How Android Helped Google Find Its Fanboys

Last Updated Jun 1, 2010 6:01 PM EDT

Love it or hate it, the world of consumer electronics breeds a unique brand of intensely loyal and energetic consumer -- the fanboy. Apple (APPL), maker of some of the world's finest gadgets, has long been the beneficiary of these online zealots. Now, with the introduction of Android, Google (GOOG) has finally managed to inspire a similar following of its own.

How do you separate out a fanboy, or fangirl, from your average user? Hyperbolic brand loyalty is an important clue. Over at Techcrunch, MG Siegler's negative review of the new HTC EVO 4G this weekend drew nearly 600 comments. As Siegler writes,

I had just slandered the latest reincarnation of their savior. They had to respond. And they did. Hundreds of them. It was quite impressive.

Why is such zealotry a good thing? Because passion is important. If people actually care about Android that much, Google is clearly doing something right. Windows Mobile has never instilled this type of passion in anyone.

There are all sorts of intangible benefits to this kind of fanbase:
  • Driving enormous amounts of traffic on the web
  • Generating excitement for new products that reaches the average consumer
  • Reinforcing marketing from the bottom up
Google's main product, search, generates a kind of reverence and loyalty. But true fanboys require two things: a product in flux and an obvious enemy. The wealth of new phones using Android and the explosive growth of its app market feeds this appetite for something new. And the contest between Apple and Google in the smartphone market provides the perfect struggle for Android's fan culture to fixate on.

What's crucial about this passion is that these fans are not just fixated on individual phones, or the Android operating system, but Google as a whole. Many see themselves as foot soldiers in a larger, philosophical struggle between the locked down perfection that Apple offers and the messy openness that Google has chosen. It's a meme that Android VP Vic Gundotra highlighted at the recent I/O conference, one that the company will continue to exploit across the entire spectrum of its operations. And the fanboys will be there, backing them every step of the way.

  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.