Google Now for iPhone, a symphony of Android fragmentation

So many people don't seem to understand the fragmentation divide between Apple [AAPL] and Android, but the introduction of Google Now for the iPhone is one of the better examples I've come across of the big difference between the two platforms.

Google Now, sort of

Google Now is being described as far better than Apple's Siri, prompting many pundits to focus on the new software as another firm kick against Cupertino's software advantage: few reports note the supreme inherent irony of the release:

While nearly every recent iPhone user can now (now!) install and make use of Google Now, the majority of people running Android can't use the service at all, because it requires the Jelly Bean OS, which is only running on 25 percent of Android devices (according to Google).

Surely this reflects just how deeply Android is fragmented? Its operating system upgrades sound nice but aren't made available to every user, and many device owners can't ever hope to upgrade even recently purchased gadgets.

At least in this case this means if you want to enjoy the latest Google smartphone features, you're better off buying an iPhone.

Though to be fair, Google does apparently plan to make the service available via the Web at some future point.

Losing religion

Customers aren't stupid. They may acquire an Android device because it's affordable to them or made available at some substantially subsidized deal from a carrier or manufacturer, but many are subsequently disappointed by the experience.

This is a real problem, not hyperbole, as explained by a recent Yankee Group report in which Apple's customer loyalty and best in the industry user satisfaction levels are contrasted with the Android ecosystem.

“Apple’s “black hole” ecosystem captures subscribers who never leave, while Android smartphones are losing one out of every six customers to other manufacturers,” analyst Carl Howe wrote. The research was based on surveys of 16,000 consumers across 12 months.

As AllThingsD summarizes it:

"Yankee found that 76 percent of Android owners intend to buy another Android phone. A big number, sure. But it means that 24 percent of Android phone users plan to switch to another platform. Guess where the majority of those professed switchers are going — 18 percent to iPhones."

In contrast, over nine out of ten iPhone users remain loyal to their platform, with just 6 percent of iPhone owners plotting a switch to Android.

Leaky Buckets

I love the analogy Yankee Group analyst, Carl Howe makes (as reported by AllThingsD):

“Think of the Apple and Android ecosystems as two buckets of water. New smartphone buyers --  mostly upgrading feature phone owners -- fall like rain into the two big buckets about equally, with a smaller number falling into Windows Phone and BlackBerry buckets.

"However, the Android bucket leaks badly, losing about one in five of all the owners put into it. The Apple bucket leaks only about 7 percent of its contents, so it retains more of the customers that fall into it. The Apple bucket will fill up faster and higher than the Android one, regardless of the fact that the Apple bucket may have had fewer owners in it to begin with.”

I know there are zealots on both sides of the platform debate, but surely there's a compromise we can all agree on? It's surely not great when a platform offers such an unsatisfactory environment that it fails to hold its users? Surely this needs to improve?

Google Now is a perfect example of an offering that exposes the big problems when developing unified experiences across mobile platforms.

It's a shame really.

"Our goal is to get you the right information, at just the right time," said Google's Larry Page on his Google+ page. "Now provides boarding passes, delivery updates, and traffic conditions... without you having to ask first. And this quarter we added movie tickets nicely packaged with directions to the theater."

Now, tomorrow

Except three quarters of Android users are locked out of the Now. The fact that Now needs the latest Android OS on which to run isn't the problem, the problem is that because of the nature of the OS, and the behavior of carriers and/or manufacturers, most in the ecosystem are locked out of using the app.

It's surely in the interests of any Android user to exercise their criticism against Google, carriers and manufacturers to insist on a viable and sustainable upgrade path for those who've dropped cold hard cash on the table to get one of these devices.

It would benefit Android users to be able to upgrade those sometimes still quite new devices, even while they try to find out how long big Google intends hanging onto their voice search data, and how anonymized it might be. Contrast this with iPhone users. They may be unable to fiddle with the rootkit, but they do at least get to use Google Now today.

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