This is a great promotion, but Google has needed to do something like this for a long time. Here’s the reason why:
Android does not build loyalty in users.
New Android devices come out frequently, and with extremely small differences between the models. Android devices come from Motorola, HTC, Samsung, and LG – with regular refreshes. For instance, Motorola has so many Android devices, it’s painful to think about them all. Here’s my list of Motorola models released in the past 18 months in the US: DroidX, Droid X2, Droid2, Droid 3, Droid Pro, Atrix 4G, Defy, Flipout, Bionic, Droid RAZR, and Admiral. What are the differences? Some are clear, some are not. What OS is each phone running? Will the OS on the phone be upgraded? Does the phone have a manufacturer interface (Blur, Sense, etc.)? It’s impossible to figure out. Other manufacturers are no better – most are worse. (HTC – Aria, G2, G2X, EVO 4G, Desire HD/MyTouch 4G, Inspire 4G, Desire Z, myTouch 3G Slide, Wildfire, Thunderbolt, Merge. I’m getting nauseous listing these.)
So why did Google do this? Because, as we’ve pointed out before, investing in a platform by buying software is a key factor in staying with that platform. If you have purchased Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows for $150, and then you need to purchase a new machine for some reason, and if you’re looking into purchasing a MAC, you’re not going to want to spend $120 for Microsoft Office 2011 for MAC. Google hopes that if you’ve bought some apps you like, you’ll stay with the platform, rather than be forced to reinvest. That’s a terrible way to build loyalty, but it may work. Instead, Google should concentrate of helping consumers make sense of the various models and phone operating system upgrade plans. If consumers will know no software upgrades will ever be provided for a device, will they buy it? Give the consumer the information, and let them make an educated decision based on that information.
Here’s the second reason that Google has provided this special offer. When you register an Android device for the first time, you are prompted for your GMail (or Google Apps) log-in credentials. To sign up for a GMail account, you provide little information – just your name, your desired username/password, and some other basic information. What’s missing? That’s right – a credit card number. Why does that matter?
For many users, app purchases are impulse buys. A dollar or two? No problem, you’d probably spend that on a cup of coffee. If your credit card details are already attached to your account, then it’s no problem – just hit “purchase” and things go smoothly. But what if you don’t have a credit card number attached to your account? Then you have to dig out your wallet, enter the information on a tiny screen – and who knows who might be watching over your shoulder – and is the network you’re on at that moment secure? Do you even need that app? Will you use it often enough to justify the purchase? How long will this process take? Any opportunity for a buyer to pause means that a sale might not be made. As Google moves into selling music, having consumers be able to make “one-click” purchases becomes more and more important to capture that impulse buy.
Apple, on the other hand, learned this early on. From the inception of iTunes up to 2009, iTunes required a credit card number to be tied to any iTunes account – even if you only purchased “free” apps. The rationale behind that kind of move was obvious – although there were workarounds (like using an iTunes gift card). Even though iTunes doesn’t require a credit card now, an Apple.com store purchase does tie a credit card number to your email address. Think that information is conveniently saved for you to help you make an impulse buy next time you want something?
Google needs to work harder to build loyalty for the Android platform in consumers. How? Take some pages from Apple’s book about controlling release cycles. Only allow manufacturers to release 4 devices per year, which will force manufacturers to fully test and release bug-free devices. Obligate manufactures to implement software updates for 2 years from a device’s release date, to keep consumers on the latest and greatest version of the software. Yes, that may mean consumers buy new devices less frequently, but so what?
Think that’s unnecessarily harsh and demanding? Apple’s iPhone 3GS, released June 2009, is able to upgrade to iOS 5 – and it’s been out for 2 and a half years. Now that’s building loyalty in consumers.