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As Android Phones And Tablets Take Off, Is Android Gaming Far Behind?


We all know how popular the iPhone and iPad have become. The iPhone's market share is enormous in the US. It's been a marketing phenomenon world-wide, lusted after by technophiles of all stripes. And even though its worldwide market share is only 4%, Apple is reaping the biggest share of industry profits. It's hard to believe this isn't due in large part to the huge success of the App Store - something its competitors have not managed to get a grip on the way Apple has. BlackBerry's App World managed to bring in $165 million in 2010, less than ten per cent of Apple's $1.8 billion.

Meanwhile, there's been a tidal wave in the smartphone industry since Google released its Android OS. Before Android, the big story in smart phones was iPhone versus BlackBerry, with the lines drawn in the sand distinctly between the two. The former, with its big glossy screen, was clearly aimed at a market interested in style and/or that oh-so-popular industry buzzword "convergence." The Blackberry, meanwhile, was a much more practical device for business and communication. Both systems, however share what one might call leverage...or an Achilles heel: They are proprietary platforms. Using iOS means owning an iPhone.

Enter Google, whose smart phone OS, better known as Android, is what we in the gaming world would call "platform agnostic." It can be installed on hardware of all stripes - strikingly reminiscent of the introduction of Windows back when Apple had a stranglehold on home computing. And, like Microsoft's PC OS did back then, Android is exploding.

Google bought Android, along with its developer Android Inc., in 2005. In late 2008, Google released its shiny, new smart phone OS. In 2010, Android's market share increased 888% which may, or may not, have vaulted Google into position as the smart phone OS leader. Either way, Google has gone from a nobody to the front of the pack in just over two years.

Read more, after the jump.

This can't have come as a surprise to Google's competitors. Indeed, in mid-2010 Apple launched the iPad, taking its familiar technology and OS outside of the smart phone business and in to a new business altogether. But the iPad's time as the only game in town was short lived. It went from 95% market share earlier in 2010, to 77% over the holidays - which analysts attribute entirely to tablets running Android. Of course, 77% of the market is enviable, and Apple has pushed almost 15 million iPads with $6 billion in profit over 2010.

So in this red-hot market, why wouldn't Google be salivating over Apple's lunch?

Which brings us back to the App store. Experienced gamers know well that having great tech and little software to back it up will knock a hardware company down from top spot quickly (cough - N64 - cough - PS3 - cough). So after getting used to the pretty screen and the (relatively) poor phone quality of the iPhone, what keeps people coming back? Apps, of course. $1.8 billion accounts for a lot of apps downloaded, and many of them are games. Indeed, much has been made in the video game industry about the potential of the iPhone and iPad to eat in to the handheld gaming market. So with an ever-expanding share of Apple's pie, is Android next in line to go up against Nintendo and Sony? Well, yes. Of course.

That's not to say that anyone is readying an Android-based Pokémon killer (it should be evident by this point that the only company capable of killing Pokémon is Nintendo), but gaming companies, especially casual gaming companies, have to look at that 888% vault over 2009's numbers with dollar signs in their eyes. Indeed, EA has long supported Android, and Zynga, the company that FarmVille built, is readying its Android line-up, with its first game on the market already. Meanwhile, hardware developers are starting to push Android-based units with gaming in mind. In fact, in what some see as a direct threat to Nintendo's 3DS, LG has just shown off the first smart phone with a stereoscopic display...and it's running Android.

After scanning through the Android Market, it's very clear that games for the platform haven't really moved far beyond the sort you can find on Facebook, so what this means for Sony (which is an electronics company first, suggesting it's a natural competitor for Apple and Android-pushing smartphone/tablet developer Samsung), and especially Nintendo (which has demonstrated incredible resilience in the handheld market, and an uncanny ability to reinvent itself and create new markets) is still up in the air. However, it's clear that the people pushing Android are aiming for what Apple's got right now, and to do so they're going to have to back it up with apps to match their ambition. Even though Android is exploding, Apple is still trouncing them in software sales. So it should be clear very soon whether that means the market's not there for games on Android - as the case seems to be for BlackBerry - or that the market just hasn't been tapped.

Questions? Comments? Tell us what you think below.


Branovices said:

I certainly see it as a mostly untapped market rather than one that will be left to professional pursuits. I agree with you in saying that Android phones are going after the cool kids crowd far more than the professional crowd, like Blackberry has... and cool kids want games on their phones to match the other cool kids with iPhones. Easily an untapped market with a demonstrably marketable base.

Adrian said:

I think that it's kind of misleading to look at either iThings or Android stuff as being direct competitors to any handheld currently (or prospectively) on the market. People who have smartphones don't have them to play games, they have them because they're cool, or because they "need" them. The cachet of having internet in your pocket is immense, along with having all your music, movies, yadda yadda.

Sure, tons of iPhone/android apps are games, and everyone and his cat has a smartphone, but how many of those smartphone owners are true gamers? How many of them said to themselves "well, iPhone has Smurf Village as a platform exclusive, so I guess I'm getting one" in the same way that Uncharted or Halo fans had their choice made for them? I'm guessing less than one percent. Hell, I'll say less than one in ten thousand...

Yes, Android marketplace needs to step up their game if they want to compete with the Apps store, but I don't think that gamers are going to tip the scales in their favour as much as people think they will. NGP/Xperia Play is heading in the right direction with onboard Android support, I'd like to see more people whipping out their NGP to find the nearest starbucks or to learn Italian on the bus or whatever.

Personally, I'm more a fan of more hardcore gaming experiences than the usual smartphone fare of tower defense and Angry Birds, although that Infinity Blade does look awful cool...

How many of YOU bought your smartphone based on app exclusivity?

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Adrian on As Android Phones And Tablets Take Off, Is Android Gaming Far Behind?: I think that it's kind of misleading to look at either iThings or Android stuff as being direct competitors to...

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