Ruminating on Android Engagement

Horace Dediu has an interesting article on Android engagement considering results from web activity on differing devices. In short, though there are a lot more Android devices, their usage on the web is a lot smaller than iOS (and we also know that Android users buy fewer apps) so what are these people doing?

My theory is that they’re using them to make calls and send texts.

On Android Activations:

Increment the Activation when the unique device ID associated with the user’s Google account was different than the previous reset.

Which works great when the market is not saturated. But as soon as an Activator hands down a device to another user (Mom, Pop, Little Brother), it counts as another activation. That means that sales of devices are probably a lot lower than reported Activations.

On devices sitting in drawers:

I know when I got my Nexus 7, there was a screen with loud banners and widgets trying to get me to buy stuff, and my primary reaction was irritation.

Apple, of course, relies on device sales to make its money, and so there is no sales pressure present anywhere in the device. You can use the iTunes store and the App Store, but they are just icons on the screen; they are not given any particular prominence, and you are free to ignore them if you want.

That seems like a strange advantage when it comes to getting people to buy stuff with the device, but my working theory is that the hard sell on many of these devices causes them to be dumped in drawers and never looked at again, while Apple’s soft sell makes people more engaged and happy with their purchase.

I don’t entirely agree with this. I think that the devices he refers to in his comment (the really low-end tablets and phones) do get dumped in drawers but I don’t think it’s due to the hard sell. Certainly the advertising on these devices is tiresome but you don’t get anything for free.

On making it up with content:

But the “give away the razors and sell the blades” model they are employing relies on selling a premium blade. For example, printer makers and game consoles virtually give away their hardware and make it up from the exclusive – and high margin – sale of ink and gaming cartridges. There is nothing premium about the content or the advertising that the Nexus or the Fire are selling. Therefore the model fails.

Apple have always maintained the iTunes Store is “break even”. It’s entirely possible that the margins they get from apps and music are very low (for Apple) and therefore they consider it to be negligible. It’s entirely possible that these margins are high enough to sustain a very successful business. For example, Apple sold 1.3 million of the Apple TV in the June quarter of this year. For most, that’s a brilliant business; for Apple, it’s a hobby. And do you think the margins on the Apple TV are close to zero?

The average tablet is capable of surfing the web and other than advertising revenue, when someone surfs the web or reads email they’re not contributing a cent to the content ecosystem. Apple can take that on the chin because they make money on the device. It’s in their interest to make that experience worthwhile

On Android and the Web:

The reason there is a disparity in that Android users are not browsing the web is because they simply cant (effectively). The majority of Android users are running 2.3 [sic] which is a horrible internet experience. So though, yes, it is true that Android Popularity surged and has gone over the iOS, the main reason for this is simply just because it was an alternative

I don’t think this is the only reason, but it’s contributing to the mix. We have two Android devices in the house and both of them are “orphaned” by the manufacturers (HTC, Samsung). And being out of date means malware.

On the marketing of devices:

Apple devices seem to be marketed as devices that do something. Commercials show the device in use, doing stuff like editing a photo or drawing a picture. People who respond to this marketing do so because they too want to do these things too.

Android devices, on the other hand, seem to be marketed around other factors – you almost never see the device being used to solve some need. Instead, they seem to be marketed around emotional factors. Droid is tough. Galaxy is for folks who think Apple fans are iSheep.

I think Samsung is changing this, especially with some of the Note marketing I’ve seen this year. Their examples may not be as clear as Apple’s but they’re certainly trying to appeal to folk trying to get stuff done. Maybe they figured out that insulting customers wasn’t a way to win.

The Note commercials, while not attracting me to buy one, are interesting me. That’s a subtle difference and reflective of my demographic.

The Tablet Market Is Changing

This was Carphone Warehouse about a month ago. The display unit you see in the picture is covered with different types of tablet, on both sides. From Aconia to RIM, from Samsung to Asus.


Today, when I went to Carphone Warehouse, there was one tablet on display (a Nexus 7) and the only other with any presence was a Samsung 10″ tablet, free with a contract phone worth £15.50 a month.

In any war, there are casualties. I think the industry is solidifying around a handful of players. And retailers simply can’t afford to invest in every player. They’re going to pick the winners.

It’s not the product, it’s you

Oliver Reichenstein writes:

When people say the UI of Android is so intuitive/unfamiliar, it’s because Android doesn’t educate us through marketing

Which is shorthand for “It’s not the product, it’s you”.

Andy Rubin whined last week about how the consumer wasn’t educated and that’s why they weren’t buying.

“The educated consumer realizes it now that they’re either picking the Apple ecosystem or the Microsoft ecosystem or the Google ecosystem… we’re going to do a better job at making people understand what ecosystem they’re buying into.”

It sounds to me that they believe the problem with Android tablets is all about marketing. It couldn’t possibly be that the product needs polish. Expect adverts, lots of adverts.

Where does he get those wonderful toys….

Further to my earlier post about CIIF, I think it’s important to point out what an amazing opportunity this is for web and mobile companies in Northern Ireland. I remember the first time I saw a CSS-based parallax scrolling background (Example) and I marvelled. And then I saw the Safari tech demo pages (Example) and I marvelled again. I just loved the falling leaves demo and I absolutely love what Paul Hayes did here.

It cannot be underestimated what the creation of toys can bring in terms of eyeballs. For a talented web developer team, they might get 100,000 hits from Hacker News but it only takes one new client (resulting from the coverage) to pay for the investment in the tech demo. The Creative Industries Innovation Fund can help a smart development team make great amazing toys.

For instance: look at this Kickstarter for A Canvas and WebGL Programmer’s Text Editor by Robey Holderith. He’s seeking $4,096 in order to “pay” him to build this. CIIF is offering up to four times that amount of money to get people to build amazing stuff.

I also look at the recent release of Kindle Cloud Reader which, although not perfect, really shows how good a web app can be (especially on iOS if you pin it to your home screen and therefore lose most of the Safari borders).

CIIF is looking for 50 great projects. Some of them will be tour guides, some of them web apps, some of them promotional videos but I’d love to see some really REALLY inspiring HTML/CSS stuff. I want developers and designers to thin hard about breaking the laws of (web) physics with this stuff. Do something that makes your peers go “wow”. Make it kick ass with WebKit and use your network to test and refine it.

And if you’ve already made some wonderful toys then please send me the link for it. We need to showcase talent when we see it. I want to rave about my colleagues and countrymen and tell everyone about their talent because while there may be appsterdam, we were doing it first with XCake.

Now, I know this isn’t always going to be possible but I am reminded of when the XCake folk have been able to stand up in front of their peers and tell them all about their latest view controllers. It’s gobbledygook for the rest of us but it shows the talent of the teams involved.

What I’m saying is: Make something awesome. Make a wonderful toy. And tell everyone.

Anyone fancy going to the Southampton Boat Show in September?

The show is on from the 16-25 September in Southampton, no less. Advance tickets are very reasonable. See here.

Just interested in seeing if other travellers would like to attend as I’d love to make the trip down maybe for one of the weekend days.

Bringing this back into the realm of the day job: I went to the London Boat Show earlier this year and I was struck by one thing: how few of the traders and chandleries in the exhibition stands were prepared for taking payments other than cash. I’d see this sort of market ripe for companies like AirPOS to provide mobile points of sale turning netbooks, tablets and even phones into a point of sale for small businesses.

The first business show that I exhibited at really drilled home the concept:

Don’t give me your business card, give me your credit card.

For smaller items, you just want to buy, for larger items you want it to be shipping to your house just after you get home (or waiting in your office). Having a connected Point of Sale with an online store can make all of the difference. It pains me that so few companies take this on board.

There are predators in the water

Apple has released another advertisement for the iPad which again takes us away from the “DUAL CORE”, “1 GB RAM” or showing people skipping (?!!!??!?!)

Apple are, of course, focusing on the apps. Apps for everything. I just read a thread on a sailing forum about whether to bring a laptop or an iPad as an onboard computing tool and the overwhelming replies were about the iPad. Only one respondent recommended a laptop and only one recommended an Android tablet. It is all about the apps.

Apple has successfully managed to avoid competitor comparisons. The closest we’ve seen has been the recent “Not an iPhone” series which divides the world into two sections: iPhone and Not iPhone.

This is essentially how the tablet market will play out. Apple will continue to buy up huge amounts of components and manufacturing for their huge shipments while competitors will be competing not only for marketshare and mindshare but for components and manufacturing – and not just against Apple but against every other manufacturer. I read today of a new Indian-sourced Honeycomb tablet on the market. The competitor for that tablet is the PlayBook, the Web OS tablet offering, the other Android tablets. Those are the predators in the water.

I don’t have a good animal kingdom simile here but it’s a bit like a Great White Shark in the water with a few hundred Piranhas. The Piranhas would love to eat the Shark but they can’t. They can only eat the scraps the Shark leaves and if one of their number gets hurt or shows weakness, they eat him too.

Lest we forget, Apple’s “old” iPod has still yet to be unseated as the music player of choice. Maybe music is old hat now but you have to imagine that it’s still a money maker for the Cupertino giant. Apple wasn’t a giant in 2001 when the iPod was released and all of their hungry, predatory competitors failed to destroy them. Instead they let them build an ecosystem, an entire new OS branch, a software store and still, ten years later, nothing has managed to destroy the iPod. Except maybe the iPod touch.

So what makes the pundits think that the now, after Apple reporting unprecedented growth for umpteen quarters, they’re going to just disappear?

Location: it’s a feature, not a bug

Apple came under fire this week as it was revealed (by a research paper dating back to 2010) that a file is created and maintained on the iOS system which contains location data for every time you have queried location services. For me, as you can see from previous posts), it presented a way to map my movements. No big deal as you can also see, I publish my movements live on Latitude.

At no point is it true (at the moment) that this location data is sent anywhere. It is stored on your phone so if you lose your phone to a wily thief who cares where you drink coffee more than he or she cares about your contacts database, browser history, cookies and access to your email, then you may be in trouble. But it’s not stopped quite a few journalists from making the accusation that Apple knows where you’ve been and is obviously using this to beef up iAds or something even more sinister!

It turns out that Android does the same – the difference being that they only store the last 50 entries. This is entirely sensible and highlights an error in the way Apple was handling this data. It’s not clear whether this data is transmitted to Google (and with their recent history, it would not surprise me) but we should probably wait until it’s confirmed. A sceptic might suggest that Google only stores the last 50 entries on device because it uploads them to their secret Texan datacentre constantly anyway but I’ll not accuse here.

The bottom line is that Google is handling the caching of the data correctly and Apple is not. But it makes me really want desktop and mobile apps for visualising my location data over time and having this as an opt-in service or better still ‘an app’ is obviously what I want. Latitude does a half-assed job of recording and a worse job of reporting and it’s the reports that I’m interested in. I want to see where I go. At what speeds.

So where are the apps that really do Location well?

iPhone vs Android: software lock-in and halo effect


77% of iPhone owners say they’ll buy another iPhone, compared to 20% of Android customers who say they’ll buy another Android phone.

I’ll address these as the result of two separate things.

Software lock-in on the iPhone is high for most people. Once you’re in there with Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies and any of the other paid-for iPhone apps, you’re going to suffer from an unconscious lock-in. This hasn’t really occurred on Android initially because of it’s slow adoption but more recently because it’s still not possible to actually be paid in many countries if you’re a developer which is slowing adoption as well. And because the good paid apps aren’t there, normal people aren’t buying them which is again reducing the lock-in.

Software lock-in (essentially meaning the ability to transfer your software to other similar devices but not other platforms) is working well for iPhone but is currently worthless on Android. Software lock-in is not a bad thing in itself – it can’t be used as an argument for or against any mobile platforms because all of them practise lock-in – but it has an effect.

For example, this is my page of folders on iOS:


Every one of those folders is an incentive to stay with iPhone. Primarily because there’s some good fun in there but also because my kids are really happy to be distracted by lots of different colourful games when we’re waiting in the car or during a long journey. Therefore I get additional lock-in pressure from my kids.

In the office where I’m based there are six people. When I started there, one had an iPhone (me!). The others had a variety of Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices. Now, two years later there are five iPhones and one Android device in use. (One of the individuals went to HTC Magic running Android from Blackberry and since then has had a iPhone 3GS and is now on an iPhone 4.) The one Android device left here in the office is a HTC Hero still running Android 1.5. I would describe this as a Halo effect. Different to the common Halo effect (easily described as the effect of buying one device with an Apple logo meaning you buy a lot more), this is showing that experiences with the device are leading to others buying the device. This is partially related to software lock-in; people are interested in getting the same software as you.

For the record, the one Android device will apparently disappear from this office when the contract ends. This is not a good trend for Android.

I, myself, have bought each iPhone as it has been released (I’m still waiting for my iPhone 4 to arrive) but despite my interest in Android, I’ve yet to buy any hardware. This is entirely because the hardware churn in Android is extremely rapid which means there never seems to be a good time to buy. With the iPhone, you know there’ll be a new model every June but with Android, there’s a new model with slightly tweaked specifications coming out every month or so. And some of them have Android 2.1 and some have earlier versions of the OS but I’m expecting Android 2.2 – hence my reticence to buy now. The minimum specifications for Android seem to be rising and some features (such as the ballyhooed Flash) do not run on sub 1 GHz devices so this is again putting me off – 1 GHz has become the new minimum and currently shipping devices don’t seem to be exceeding this. Where’s the high end device?

All of this contributes to a ecology where Android is selling briskly (helped by Buy One, Get One Free tricks – also used by RIM but never by Apple) but that people are not returning to Android as a whole. It’s something that Google needs to resolve. And Nokia needs to respond as well – though they may have sold 10x the number of handsets as Apple, Apple is making more than 10x the amount of profit (creating a factor of nearly 100 difference between the companies). iPhone with it’s singular presentations (ignoring the current ‘legacy’ iPhone 3GS still being sold) is a clear marketing position. Nokia still produces dozens and dozens of different models. This is why iPhones in cafés are so recognisable but it’s so hard to identify the market share for any other individual model of phone. This contributes to the Halo effect I mention above. You can easily spot people using iPhones (and due to the dearth of ringtones, hear them). How about the frequency of spotting any other model or brand of phone?

Why the iPhone still is #1 for business

At DevDays last week, Dermot Daly replied to a question about ‘other mobile platforms’ by saying that the amount of money changing hands on iPhone is enough for most people to consider but the important point is that the falloff in money when you go to other platforms is so severe that they’re not work considering yet unless you already have a customer who’s willing to pay for the effort i.e. if there’s not enough money in iPhone then there’s definitely not enough money in any other platform.

But you also have to look at the engagement. Hyper-local review site Yelp state they have 32 million unique visitors from all sources and only 1.4 million of them were iPhone users which sounds tiny. But those 1.4 million users were responsible for 27% of Yelp searches, they make calls to businesses once every 5 seconds and nearly a million people used Yelp’s iPhone app to find directions to businesses in May.

So aim for deep engagement, aim for people to carry you around in their pocket, make it easy for people to use you and they will use you.

They Make Games


Of course, they don’t make any yet, but they will. And I went for the retro Battlezone-type graphics because I have zero skill with Photoshop and Illustrator any more (never mind not having a copy that would run on Snow Leopard) so my varied tweets last night are generally about finding folk who can put together something for me (for a reasonable price).

The aim of the company (as you can tell from the Twitter profile) is to apply game-like experiences in mobile, mhealth and e-learning. I’ve a heap of ideas in this and my next steps will be to start to put together people who will be important to the development of the company.

Alien Salvage will be contributing to the Digital Circle-initiatived BLOC54 collaborative network focussing on the Games Development Industry in Northern Ireland.