This year proved a huge milestone for Google’s Android mobile operating system (OS), which reached 84.6% market share in Q2 of 2014, more than doubling its market share in just 3 years, up from 36% in 2011. Nearly 300 million smartphones shipped in Q2 of 2014, which means Android accounted for a quarter billion devices shipped in just 90 days. Mind-blowing figures, without a doubt.
Unlike iOS, which Apple only allows to run within its own proprietary ecosystems of devices, Google provides Android free-of-charge to device manufacturers, and doesn’t restrict what devices can run it. Thus, Android has begun to appear on everything from phones to tablets to watches to car stereos, and on literally hundreds of device brands. Also, since Android is open-source, OEM manufacturers can customize the look and feel of Android, leading to heavily-skinned variants like TouchWiz (Samsung) and Sense (HTC).
Google’s open policy has led to Apple only managing to cling to about an eighth of the mobile OS market (12% in 2014, steadily declining from 18% in 2011), while Android has steadily dominated the remainder of the market, pushing operating systems like Blackberry OS, Windows Phone and Symbian (Symbi-what?) to near-extinction. Blackberry OS, notably, is down to just 0.5% from 14% back in 2011.
However, this milestone is a bit bittersweet for Google. In Q3 of 2014, Android has appeared to have “topped out” its capable market share, slipping a little in Q3 of 2014, down to 84%. Not a huge cause for alarm, but analysts seem to think that “unless there is an unlikely collapse in rival Apple iPhone volumes in the future, Android is probably never going to go much above the 85% global market share ceiling.” (Rolfe Winkler, The Wall Street Journal). However, given the overwhelming dominance driven by its readily available open-source OS, it’s unlikely that Android will decline heavily either.
Google isn’t the only one happy about the success of its Android OS. Consumers are being provided with an increasing number of capable devices to choose from, and companies like Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, Inc. are offering Android devices at prices so low, Xiaomi makes virtually no profit, but instead attempts to make money on accessories while increasing their hardware market share through undercutting the big players like Samsung by a significant margin. This effect is causing prices to stay competitive for consumers, and in some markets has even led to exciting price drops.
While all of this may seem like a good thing for consumers, for us web developers, it has begun a growing conundrum (Aha! You were wondering where I was going with all of this!). As the variety of mobile devices continues to broaden, in great part thanks to the thousands of Android devices available, there is no longer any true “standard” of devices to develop mobile-capable sites for. There is no longer a clear break-point where a mobile site should end, and a desktop or tablet site should begin – if there ever was. Furthermore, the rapidly growing mobile consumer market is continuing to account for a steadily increasing chunk of website traffic. Thus, the importance of responsive sites that adapt to any resolution is becoming increasingly vital. A website has to be designed to work with any device, regardless of screen size or resolution, no matter how great or small. Unfortunately, that is a tall order these days.
I’m an avid Samsung Galaxy fan. I love my Android phone to death. But sometimes, as a developer… I just wish every phone was an iPhone (the same).
Variety is a double-edged sword.