Why iPhone on Multiple Carriers in the US Might Not Hurt Android

We’ve seen a lot of charts throughout the past couple of years since Android’s formal introduction. Mostly good charts. In fact, I can’t think of a chart relating to Android that I didn’t like except for the periodic “State of Fragmentation” report we receive from Google themselves. With nothing but high expectations for Android, people often wonder: why? The number one answer to that question is “iPhone is only on one carrier.”

There’s only one problem with that statement: the United States isn’t the world (as our international reader-base will make sure to remind us every time we post US-centric news.) Even if Android isn’t doing as well in other countries as it is in America, it’s still doing amazingly well for itself. in Europe, you can’t find a carrier who doesn’t want to carry the iPhone. And you’d hard-pressed to find a major carrier that doesn’t actually hold it.

Even still, Android continues to grow. MG Siegler of TechCrunch fame once argued that the United States was the most important market for mobile, and that’s why exclusivity over here is such a big deal and why the iPhone spreading to other carriers would probably spell doom for Android. (I don’t believe that one bit, of course.) But let’s just pretend that the smartphone market in the United States spelled the fate for the software vendors and manufacturers in the game, for a moment.

Consider the scenario of the iPhone heading to Verizon wireless: a network of subscribers bigger than AT&T’s. (And there’s the general belief that their network is just flat-out better.) After a short period of time, we might even see it head to T-Mobile or Sprint. Do you really think Android will suddenly fall off of the face of the earth?

Unlikely. Since the retirement of 2009, we’ve seen lots of high-profile device launches and the trend has become “bigger, faster, harder, stronger” phones from all manufacturers.  Looking at how the rest of 2010 has turned out, that trend has been reversed: “smaller, cheaper, cooler than flip phones, some are even slider phones, and they have keyboards!”

Like the PC market, choice will remain king for a long time. The ratio of smartphone users to feature phone users is very large, still. Smartphones aren’t the end all be all for a majority of consumers, yet, but it’s getting there. And as it gets there, it’ll be necessary to blur the line between feature phone and smartphone, and that’s exactly what Android allows carriers and manufacturers to do.

There was a time – at least in America – where most Android phones would set you back $150 to $200 on two-year contracts. The budget-conscious consumers would normally pass up anything and everything Android in a store because it just doesn’t fit their bill. Even though they’re paying for anything in subsidy whenever they sign that two-year contract, the upfront price will still deter them.

So what will happen when someone enters a store looking for a new phone to replace the bruised and battered one they’ve owned for 8.5 years, and a clerk shows them a $200 iPhone vs a sub-$100 Android? They’ll find that Android can do a lot of the same things that the iPhone can do, if not better (of course), and they’ll strongly reconsider buying that Samsung slider phone that looks exactly like their old one, except it just looks newer.

They’ll be more compelled to jump into a realm they’ve never considered jumping into, and they’ll do it without having to worry about how much of that money was supposed to go toward rent or insurance that month. And they’ll probably be very happy with that phone because it does a lot more than what their old phone did, and that’s all they care about: can it do what my old phone did, and can it do more? It’s the reason Symbian is still the number one smartphone OS even though a lot of Symbian-based phones aren’t considered smartphones. I see no reason to believe that Android can’t achieve that same level of penetration by blurring that line.

Android’s not going anywhere anytime soon, folks. We already believed that, and the analysts – even with the popular forecast of the iPhone headed to Verizon – believe it, as well. If Android hasn’t already become irrelevant in other parts of the world where Apple is glad to do away with exclusivity, then what makes anyone think it’d happen in just one of the many corners of this globe? Looking at the big picture, we’re already sure the iPhone won’t spoil Android’s tremendous growth expectancy over the course of the next few years.


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