August 17, 2012

Adopting to the Latest Android

By Allen Umali, BuzzCity Executive Producer

Google recently released the latest version of its Android mobile operating system. Android 4.1 - codenamed "Jelly Bean" - has a number of new features including voice search (Google's version of 'Siri') and tap technology for transferring photos between phones. It's also faster, more responsive and less likely to crash.

But if you are a developer, ad agency or brand, heed these words:

Before you rush onto the Jelly Bean Bandwagon . . . don't.

At least not yet. Here's why:

 Slow Adoption

Since Android 1.0 was first introduced to the market in September 2008, there have been nine updates, many of which are still in use.

And while Jelly Bean may be the latest hottest mobile OS, it is going to take several months - at the very least - before we begin to see any sort of significant uptake of it in the market.

There are a few reasons for this.

1. Many older handsets will not be able to run the new operating system.

In some cases, the hardware simply cannot take it. In others, manufacturers do not make the update available as they would rather consumers purchase a newer device.

Take the HTC Desire, for example. Released in February 2010, it was launched with Android 2.1 Eclair. Later, consumers could upgrade to 2.2 Froyo. Up until now, the HTC Desire has not progressed beyond the Froyo update.

Motorola meanwhile released the Droid Bionic in September 2011.  At this point, Honeycomb (3.x) was already on the market and Ice Cream Sandwich was just a month away.  But Motorola launched the Droid Bionic with Android 2.3 Gingerbread and has yet to offer any upgrades for the phone's OS (though Droid Bionic users may be able to get Ice Cream Sandwich in another month or two).

2. Time to customise handsets

Handset manufacturers need time to customise and test how their products work with the new operating system.  This takes longer than you'd think.  As Ryan Whitwam explains in ExtremeTech, "it's not as easy as picking up the code from Google one afternoon and pushing updates out the next."

And while they are testing the latest version of Android on their phones, handset manufacturers also create custom interfaces and new patches for the OS, to differentiate themselves from each other.  These take time to test too.

3. Time for carriers to upgrade their own apps

In some markets, a consumer's phone is 'locked' by the carrier until it approves an update. This process takes some time because there are several issues that the carrier will want to address before making the new OS available, including

a) testing and upgrading their own apps and services to ensure they work seamlessly in the new environment

b) testing for problems such as signal quality

c) training its customer service team to address questions about the new system, as some consumers -- especially those who are not tech-savvy -- will have problems with the new functions and settings. 

A challenge for developers

Each new OS update generally has better audio and a better way of displaying items than its precursors. In this case, Google would naturally like developers to take advantage of these features and produce games and apps for Android 4.1 with higher quality animations and sound.

First, though, developers need to closely examine changes in the OS to see how it affects their apps. For example a game developed for the iPhone 3 may run faster on the iPhone 4, but it won't look as nice. Developers receive the new codes in advance, but it still takes time to redesign games to fit a new screen, then test and launch it. This cycle generally takes about six months.

Android is definitely gaining market share.

From January to June, the percentage of consumers with Android phones across our network grew from just 4% to 12%. Over the same period, Symbian OS's market share dropped more than ten points to 19%.

Yet the majority of Android users in our network -- 70% in fact -- are using some version of Android 2 (Eclair, Froyo and Gingerbread). Of these, Gingerbread (Android 2.3) is the most popular . . . and it was released in December 2010.

And what about Jelly Bean's precursor, Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich?

While its usage has been driven by the popularity of the Samsung Galaxy, only about sixteen percent of Android users have this OS.

Plotting your course

There is a lot of buzz now around Jelly Bean, some of it rightly so. It is a cool new operating system.

The problem though is that a lot of companies get taken in by the hype without first checking out the reality of the market.

The same thing happened when the iPhone first came out or when Apple announced upgrades to iOS.

Your boss tells you 'hey, we've got to develop for the latest thing'. Or an agency sells you on a campaign built around the new OS' latest features.

This takes time and money.

But most consumers simply aren't there yet. For now, you'll get a better return on your efforts by focusing on older versions of Android . . . not to mention Nokia (which has a 21% market share for operating systems and 40% for handsets) and Symbian.

Related Links

Check out this infographic from the BuzzCity Q2 2012 Report on trends dominating the mobile industry.