October 20, 2011: Android’s 1 Million Device D-Day

“There are now over 500,000 Android devices activated every day, and it’s growing at 4.4% w/w”
Andy Rubin
June 28, 2011

By that measure, there should now be over 900,000 Android activations per day and October 20th should be the first day Google crosses the impressive milestone of 1 million activations in a single day:

They Made The Rules

From April 2010 until July 2011, Google periodically announced the number of Android device activations per day. While the specific definition of an activation is a bit unclear1, it’s the measurement Google itself has repeatedly chosen to publicly mark the success of its mobile platform. I’ve collected all 9 occurrences I could find where Google has reported this metric:

4/15/1060,000Google Earnings Call
5/20/10100,000Google I/O Keynote
6/23/10160,000Droid X Launch
8/4/10200,000Techonomy Conference
12/9/10300,000Andy Rubin Tweet
2/15/11350,000Mobile World Congress
5/10/11400,000Google I/O Keynote
6/28/11500,000Andy Rubin Tweet
7/14/11550,000Google Earnings Call

The most information was given in Andy Rubin’s aforementioned tweet where he announced not only that the number was now “over 500,000” but that it was “growing at 4.4%” week on week. Two and a half weeks later, during Google’s second quarter earnings call, they announced the number was over 550,000 - demonstrating that the 4.4% figure was in full effect. Extrapolating out from Rubin’s numbers leads to the expectation of 1 million activations per day on October 20th, as indicated by “Projection 1” in the chart above.

Tweet Carefully

That said, it’s entirely possible that Mr. Rubin overreached when he stated that the week-on-week growth was 4.4%, rather than a flat 22,000 per week (i.e. 4.4% of 500,000). Maintaining an ever accelerating growth curve as your base grows is challenging, even in a boom, and the history of Android itself had yet to truly demonstrate such a curve at the time of Rubin’s tweet.

It took 29 weeks for activations per day to go from 100,000 to 300,000 - an increase of 200,000. After that, the next increase of 200,000 took… another 29 weeks. So from May 2010 til June 2011 there didn’t seem to be a compounding growth curve, rather the number seemed to increase fairly linearly at roughly 7,000 per week. Clearly that must have started increasing rapidly ahead of Rubin’s tweet in order to reach the 22,000 / 4.4% number.

Even if Mr. Rubin’s 4.4% statement was overstating Android’s growth and they just maintained the flat 22,000/week increase, there should still be over 800,000 activations/day currently and it should still be crossing 1 million/day by early December, as indicated by “Projection 2” in the chart above.

Silence Isn’t Golden

One might have expected Google to tout a milestone like 750,000 or 800,000 activations per day, especially in light of all the recent Android bad news.

As Steve Jobs put it: “Usually, if they sell a lot of something, you want to tell everybody.” The trouble with telling everybody is that then if you ever stop telling everybody, it looks terrible. The inevitable question is “what bad news are you trying to hide?” Just ask Samsung, which decided it wanted to hide its (presumably poor) tablet sales numbers. Or RIM, which decided to stop reporting new subscriber numbers and average selling prices, presumably because both are quickly heading towards zero. This is surely one of the reasons Amazon has famously never reported any actual Kindle sales figures.

Since Google first reported activations in April 2010, they’ve gone an average of 8 weeks (median: 6.5 weeks) between reports. The longest gap is 18 weeks between the 200,000 milestone and the 300,000 Rubin tweet. It has been 11.5 weeks since the last report, so it’s probably too soon to declare it a truly suspicious silence, despite some seemingly major milestones having passed quietly.

When Will We Know?

Google first spoke about device activations on their Q1 2010 earnings call and last addressed it on their Q2 2011 earnings call on July 14th. So Google should say something on or before their mid-October Q3 earnings call, which will be just about when they’re crossing the 1,000,000/day mark if their 4.4% growth has held up. If they don’t mention an activations number on or before the call, the estimable Brian S Hall will get more evidence for his contention that we might be at peak Google and there will be even more calls for Sergey Brin to explain his unusually high Angry Birds scores.

Whether Google hits the number, misses the number, or says nothing at all, Android will soon have another landmark success, or another cause for concern.

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