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Google’s increasingly vexing Android perception issue

Apple is persuading an entire generation of phone purchasers that Android is out of date, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

When you ask most Android supporters about the endless “iPhone vs. Android” argument, you’re likely to hear some amusingly similar conclusions:

  • Android is more advanced and ambitious, both in terms of software and hardware (hey, folding phones!).
  • Android is more customizable and productive because of all the ways it allows you to take entire control of your virtual environment and make it function the way you want it to.
  • In comparison, the iPhone appears bland, old-fashioned, and dull.

Although Apple’s iOS platform has benefits, it’s difficult to argue that Android is the more current, powerful, and adventurous platform (a contrast highlighted wonderfully in this recent video study by the ever-balanced Marques Brownlee).

However, if you talk to the majority of non-tech-savvy phone customers, particularly in the United States, you’re going to get a totally different impression.

It’s building out to be a major issue. And it’s becoming increasingly important for Google to address.

The Android-Apple shift

You’ve seen the statistics, right? For a time, the tides in the United States have been shifting, and Apple has been capturing a larger share of the American mobile market.

According to Counterpoint Research, Apple presently controls just over half of all US smartphone sales, with 52% of Q2 2023 device purchases compared to 48% for Android. To be clear, this is entirely a North American phenomenon: According to the same set of data, Android accounts for a massive 81% of all phone sales globally over the same time period. However, the developments in the United States are undeniable.

And the tendency appears to be much more severe among The YouthsTM: According to an annual poll conducted by an investment firm named Piper Sandler (which, as far as I can determine, has no link to Adam), 87% of adolescents now own an iPhone, with 88% expecting an iOS device to be their next mobile device. Granted, the study only covers 5,690 respondents, so it isn’t quite exhaustive. It is, nonetheless, commonly referenced as a typical sample of contemporary trends.

What’s more alarming than the numbers themselves is the mentality that appears to be driving the statistics. A recent Wall Street Journal article that claims:

  • Deb Harrison lives in a split house. The mother of two adolescents from Hudson Valley, New York, says her children agree on a lot of things, but they can’t seem to agree on their telephones. Kira, her 15-year-old daughter, owns an Apple iPhone 11, as do all of her friends. She didn’t want to be “the odd one out,” Harrison explained.
  • What is the source of this operating-system snobbery? Melissa Jones, a former teacher in Lebanon, Ind., notes that pupils value having a new, up-to-date phone the most. And, judging by the abundance of TikTok material that puts users of the two operating systems against one other — with Android typically being the punchline — many kids identify Androids with older technology and older people, regardless of how modern the phone is. 

Yeesh. And don’t hang up – it just gets worse from there:

  • In a video from April, 20-year-old online entrepreneur Abdoul Chamberlain says, “You’re telling me in 2023, you still have a ‘Droid?”, “You gotta be at least 50 years old.” The video goes on to suggest that only parents own Androids, and despite assertions from Android users that features like cameras and battery life are superior to the iPhone, Chamberlain refuses to buy one. 
  • Other videos are more sombre in tone, describing the experience of showing up to high school with an Android phone and being referred to as “broke” or “mediaeval” by the poster’s classmates. More describe the sensation of being the only Android user in a group chat of iPhone owners, humiliated by texts that, when displayed in Apple’s exclusive iMessage technology, show in a startling bright green rather than the cool blue of messages transmitted between Apple devices.

Isn’t it amazing what years of tremendous marketing and deceptive messaging can accomplish?

The Android image contest

As absurd as this notion may be, there’s no denying it exists — at least in the United States — and the pressure on Google to address it becomes stronger with each passing month.

The iMessage issue appears to be a large part of it, and that’s no surprise: Apple has purposefully dumbed down its iPhone texting experience for years in order to promote the notion that Android phones can’t keep up with its standards. The truth, of course, is exactly the reverse — and, unfortunately, iPhone users suffer the most from the inferior experience that this artificial intransigence provides. However, the basic purpose of demonising Android devices by making them appear less powerful is certainly succeeding.

(Also ironically: Google originally had a tremendous edge in the mobile texting sector, and it’s the company’s own failure to commit to anything that put them into this position in the first place. But it opens a whole other bucket of worms.)

Still, although it’s simple to blame iMessage messaging — and the phenomenon’s US-centricity undoubtedly supports that as a leading argument to the Apple-vs.-Android perception problem – there’s probably likely more to the tale.

Take a look at the top-selling phones throughout the world, for example, and you’ll notice a fairly constant trend that’s been around in some form for years. Plain and simply, the Android smartphones that the majority of people are purchasing are the ones that are completely subpar.

Only two Android handsets made the “most popular” product list in a recent Counterpoint compilation of the most popular phone models of 2022: the Samsung Galaxy A13 and Galaxy A03 – phones that are normally offered through carriers for under a hundred dollars each.

Another list from Omdia paints a similar picture for the first half of 2023, with Samsung’s Galaxy A14, Galaxy A14 5G, Galaxy A54 5G, and Galaxy A34 5G (gesundheit!) earning four of the top ten worldwide smartphone sales rankings.

Let me explain what these low-end Galaxy A-this-and-that devices are all about for those of us who reside in the land of Google Pixel goods or even higher-end Samsung Galaxy gadgets:

To use a technical word, they are “steaming hot piles of garbage” – absolutely awful all-around user experiences with bloated software, inadequate performance, and almost no continuous software support.

And when the great majority of people across the world associate Android with those sorts of devices, paired with Apple’s carefully imposed view of Android as the lesser platform that can’t keep up with its magical messaging standards, it’s no surprise that people believe Android is terrible. Can you really blame them?

There is, however, one hope for the future. And it’s entirely in Google’s control.

The Google Pixel promise

For years, I’ve extolled the merits of Google’s Pixel platform and the unparalleled all-around experience it provides.

As much as I dislike drawing the comparison, the Pixel is the closest thing to a “iPhone-esque” setup on Android — with the same firm responsible for the operating system also creating the hardware and managing the complete end-to-end experience.

The result is a degree of cleanliness, composure, and cohesion that you just don’t see anywhere else on Android — not to mention a noticeable lack of the bloatware and confusingly duplicate services that device makers like Samsung love to build into all of their Android products. (And don’t even get me started on the sleazy data-selling component of the equation.)

With no offence to anyone who legitimately appreciates Samsung’s approach to Android, I’ve spoken to innumerable individuals who have switched from a Galaxy phone to a Pixel over the years, and almost all of them have performed the same song: “Wow! I had no clue Android was this capable. “I had no idea how much I was missing.”

That is the Android experience Google wants average techies to be aware of. But when the phrase “Android” is connected with so much dreadful crap, it’s nearly hard to break away and generate a favourable picture.

Despite how subtle they may appear, we are witnessing some little indications of optimism despite the darkness. Pixel sales have been gradually climbing for some time now, despite the fact that overall smartphone sales are faltering – a pattern worth noting.

According to a June 2023 research, Pixel sales increased by 20% year on year from last summer to this year, while overall phone sales fell by 11%. Another research earlier this year predicted a 67% year-on-year increase in Pixels in the first quarter of 2023. Other recent quarters show Google’s yearly increase as high as 230 or even 380 percent, all while general smartphone sales have been declining.

However, actual sales are still very low, with Pixels accounting for only around 4% of the US smartphone market (despite supposedly now holding the #1 place for phone sales in Japan – go figure!). But, as we saw with Android itself back in the day, the tendencies here speak loudly. Even if the data are somewhat meagre for the time being, if these patterns continue quarter after quarter, the larger picture will begin to alter sooner rather than later.

Of course, the analogy to Android in its early days isn’t fully accurate. Android has always had the advantage of having several phone manufacturers producing a diverse range of goods, whereas the Pixel is a single device line produced by a single vendor. But two- to three-digit increase year after year can only pile up, especially while everyone else is struggling to sell phones.

Nonetheless, the difficulty remains the perception of Android, which may be difficult for Google to penetrate. It’s difficult not to wonder if the Pixel’s association with the Android brand will eventually prove to be a limiting factor for both the platform’s future and the Pixel’s success, and if Google would be better off emphasising the Pixel as its own separate alternative — or perhaps framing it as part of a small and closely guarded subset of devices that receive some sort of enhanced branding to indicate their exceptional-experience status (Android Silver, anyone?).

In any case, it’s evident that Google has a lot of work to do in order to fix the ever-expanding Android perception problem before it’s too late. With the Pixel product line and everything that surrounds it, it has the solution right in front of its face. The question now is whether it can harness the momentum and transform its modest but strong spark into a genuinely formidable advantage.

Psst: Do you have a Pixel? Is there a pixel? Sign up for my free Pixel Academy e-course to learn about tonnes of hidden phone features and time-saving tips!

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