“Android will run majority of smartphones by Spring”

This latest quote comes from Adobe Systems’ CTO Kevin Lynch during an interview with Fortune. It’s actually an approximation of what he said, but I think it captures his intent, which is to suggest that Android will shortly become the dominant smartphone operating system, and to imply that Adobe — with its close partnership with Google surrounding Flash — is not quite as dead on smart devices as we have been lead to believe. More on that shortly.

But first, here is the link:

http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2010/11/10/adobe-cto-android-will-run-majority-of-smartphones-by-spring/

The article contains a set of statements attributed to Lynch in which he states that he expects Android to achieve a 50% share “in the springtime”. If true, this implies a meteoric rise in Android adoption from 3% in late 2009, to 26% in late 2010, to 50% by early 2011. The sheer number of devices that can potentially run Android along with the large number of wireless carriers that support it will give it a huge advantage over Apple and iOS in terms of growth and market share. This numerical superiority could justify Lynch’s prediction, but it does not imply that customers are choosing Android because of the quality of the experience. This is a key point, in my opinion, because Apple can close the proliferation gap — via a CDMA-based iPhone for Verizon, perhaps — and after they do so then market share will more closely track the customer experience. This is where the tightly controlled and polished iOS and iTunes App Store experience will continue to shine, and this is where Android will continue to deal with fragmentation issues in their device base that will affect the customer experience. What fragmentation issues, you ask?

A quick look at the Android Developers Site gives us the latest data on which versions of the Android OS are currently in use across the global Android device base. As of November 1, 2010, they are:


Android 1.5: 7.9%
Android 1.6: 15.0%
Android 2.1: 40.8%
Android 2.2: 36.2%
android versions
 

This data indicates that the Android device base is fragmented by OS version into three large buckets: obsolete versions (both 1.5 and 1.6) at 23%; version 2.1 at 40.8%; and version 2.2 at 36.2%. This presents a challenge, to say the least, to Android developers who wish to write apps that will run on any Android device, and this will certainly affect the quality of the overall Android experience. And, getting back to Adobe, it is worth noting that only Android 2.2 — at 36.2% — supports Adobe Flash 10.1 for a true Flash experience on a mobile device. Collectively, devices running any version of Android might achieve a 50% market share as Lynch suggests, but that metric does not appear to be an apples-to-apples comparison with Apple’s iOS because of this fragmentation. Apple does not report iOS version percentages as Android does, but an educated guess is that a much higher percentage of Apple devices are running the latest version of iOS due to the relative ease of the iOS upgrade experience via iTunes.

Which leads me back to Lynch’s implication that Adobe is well-positioned via its partnership with Google to capitalize on Android’s market share. The data above shows that only a minority of Android devices (36.2%) can run Flash 10.1 today. Unless this percentage rises significantly in the next six months, Flash adoption on Android devices will not keep pace with Android’s growth rate. To be fair, new growth in the Android device base should be almost exclusively newer devices running the latest version of Android, and this should serve to increase the overall percentage of Android devices that can run Flash 10.1. But for now, Adobe and Flash appear to be chasing an Android market that is accelerating away from them.