The story goes like this: The iPhone comes out, and it’s the only smartphone anyone wants, because there’s never been anything like it. It is the smartphone. Step forward a few years, and Apple is losing to Google—at least in sheer numbers of phones being sold. What happened?
People without money happened.
The split between the ever-pricey, ever-coveted, newly chamfered iPhone and everything else is glaring: The iPhone is universally considered good. A lot more Android phones are considered good enough—or, more to the point, good enough for what they cost. And it’s that trait more than any new feature that’s guaranteeing Google its role as Phonemaker of The People, a democratic gadget, while Apple succeeds only in cementing its grandfathered slot in the gilded pockets of the overly-discerning overclass.
From the day it slipped out of Steve Jobs’ womb and onto credit card bills, the iPhone was a dearly coveted bourgeois object. It was expensive, fancy without ostentation, and semi-affluent white people loved it like their own progeny. It is the phone of actors, models, rappers, academics, and graphic designers living beyond their means. There’s never in history been an electronic class beacon so clear as the iPhone—remember how expensive it was when it launched?
A measly 4 GB model set you back $500, and the 8 GB version was $600. With a two-year contract. That didn’t stop Apple from selling hundreds of thousands of them out of the gate—so many that AT&T’s servers crashed under activation pressures.
Then Google sold its own touchscreen smartphone for around $200, the first Android handset of all time, and no one except geeks of the tightest niche gave a damn.
But today the tables aren’t just turned—they’ve been flipped over and turned into firewood. Android phones dominate Apple across the world. [But] Android’s success isn’t really about [the Nexus 4 and Galaxy SIII]. It’s about the ZTE Warp, LG Motion, and Samsung Captivate—which retail for $100, $50, and a penny, respectively. It’s about these marginal, middling phones that can be sold like bags of Doritos or bargain-bin sweaters—they’re priced to move, not priced to be ogled at or aspired towards. And it’s working.
The last study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that Android is the chosen smartphone of people without money. Among respondents, 22-percent of those with annual incomes below $30,000 were Android owners, as opposed to just 12 percent for iPhone. With those towards the lower-middle class, the trend holds: Android owns 23-percent of incomes up to $50,000, with iPhones at 18. The data makes it clear: the less money you have, the more likely you are to opt for an Android phone over something more expensive.
And it’s not purely an income game—other socioeconomic factors that correlate heavily with the amount of money you’ve got in your pocket line up perfectly. Federal census data pegs black and hispanic households at median income (and ergo spending) levels tens of thousands of dollars below their white peers—and statistically, those same households are going Android at higher rates. A full 12-percent more black and hispanic smartphone users are Android users compared to Apple customers, and owners of any race with a high school diploma or less made up 38-percent of Android owners, over iPhone’s 31-percent mark in that cohort.
This is no accident. Check out the flyers or sidewalk storefronts of Boost Mobile or MetroPCS—two carriers that cater to lower-income customers—and all you’ll see is Android.
I’ll be completely fair: Android is a hit-or-miss choice, but not because of software, but because of the wide variety of phones available out there.
Of course there are phones out there with soviet processors and dinosaur RAM running Android 1.5, but with competent hardware, Android can be superior to any iOS device.
At home, we use both OSX/iOS devices and Android devices. While Apple products are usually reliable and of uniform (great) quality, some Android devices we own are way better than the Apple ones, for example, my dad’s kickass AndroidTV running Jelly Bean, or my brother’s dual-core tablet with HDMI out.
I personally wouldn’t change my Defy for anything, even though I use an iPhone 4S as a main phone. The usefulness of Android and its quality is a matter of the hardware companies are using and how well they adapt the software to it.