Google’s Android operating system is catching on with consumers. Last week, it surpassed Apple’s iPhone OS in popularity, according to the NPD Group. Despite that, though, it doesn’t seem to be gathering steam with marketers, who are largely avoiding the kind of branded app development they put forward for the iPhone.
Though Clorox and Kraft have recently rolled out Android apps, there are still relatively few others.
Matt Britton, founder of Mr Youth, a New York-based word-of-mouth, social and experiential marketing firm, said one reason is that Android has less appeal for marketers. Brands were eager to associate themselves with the iPhone and Apple even if there wasn’t much ROI, Britton said. Android is another story. “Apple is a brand that every brand in the universe wants to be connected to in some way, shape or form,” he said.
Nonetheless, it’s becoming inevitable that marketers who are developing apps need to consider doing so for more than one OS if they want maximum reach in the smartphone industry, which is expected to grow to 50 percent of the U.S. mobile market by the fourth quarter of 2011, according to Nielsen. Thanks to aggressive carrier promotions like Verizon Wireless’ “buy one, get one free” pitch, Android boosted its share to 28 percent of the market in the first quarter, behind RIM at 36 percent and ahead of Apple’s 21 percent, according to NPD.
The iPhone, with more than 200,000 apps, still has a huge lead over Android, but developers are stepping up the pace for the Google OS. In January, the number of new Android apps was 4,443; last month there were 10,519 new apps, according to Androlib.com. Google estimates there are now at least 38,000 Android apps; others like Androlib, which tracks Android app development, said there are nearly 59,000.
Kayak was one of the first brands to launch an Android app in August 2009. CMO Robert Birge said Android downloads have “exploded” in the last few months with the increase in handsets. “Our downloads have doubled on a daily basis, and the number of daily downloads is pretty darn close to the iPhone now.” More than 1.3 million of Kayak’s 1.6 million unique downloads are for the iPhone app, but Birge believes ultimately the majority of apps will be Android based.
Other factors that bode well for growing consumer acceptance of Android is a strong pipeline of new handsets — including the EVO 4G phone from Sprint — and the rave reviews for the HTC Droid Incredible handset, launched two weeks ago. Ross Rubin, executive director, industry analysis for NPD, also noted that unlike Apple, which refuses to support Flash, upcoming Android handsets will, providing marketers with a more engaging, animated, Web-like experience.
On the other hand, most of the branded Android apps launched to date from Kayak and UPS have lacked the small-f flash of iPhone apps.
“Utility is a key message,” said UPS rep Donna Longino. “Mobile is a great way to extend the UPS brand because — like the UPS brand — mobile technology is all about access and convenience. The very best marketing we can do in this space right now is to provide useable apps.”
That’s not to say that marketers have written Android off. For instance, Clorox is launching an Android version of its myStain app, which offers stain removal tips. The iPhone version launched last month.
“In the future, everyone is going to have a smartphone, and we thought it was a great way for us to be a few inches from the consumer at all times,” said company rep David Kellis. “The more we looked into it, Droid phones are taking off and increasing penetration so immediately [that] we said, ‘Let’s do one or both.’”
Other marketers are less convinced. Among the holdouts: Alberto Culver, Campbell Soup — which doesn’t have any Apple apps, either — Frito-Lay, Heinz and Method.
Kraft Foods, however, introduced an Android version of its iFood Assistant recipe app last month, something that was previously only available on iPhones.
One concern is the growing number of apps out there, which makes it harder to stand out, requiring the additional expense of marketing the apps.
There’s also some doubt as to how much consumers are actually using the apps. Research from mobile analytics firm Flurry, for instance, found that 40 percent of consumers kept their iPhone and Android apps in the first month, but that number drops to just 5 percent six months later. Given that app life span and the increasing costs associated with promoting them, some question whether the ROI is worth the ongoing investment for many marketers.
Among the undecided is ConAgra’s Parkay margarine brand, which has an iPhone app, but no Android version as of yet. ConAgra rep Jeff Mochal said the company’s decision to hold off on creating an Android version of that app is based on whether or not it “makes sense” for the brand from a marketing and financial standpoint. —with Elaine Wong
See also: “Learning From Android”