I live and work in that area of Northern California known as Silicon Valley… the center of tech innovation. Since I moved out here in 1996 I’ve been working in the tech industry and have seen many a technology come and go, from Palm Pilots to Pocket PC’s to Blackberries.
The Fruity Revolution
Once Apple redefined the smartphone in 2007, the mobile landscape started to change. Gone was the vast variety of feature phones and PDA’s as more and more people got iPhones. Apple essentially redefined what a smartphone should be. There’s no disputing that fact. And for the longest time, Apple had no real competition, allowing them to saturate the market with their devices and increase the mind share of their mobile brand.
The Green Robot Wars
Seemingly out of nowhere in 2008, Google came out with their first public iteration of the Android mobile operating system, known as Cupcake. It was showcased on the now historic G1, a QWERTY slider on T-Mobile in the United States, also known as the HTC Dream elsewhere. It didn’t exactly take the mobile world by storm, but it was a very important release since it showed a glimmer of possible competition to the OS from Cupertino.
Three years later, Android has grown tremendously through follow-up releases Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and now Ice Cream Sandwich. Android is in its fourth major release and has matured to a mobile OS that rivals the Apple juggernaut. As a matter of fact, it has now surpassed iOS in market share worldwide. With over 900,000 daily activations, Android is still growing and its app ecosystem is robust.
Silicon Valley Bubble
I was in a meeting at work the other day with 8 people, including myself. I looked around the room and I counted the different types of technology I could see. There were 4 Macbooks, 3 iPads, and 5 iPhones. Only one Android tablet and one Android phone… both mine. As a matter of fact, when I look around my office, the vast majority of people have some sort of Apple mobile device, and much fewer own any sort of Android gadget.
I’ve also been to many Starbucks coffee shops in the Bay Area and they are always aglow with the familiar shape of the Apple logo emanating from practically every table. Don’t get me started on what I see when I attend local tech conferences. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even want to eat apple pie anymore (ok, not really).
So if Android has really penetrated more than iOS has worldwide, why don’t we see more Android in the wild here in Silicon Valley? It seems like there is an Apple-shaped bubble around us whose epicenter lies in Cupertino and extends all the way up to San Francisco, down to San Jose, and over the bay to Oakland.
So What Gives?
Obviously, we can point to the fact that Apple is a Silicon Valley darling. Of course there should be more Apple devices per capita here than anywhere else. But Google is also a local company, so I can’t help but think something else is going on here.
Now keep in mind that everything I am saying here is totally speculation on my part, so take it how you will. My instinct tells me the main reason Apple is so popular here is because it’s Silicon Valley… a place full of tech entrepreneurs and innovators. The people here consider themselves pioneers and visionaries, and when they see a product as successful as Apple’s iPhone, they can relate to its success and want to connect to it.
Since Apple came first, most of these early adopters bought into their ecosystem and grew along with it. Now along came Google with their little green Android and slowly chipped away at Apple’s dominance. But most of these early iPhone adopters haven’t switched. Why should they when they have a perfectly good device and ecosystem already, plus they’ve probably invested lots of money in app and music purchases.
Being an early adopter is common out here. We all love to say we knew the band before they made it big. So when the tech we bet on becomes the dominant player, there’s a sense of pride in knowing we were among the first to see its potential. But now there’s a second group emerging… those of us who did NOT bet on Apple in the first place and held out for that “something better” we knew would come without the price of being locked into Apple’s closed system.
In places across the U.S. that perhaps have fewer early adopters of technology, the higher price of Apple’s devices likely slowed their adoption rate when compared to Silicon Valley. So when Android came in with more types of devices at different price points, it was a no-brainer for a budget-minded customer to choose one of those over an ironically-named less-featured feature phone, not to mention the more expensive iPhone.
So, Android Users Are Poor?
The joke is that Android users are poor and iPhone users have money. That’s not quite true the way I see it. Since Android is open, it allows for manufacturers to make more devices with different features and hardware specs. This means they can make devices ranging from budget-friendly to top-shelf. Covering these price points ensures more sales to a wider customer base. So no, Android users are not poor… they are simply a more financially diverse group.
Sure, as time goes by, older iPhones get cheaper and trickle down to other price points. But it’s still considered the more premium product… one that makes more of a statement about paying more for higher quality. It’s about perception. Maybe even fashion in some cases.
From my limited point of view here in Silicon Valley, it seems that right now, at least, there are more Apple products everywhere you look, and Android devices are not quite as easily spotted.
Winds of Change
All that being said, things do seem to be changing. This Apple bubble I speak of is like any other bubble… it will eventually pop. Though I see more Apple devices daily than anything else, at least I am starting to see some Androids invade. It used to be I would maybe see one Android phone in the wild every few days. Now it’s a few daily. Many of those are from folks finally ditching their Blackberries or Windows Mobile devices. Some are from feature phone users making their first leap into smartphone territory. Finally, a few are from iOS users looking to make a switch to “try the other side”.
Either way you look at it, Android is making a dent, it just seems like its probably a tad slower out here than in most other places.
Like I said before, take everything I say here with a grain of salt. I am speaking only from my very limited viewpoint that covers nothing more than my normal everyday home and work life. Others may have a completely different experience than me. But regardless, there is no question that Android is growing and becoming more and more popular every day. It’s weird being a tech minority out here when worldwide I’d be in the majority.
But you know what? I knew the band before they made it big.