John Gruber on Android’s disproportionately low web-browsing share compared to its increasing market share:
I’m not sure how Android’s relatively low share of web traffic jibes with NPD’s report last week that Android phones outsold the iPhone last quarter. BlackBerrys are still the best-selling smartphones in the U.S., and their web presence rounds down to zero, so it’s certainly possible that Android users are more like BlackBerry users than iPhone users. But I always assumed that the reason BlackBerrys had such a small web presence is that RIM’s web browser was so crummy, and the screen sizes so small. Android phones have iPhone-size displays and a very good WebKit-based browser.
When the iPhone’s installed base was still small and it was doing a disproportionately large share of web browsing, we attributed the gain to the quality of Mobile Safari relative to all other mobile browsers (a gap that, while much smaller, still definitively exists today).
Now, I think that was only part of the story. And now that the same disproportional gain is happening with the iPad, I think we’re seeing the effects of other factors.
The reason browser quality matters for web usage is that if a feature is painful or impractical, people don’t just reduce its usage relative to their satisfaction — most of them just don’t do it at all.
But poor browser quality isn’t the only reason why people would choose not to browse the web very much on their phones: another big reason is that they just don’t feel like browsing the web on their phones. Or they don’t like it. Or they never need to. Or they don’t know that they can.
The people who bought the first iPhone, and the people who are now buying the iPad, are not these people. Early adopters will browse the web on their new devices even more than they feel like, or enjoy, or need to, because it’s novel and we like doing novel technological things.
Android’s most recent gains can be almost entirely attributed to the dominance in Verizon’s lineup of high-end Android phones, plus a massive marketing push from Verizon with both advertising and in-store promotions. There are huge banners plastered all over the stores. The phones get prominent display placement. The employees are given bonuses and entered in contests for selling the most Android phones, specifically. If you walked into a Verizon store today wanting a high-end phone and you didn’t have a strong affinity to any particular platform, you’d almost definitely walk out with an Android phone.
(Six months ago, you would have walked out with a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile phone in this scenario, which is why they took huge dives corresponding with Android’s rise in that NPD report.)
My theory is that the people buying the majority of Android phones sold today aren’t geeks or early adopters anymore: they’re “normal people” who don’t care enough about web browsing to do it in great quantity. The phase in which the early adopters were buying Android phones just wasn’t strong enough to build up a big proportion of them: not enough were swayed from the iPhone.
I think most geeks who have been using iPhones and haven’t already switched to Android are unlikely to switch for the foreseeable future. The early-adopter window is closed on Android already. They’ve moved on to mainstream competition, and the mainstream doesn’t include nearly as many people, relatively, who like to browse the web on their phones.