Google and Apple operate radically different models when it comes to smartphones. Apple carefully stage-manages every step of the experience on the iPhone, designing hardware and software in-house. Meanwhile, Google has thrown the doors open to external partners, and its Android operating system is now found on devices manufactured by more than 200 different companies around the world.
This approach has its drawbacks. There's a huge degree of fragmentation in the ecosystem, with different handsets offering different technical specs and running different versions of Android, making it harder for developers to produce broadly compatible apps. But this flexibility also offers tremendous scale. "I think this model has served us pretty well," Google's head of engineering in London Andrei Popescu told me last week, citing Android's billion-plus reach.
Not every active Android smartphone is a win for Google, of course. Android is open source and modifiable, and manufacturers can choose not to include certain Google Play Servies and access to the Google Play app store. Chinese smartphone behemoth Xiaomi does this, for example, because Google's services are not available in the country, and other hardware companies may choose to go with other proprietary app stores.
Pichai said around one billion Android smartphones had connected to Google Play in the last 30 days.
Right now, the global smartphone business is growing — but it's also slowing down. Research company IDC predicts year-on-year growth in 2015 of around 10.4%. That's down from 27.5% in 2014. It pegs year-on-year growth in 2019 to have dropped to just 5%.
Future significant growth will come from emerging economies in the developing world, as new consumers come online for the first time. They will be extremely price conscious — which is good news for Google, as Android devices are becoming (on average) cheaper than ever before.
"We’ve added 400 million active devices and the momentum is happening around the world — especially in emerging economies," Pichai said (via TechCrunch). "In many, many places. In countries like Indonesia and Vietnam Android has literally doubled in the last year. And what’s exciting about this is in most of these cases these are people who are adopting a smartphone for the first time."
One in every five people on Earth now has an Android smartphone. But there are still billions to go.