The myth of Android dominance: how Google and Samsung get away with faking Android sales numbers
February 11, 2013 by Beatweek
Ever wonder why sales of Android devices are always listed as “estimated” sales? That’s because Android vendors like Samsung all decline to announce how many Android devices they’ve sold. Android carriers like Verizon and AT&T do the same. They’ll tell you how many phones they’ve sold in total, or other vague numbers, but never anything that reveals how much Android hardware they’re actually selling. Yet headline after headline makes the claim that “Android is taking over” or some other similar suggestion of growing Android dominance over competing devices like the iPhone. So if the news for Android is so great, why wouldn’t Android vendors and carriers want to shout their sales numbers from the mountaintops?
Google licenses Android to the other participants, and while that license is free, it’s still a binding document. And that consistent silence among all Android parties when it comes to sales numbers is presumably because Google has made that silence a condition of the licensing agreement. The reasoning is obvious: Google regularly announces how many Android devices have been “activated” to date, and those numbers are impressive. Almost too impressive.
So much so that the late Steve Jobs publicly accused Google of counting the same devices multiple times in tallying those activation numbers before he died. Pulling off such a stunt is easy. Each time an Android device is upgraded to a new version of the Android software, or even turned off and back on for that matter, it’s technically another activation as the device restarts and gets reactivated by the carrier. Google then announces those activation numbers, which aren’t technically a lie despite being perhaps three to four times times as large as the number of actual Android devices being sold. And because none of the vendors or carriers are announcing actual Android sales numbers, lazy analysts and journalists instead end up reporting those inflated activation numbers as if they were sales.
Those Android “activation numbers” are then placed alongside the iPhone and iPad sales numbers that Apple announces, and the conclusions are drawn that Android is vastly outselling Apple. This begs the question of where all of these supposed Android devices are hiding. AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint have all reported that they sell more iPhones than all other smartphones combined – a story which almost no one in the media has picked up on. For that matter, as of last week the iPhone now single handedly outsells of Samsung’s phones combined in the United States, and that includes Samsung’s still rather large sales of traditional flip phones. That’s right: the iPhone now outsells all of Samsung’s Android phones and all of Samsung’s flip-phones combined. And yet curiously, there was precious little media coverage.
So if the iPhone is utterly destroying Android in the United States, and there’s proof that it is, then the logical conclusion would be that Android must be selling bucket loads of devices overseas to achieve its overall marketshare dominance. The problem with that theory? While the United States legal system is still getting around to deciding whether Samsung’s iPhone copycats like the Galaxy should be banned from the marketplace, most other civilized nations have already done so. In most nations, Samsung’s smartphones (and tablets for that matter) are nowhere to be found, because those court systems have already ruled them to be infringing on Apple’s patents, permanently banning them from the marketplace. So the notion that Samsung is carrying the Android torch brightly overseas is a false one; in many nations Samsung no longer even participates in the Android market. And the overall total sales of other Android phone vendors like HTC and Motorola reveal that they’re mere also-rans whose Android devices sell poorly, with Samsung claiming nearly all of the Android pie. So if the iPhone is outselling all Android phones in the United States, and neither Samsung nor any other Android vendor is doing particularly well overseas, then where the hell are all these supposed Android devices?
The stunning conclusion, yet an obvious one in the face of known data, is that they simply don’t exist. Sure, Android is selling well, and Samsung in particular. It’s easy to scan any public place in the United States and spot a number of Samsung Galaxy phones in use. But if you’ve ever wondered why you tend to see at least as many iPhones as Android phones despite the constant barrage of “Android is taking over” headlines, it’s not your eyes that are failing you; it’s your headline writers. It’s easier for analysts and journalists simply report Android “sales estimates” that are in line with Google’s official Android activation numbers than it is to admit that they don’t have any idea what Android sales numbers really are. And once they’ve started down that path of knowingly toeing the dishonest company line, there’s no going back. It’s why you rarely see stories published about how the iPhone outsells all Android devices combined in the United States, even though the carriers have confirmed as much. It’s why you saw almost no coverage of the milestone last week when the iPhone surpassed all of Samsung’s sales combined, unofficially marking the end of the flip-phone era.
Google knows that the best way to steer more customers toward its Android platform isn’t to compete on innovation (Apple has that locked up) or even on price (the iPhone is priced the same as the most popular Android models). The key instead is to merely create the illusion that everyone else is moving to Android and that it’s become the dominant platform. All that Google has to do to keep up that illusion is to keep publishing what it knows to be gibberish over-inflated activation numbers, and to ensure that none of its Android partners such as Samsung ever reveal any real sales data, and to count on the press to not bother pointing out the massive inconsistencies in the phony claim that Android is taking over.