Is Silicon Valley Apple-Centric?

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, Honeycomband 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.

Conclusion

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.

» See more articles by Ed Caggiani


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  • Lawrence D’Oliveiro

    I see it another way: Silicon Valley is becoming more conservative, less adventurous and entrepreneurial. Who are producing the most innovative Android devices today? It’s primarily East Asian companies like Samsung and HTC at the high end, and Huawei and ZTE at the low end. Silicon Valley has nothing like these companies. The Valley VCs are still watching out for companies that look like Apple, completely overlooking that that the new generation of innovation is coming from outfits that are nothing like Apple.

    That’s just how the wheel turns. It’s rare for those who are successful during one revolution to be able to completely rework their mindset for success during the next revolution.

  • http://twitter.com/pareklund Pär Eklund

    It’s all about brand association. If Apple has succeeded in anything it’s brand association. 

    I don’t live in Silicon Valley (not even in the US) but I follow a lot of Silicon Valley based news sites and individuals, and I can definitely corroborate your observations based on that. It almost seems as if (a siginificant number of) people go to great lengths just to get to write about Apple or Steve Jobs. 

    Of course, you have the extremes such as Gruber or Siegler, but regardless where on the fan(boy) scale people fall they all share the same desire – they want to be associated with the Apple brand. That Steve Jobs himself almost manifests the word tech entreprenuer (a lot of it deserved but also a significant part from myth and wishful thinking) only adds to this.

    But there are more sides to the Apple brand association story. Through their zen-like design and (not to forget) focus on premium (read: relatively expensive) products, the Apple brand also attracts the ever growing middle class, with its need to be perceived as having money and good taste. This is in all likelihood why there are other areas worldwide of Apple product over-representation, e.g. here in Stockholm, Sweden where the transformation from almost a socialist society in the 70s/80s to a free-for-all market economy has been a boon for Apple and its products.

    Also, I believe that the (perceived) simplicity of Apple products and the image of Steve Jobs as “an ordinary guy” ruling over the techies and engineers have made people with limited technical knowledge feel empowered, especially those who want to be in the tech industry but have up until recently felt intimidated by the “nerds”. 

    Lastly, I perceive Americans as quite nationalistic (patriotic) and since Apple is as American as a mobile company gets these days – along with all the lore that comes with Steve Jobs – this is probably another contributing factor to its popularity in the US and even more so in Silicon Valley.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=563878214 Klaus Schulz

    When I go from the Verizon/Vodafone HQ in Duesseldorf to Munich, Germany; the Telefonica,O2 Headquarter Regions, I see the same thing Ed., I see 80% of the People whipping out a iPhone4 (nobody has a 3 anymore) and the rest are on Nokia’s or Samsungs. Large Companies issue iPhone’s to their Employees now, for improved “Productivity” since they can tether them to their e-mail after hours. It’s hard for Android to penetrate in Europe, since you can get a 650 Euro iPhone 4 for free, if you sign a 24 Month contract, spending at least 50 Euro’s a Month. Mind you, incoming calls were ALWAYS free in Europe, since the beginning of time.So it is hard, to work up a 50-60 Euro Phonebill per Month, when half the calls are free…., Let’s see how long it takes for Android to take off here…….

    • dang1

      Kantar reports that Android is 60% share of European mobile market

  • Todd Martineau

    Wow, great comments from the first two posters. A lot of good points there. 

    Ed, I live in Rochester, NY and I find that there are A LOT of Android devices here. There are plenty of iPhones of course but it seems like almost every friend of mine is an Android user. I can easily think of 25-30 friends with Android phones and only 3 or 4 with iPhones.

    It seems the strategy to create devices in various shapes, colors, price points, form factors, carriers has been working really well in my area. Some people still cannot live without a physical keyboard. Some love T-mobile. Some want a phone that is blue or red.

    Others can’t afford a $200.-$300. phone or consider themselves ABOVE the kind of person who would spend that much money on a phone. I know a lot of old fashioned people who would rather put that kind of money into family ventures, home renovations, retirement, investments, savings, etc and consider it wasteful to spend that much money on something they don’t NEED. Some of them have PLENTY of money and could easily afford a smartphone but they absolutely refuse to pay the costs of buying one and keeping it running on a data plan. For them smartphones almost seem immoral. I am not at all exaggerating; I have been ranted at enough times for being a smartphone owner. 

    You can imagine my surprise as lately a few staunch smartphone hold-outs finally relented and bought smartphones! My wife and I were shocked by a few of them. We thought they’d never do it. What we are seeing is this kind of person is buying used Android phones for $50.-$100. on Ebay and not activating them. They just use them as mini wifi tablets. We recently witnessed long time holdouts buy a Samsung Captivate ($50.) , HTC Thunderbolt ($110.) and one got a Samsung Infuse ($50.). It seems that nothing can stop the growth of Android in our area. Even the holdouts are giving in! I for one am glad to see that everyone can have at least a little Angry Bird fun no matter how much they are willing to spend. 

    I, on the other hand, am hopelessly in love with new technology and consider Android phones a fun hobby. I don’t mind spending money on my hobby just as some prefer to spend it on their hobbies such as fishing, cycling, gambling, whatever.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that when I read headlines about 900,000 activations per day I can believe it based on what I see happening around me. Sorry to hear things are so backwards where you live. ;)

  • Kevin Gastelum

    I’m a teenager who recently graduated from high school, and freshman year when the G1 just came out I only knew a total of three people who owned one and at least 15 people with an iPhone neither of these are very big numbers but this changes quickly sophomore year, everyone gets an iPhone, I was on the cross country team and choir and people were allways checking race times or looking up the correct way to pronounce something during a song all of them on either an iPhone or Ipod touch. Junior year this changes yet again, Android finally makes a scene at my school and a lot of people have samsung galaxy s’ My dad also just got a Galaxy S at this time but even though it was the most popular Android it wasn’t the only one, I saw a variety of htc, and few motorola. Senior year Android takes over on the phone side, I got a motorola xoom tablet which was vert useful during school but for the first semester it was the only tablet I saw, and people allways came over and asked to see my “ipad” which was extremely annoying, but second semester I saw a few more tablets but it was just like freshman year with the phones, I knew only 2 people including myself who owned an android tablet and maybe 10 people with ipad. After typing all of this I don’t remember why I started.