. You say real world figures dont reflect the amount of tech media coverage Android is getting, yet you seem to leave out the fact that Android is new to the market as an immature OS and is only finding its feet, you compare its sales figures to that of the Iphone which is a mature OS in a well branded and advertised phone and you seem to have missed its growth firgures compared to the iphones slump. Dont get me wrong I can see where your coming from in some of your points, most of them have some validity to them but you seem to be looking at it in the wrong perspective. Over the next 3 years Android is expected to grow immensely, I work in a company that works on Symbian Nokia phones and there biggest customer in the US (in the telecoms business) has told us they expect Android to cause a major shift in the mobile communications world.

Comment by Jan Gundtofte-Bruun, on 4-Feb-2010 05:00

One more thing that's needed for Android to be taken seriously -- open the Market already! There are loads and loads of countries where Android phones are being sold without access to the paid Market. This is ridiculous! In spite of the MANY good free apps out there, there is an overwhelming feeling of missing out on the really good stuff, and an inkling of doubt as to whether we will ever get access to them. The *very least* you could do is explain *what* and/or *who* we are waiting for: is it because the local telcos want a piece of the pie; is it local legal blocks; or is it something different? Just say *something* to give us hope...

Author's note by timmyh, on 4-Feb-2010 20:49

Thanks for your comments.
@Chiefie - Support is critical and I didn't explain it. I think this is one area where Google should look to leverage the existing support model which is:
customer<->mobile operator<->OEM<->Google
@Draffodx - the G1 has been out now for well over 2 years, since Sept 2008. Apple launched the iPhone 3G in mid 2008 only 1 year after the first model, and then the 3GS & OS 3.0 after 2 years. So I think there has really been enough time to see some more progress from Google.
I take your point regarding special versions and apps being difficult to upgrade. I wonder if there could be some base definition from Google which is more locked down and more controlled - and that has a special name. In general I don't think that most Consumers want to customise their devices very much.
Then sure - let others create what they want as long as that is clearly identified as something different.
@Jan Gundtofte-Bruun - we didn't have the app store at launch in June 2009 and we just couldn't get any info out of Google as to when it would be available. And then in November it just started working without warning. I suppose that's better than still not having it.  

Comment by Linuxluver, on 5-Feb-2010 09:54

Tim: Sept 2008 is only 18 months ago...not "well over two years". Plus, the G1 was the phone on the market and only in a handful of countries until the release of the HTC Magic in April / May / June (depending on country) we we're down to barely more than 7 months....really.  :-)
The sales of HTC magic in NZ are understandable. Vodafone's web doesn't highlight the most significant advantages of the phone - like being able to access apps from many sources, files from any source and use them with apps...and there are now over 25,000 of them. 
No mention of any of this on the Vodafone web site. These aren't advanced functions! Anyone with a PC or laptop accesses their data as and when they need to....and you just can't do that on an iPhone. Android makes it easy and simple (with a few apps added for things like accessing Windows file shares or ftp sites....)    

Comment by Linuxluver, on 5-Feb-2010 10:03

Further comment: Vodafone delivered a pre-Xmas brochure with their phone pricing that had the HTC Magic pricing wrong by over $500. The brochure said it was $979 but the correct price on the plan mentioned was $319....and the iPhone was advertised with $0 on that plan. 

Author's note by timmyh, on 5-Feb-2010 11:43

@Linuxluver - sorry my mistake on the timings, you are correct that it is 18 mnths since launch of the G1, it then took 1 year from launch for that to expand to other devices/countries (HTC Magic).
And your knowledge of the history of HTC Magic with Vodafone NZ is impressive ;-)
There may be deficiencies in the explanation of the Android on Vodafone NZ's website (and most operators) but I would argue that this is down to lack of Google engagement with Operators and their channels, e.g. no supply of suggested copy. An operator has a lot of devices to contend with and this is a complicated device for a so far niche audience.
But shouldn't Google be providing this information themselves via their own communication vehicles - especially web?
All I'm saying is that if Google is happy with a smallish tech savvy mobile customer base then they are doing fine. But if they want to really share in the mass market adoption of Smartphones then there is some real work to do on the product definition and the Go To Market execution.

Comment by lotech, on 5-Feb-2010 15:40

This is all a good read and all the points you & the commenters bring up are true - but like the iPods dominance in mp3 players the biggest issue is getting people to choose something other than the iPhone and I think tou need to be at least at equal footing as the iPhone in peoples minds.

Google (and maybe Voda/HTC/Motorola) need to step up the marketing of the platform in NZ and worldwide - where are the dedicated TVCs? Billboards? Does anyone outside of the nerd kingdom even know what Android is?

I think expanding Android quickly to other products will also help them get the platform out there. Apple sells a hell of a lot of Touches and they really are the gateway drug to the iPhone (and now the iPad). Maybe if there were some good Android mp3 players or tablets then people might see this whole other ecosystem other than the Apple one and consider it.

I'm confident Android will eventually become the most popular smart phone OS, unfortunately it'll be spread across 50 different phones and companies - whereas Apple will make 1 (maybe 2) models - and hold the 2nd position and offer the best experience (and make a whole lot more money).

Comment by Jeremy Wee, on 9-Feb-2010 12:58

Hey Tim! So this is what you have been up to since you left. Sorry i missed out on your farewell as i was on a plane ride back from my month long holiday. :) Great blog by the way. Totally agree with you on every point. So much potential but so little being done to make a larger impact on the market for the Android. Like you, i pride myself in having a keen interest in smartphones yet i know so little about the Android...although i would blame abit of that on you for not making those handsets more readily available for me to play with. lol! Just kidding. Sadly from where im standing, i dont see the situation improving for the Android and with the upcoming release of the ipad in NZ, its definitely not going to get better unless something drastic is done. Oh and im still holding onto a small flame for prepay blackberry! With the cheaper BB handsets, i sincerely believe prepay blackberry is an untapped segment! I dont care what current NZ figures show. :) Bookmarked your blog so will be checking your page often.

Comment by Jeremy Wee, on 10-Feb-2010 17:29

I thought this article is quite interesting and very much related to your blog. The battle between smartphones will more likely be fought between RIM and Android. Comparing the Android to the iPhone is already considered a one sided battle. :)

iPhone makes inroads into businesses

Comment by CraigHumphrey, on 24-Feb-2010 13:08

It's funny, for a minute there I thought you were doing an open letter to Microsoft about Windows Mobile...

WinMo (or WinPho7Ser now?) suffers from many of the same problems and has done for years.

I've been using a WinMo device since the Harrier hit Telecom (now on a Touch Pro 2), and love WinMo for it's consistancies with my (windows) desktop, but as a corporate, we've found very little traction with WinMo devices, in any formfactor (Harrier, Apache, Treo, Touch, Boss, Blackjack) and to a large extent the carriers haven't helped as generally they only have one or two devices running WinMo.

And up until Telecom turned on XT, you couldn't use non-Telecom sourced phones...

Another thing that happens in NZ is a lack of carriers doing mega-advertising of phones, they seem to give equal weighting to their cheapest handsets and their premium handsets. No "big wow" advertising of the latest, most awesome handset.
Even Sony Erricsson have taken down their big sign on Queen St in AKL and that was the most exposure I have ever seen for a handset, and it was from the manufacturer... you wont see HTC doing that in NZ, at least not for a few years I suspect.
I don't even recall Vodafone making a big deal of their iPhones... Not that they need to...

Just my 2c.


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timmyh's profile

Tim Hayward
New Zealand

Former 'Head of Smartphones' at Vodafone New Zealand Marketing from 2006 to 2009. Looked after all key Smartphone platforms, mobile pricing plans, marketing and sales GTM activity.

Now working on mobile application development consulting and delivery especially on projects requiring support across multiple mobile platforms (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian). Please contact me if you have any projects you'd like us to consult or quote on: tim@hayward.net.nz