Android in 2013: Ecosystem

Reading a Green Palm to See Android's Future

This is part five in a continuing overview of where Android may wind up in 2013. Previous posts in the series examined the smartphone segment, other devices, OS capabilities, and applications.

Today, we'll look at the broader Android ecosystem and make some predictions of what is in store for the lil' green guy.

There will be a staggering number of firms that will have released Android-related products by 2013. Some will be brand names many people will recognize. Many will be smaller firms targeting markets far from you. The bigger question will be staying power: how many manufacturers will continue using Android, after their initial experiments? Many smartphone makers may stay the course, but it is entirely possible that Android will be a flash in the pan in other market segments.

Similarly, there will be massive number of firms providing development services related to Android. Simply put, there are more opportunities to provide niche assistance with Android than with any other mobile operating system. For example, while there are certainly many iPhone OS designers, developers, and consultants, many of those will wind up supporting Android as well, to broaden their potential market and to get deeper commitments from their existing customers. Yet there are many niches — firmware development, marketing apps to OEMs, Android remixes, etc. — that are unavailable for iPhone OS simply due to that software's distribution model. A renewed Symbian will probably have comparable numbers to Android, and Microsoft should retain enough Windows Mobile service providers, despite their OS overhaul, to be up there as well.

However, I expect that, in terms of developers publishing apps, iPhone will be #1 in 2013 as it is today. It will continue to offer a single giant piece of low-hanging fruit for developers to go after, with the highest install base of a single device family and strong App Store sales (for apps deemed suitable). Android and the others will be duking it out for second place.

Android devices will have more distribution outlets than iPhone, perhaps even more than Symbian, in 2013. That is largely because of the range of potential Android devices, from smartphones to tablets to set-top boxes to digital radio receivers to who knows what else. More retailers will be likely to have just an Android device for sale (e.g., Barnes & Noble with the nook) than will have only Apple or Nokia devices. And Android's breadth and depth of devices means, for retailers selling a wider range of products, Android will likely have at least one in their lineup.

The countervailing force will be a weaker brand presence. Apple heavily promotes iPhone and can offer a consistent message. Nokia will heavily promote their Symbian devices and can offer a consistent message. Fewer Android device manufacturers will be doing massive promotions, either directly or through partners (e.g., Motorola and Verizon for the DROID). Google, for its part, does very little consumer marketing, so it is unlikely to turn into a promotional juggernaut by 2013.

The final post of this series comes up next, looking at Android and open source in 2013.

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