Android Trails iPhone in Satisfaction, but Google Doesn't Care

Last Updated Aug 3, 2010 11:05 AM EDT

All product vendors want to be loved, because it makes sales and profits so much easier to obtain. So you might think the news that Apple (AAPL) iPhone users are more satisfied than Google (GOOG) Android owners would be of concern to the would-be king of mobile. After all, if some chunk of your customers want the competitor's product next time, you'd seem to be in trouble.

Not in this case. Google management is likely sitting smugly in California, because it knows that even though they seem to say the opposite, the numbers are ultimately on their side. Even if Android phones aren't as beloved by their owners as iPhones, Google can still prevail -- and have a way to improve the situation going forward.

According to Nielsen, smartphones are quickly growing in the U.S. market, having hit 25 percent and likely to overtake feature phones by the end of the year, as the graph below shows (click to see the bigger version):

Google -- as well as Apple -- has been riding this wave. Effectively, their market keeps expanding, which is what has allowed the massive growth in sales of iPhones and Android. It shouldn't be a surprise, as back in February, smartphones represented 15 percent of all handset shipments worldwide. It's an explosive rate of growth, and two graphs show who's winning the race:

The first graphs show installed base. As you might expect, RIM (RIMM) is still in front, given the head start it had. But in terms of how the market is developing, the second graph is more telling.

For new purchases, Android has already blown past the iPhone and, should the trends continue, will move beyond BlackBerry by next quarter. It seems clear why. Google's strategy of working with multiple hardware vendors -- and making the operating system free for their use -- is fueling a PC-like strength of multiple phone providers and models. There's more choice, more inventory, more availability. And given Apple's PR gaffes in recent months, there may be more new buyer good will, as well.

Once the purchase is made, things change some. A whopping 89 percent of iPhone buyers would get another one, with only 6 percent who would move to Android. However, only 71 percent of current Android owners say that they would get another Android phone, with 21 percent who say they would buy an iPhone.

It's an apparent danger, and yet I doubt Google is worried. Look again at the new buyer curves and remember a few things:

  • Android phones haven't had the same time to mature as iPhones. With some attention by the vendors, customer satisfaction will rise.
  • Google increasingly rides the wave of new adopters. A rising tide may float all boats, but the U.S.S. Android is on a swell and far more the beneficiary of the changing market. There aren't any clear factors suggesting that will change, and defections from the installed base won't even come close to matching the influx of new customers.
  • People tend to be dissatisfied with a device, not an operating system. Those who bail on one Android phone could well end up on another.
  • Google has a lot of partners competing to provide better handsets, so the chance of getting something to satisfy a greater number of consumers goes up radically.
At least in the U.S., there doesn't seem to be another contender to slow Android's growth. Sometimes it's not being the best, but being good enough and the most widely distributed that matters most. Of course, Apple will have to sell through carriers other than AT&T (T), as I've argued for a while, and that will shake up the landscape some. But still, I'd put my money on wider distribution and selection of hardware. It's going to be the PC market again, only with Microsoft (MSFT) trailing behind.


Image: user woodsy, site standard license.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.