Android started life as a mobile startup, snapped up by Google in July 2005 to form the base for its push into the smartphones market.

The first Android device was released in the autumn of 2008, and since then the platform has grown rapidly alongside Apple’s rival iOS, to the point where the previous big players in that space – Nokia’s Symbian, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and BlackBerry – were effectively blown out of the market.

What does the music industry need to know about Android in 2015, though? We’ve compiled this primer, from up-to-date figures on the platform’s size and reach, to hot issues like fragmentation and piracy – not forgetting some stats for popular music services’ Android growth.

1. There are 1bn Android users worldwide

In June 2014, Google announced that there were now 1bn active Android users worldwide, up from 530m a year before. The figure has not been updated since: in May 2015 Google reiterated the “more than one billion Android users” stat at its I/O conference.

It seems like Google is waiting to update the public stat until it reaches another big milestone – 1.5bn users perhaps? – matching its strategy for YouTube, which has been on “one billion monthly viewers” for a long time now.

1bn active users is, clearly a lot of people. Is there room for growth? As things stand, around 13.6% of the global population are using an Android device – with a higher percentage if you discount children.

2. Android dominates smartphone sales and shipments

You’ll often read that Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS have carved up the smartphone market among themselves. And although that’s true, it’s Android that has carved the biggest slice by far.

Research firm Strategy Analytics estimates that 780.8m Android smartphones were shipped – note, not necessarily sold – in 2013, giving the operating system a 78.9% share of the market that year. In 2014, the shipments rose to 1.04bn while the market share grew to 81.2% – rival IDC claimed the respective figures were 1.1bn and 81.5%.

These patterns have continued into 2015. Another research firm, Gartner, estimates that 271m Android smartphones were sold – note, not merely shipped this time – in the second quarter of 2015, giving Android an 82.2% market share for that three-month period.

Obviously, this market share isn’t uniform across the world. Kantar Worldpanel ComTech estimates that Android accounted for 66.1% of smartphones sold in the US in the second quarter of 2015, but 53.2% in the UK; 73.2% in France; 75.1% in Germany; 88.1% in Spain; 79% in China; 89% in Brazil and 54.4% in Japan.


3. There’s more to Android than Samsung

Samsung is certainly the most high-profile Android device maker in the West, and the biggest globally: it shipped 307.6m Android smartphones in 2014 according to Gartner, giving it a 24.7% share of the smartphone market ahead of second-placed Apple’s 15.4%.

The third, fourth and fifth-ranked smartphone makers in 2014 all focus on Android, but they’re not necessarily the companies that westerners would expect. Third is Chinese firm Lenovo, whose 81.4m smartphone shipments last year include those of Motorola, which it bought from Google in October 2014 for $2.9bn. Fourth is Huawei with 68.1m shipments in 2014, followed by LG’s 57.7m.

Watch, too, for the rising star of another Chinese company: Xiaomi. Having broken into the top five in the last quarter of 2014, the company sold 35m smartphones in the first half of 2015, with an ambitious target of 100m for the whole year. This, despite its sales to date being focused on China and seven other Asian countries.

Always remember that there is more to Android than ‘official’ Android, too. For example, Amazon’s Fire-branded tablets and smartphones used a “forked” version of Android, customised to the company’s own features, with Google’s apps left out. In August 2014, research firm ABI claimed that forked Android devices were 20% of the global market, sold mainly in China and India.

4. Android’s main app store pays $7bn a year to developers

On official Android devices, the main app store is Google Play, which in the year leading up to late May 2015 generated 50bn app downloads – so at the moment, it’s generating just under 4.2bn monthly downloads.

In February 2015, Google Play exec Michael Siliski said that in the previous 12 months, Google Play had paid out more than $7bn to developers of Android apps and games: so around $583k a month.

Mobile industry analyst Benedict Evans published some useful analysis of the respective figures of Google and Apple in June 2015, noting that Google Play was catching up to Apple’s App Store in terms of monthly payouts – “and might overtake it this year” – although this is with “close to double the users”.

Remember: this is just the official Android app store. There are dozens of unofficial ones in China, for example, while Amazon’s Appstore for Android drives significant (albeit unquantified publicly) downloads and revenues too.


5. Music apps have big install bases on Android

All the big digital music services and related apps are available on Android, and they are building substantial user bases. The Google Play store has public figures of installs for every app, albeit in ‘buckets’ rather than exact numbers.

Even so, this makes it possible to rank some of the key music apps – especially if you use the number of reviews by users as a secondary metric, even if it’s not conclusive proof of more installs within a category. With that in mind, here are some of the key music apps and services’ install bases on Android:

The Billion+ Installs Club
YouTube – 7.3m reviews
Google Play Music – 1.5m

The 100m-500m Installs Club
Spotify – 3.3m reviews
Shazam – 2.4m
Pandora – 2.1m
TuneIn Radio – 971k

The 50m-100m Installs Club
SoundCloud – 1.6m reviews
Poweramp Music Player – 912k
Magic Piano – 734k
Deezer – 601k
Slacker Radio – 259k
Amazon Music – 253k
SoundHound – 93k

The 10m-50m Installs Club
Musixmatch – 770k reviews
Saavn – 427k
Gaana – 397k
Sing! Karaoke – 246k
doubleTwist – 166k
Vevo – 223k
Guvera – 209k
Beats Music – 184k
Rdio – 158k
Wynk Music – 157k
Rhapsody – 93k

The 1m-5m Installs Club
Bandsintown Concerts – 142k reviews
djay Free – 75k
8tracks – 65k
Line Music Thai – 61k
Mixradio – 53k
Sonos Controller – 30k
Mixcloud – 29k
Napster – 24k

6. Android: bad for fragmentation, good for beta testing

Whenever Apple executives are on stage at a press or developer event, they take pops at Android’s fragmentation: the large number of devices and operating-system versions that app developers have to cope with.

It’s true that anyone setting out to make their app work for every single Android device faces a daunting task. Google’s own figures show that there are more than 4,000 unique Android devices from more than 400 manufacturers.

The official Android developer dashboard also shows the fragmentation between different versions of Android: at the start of August 2015, only 18.1% of active Android devices were running Android Lollipop, which was released in 2014. Another 39.3% were on 2013’s Android KitKat; 33.6% on 2012’s Android Jelly Bean, and 9% on even older versions.

Traditionally, Android fragmentation has been the main reason many startups launch their app first on iOS, spend a few months iterating it through updates, and then tackle the task of releasing it for even the most popular Android devices.

However, in 2014 and 2015 there’s been a new trend: of companies using Android as a beta-testing platform, taking advantage of the fact that updates are quicker through Google Play when making regular, small changes in response to user feedback. Spotify, for example, launched its Android beta testing program in May 2015.


7. Android takes broadsides over piracy

The music industry doesn’t need much excuse to grumble at Google, and with Android the main complaint is piracy: specifically apps distributed through the Google Play store that either enable people to download from filesharing sites, or to rip audio from services like SoundCloud and YouTube to store on their devices.

It’s not a new discussion: see PC Magazine’s Music Piracy Arrives on the Phone Via Google’s Android article from 2010, or PC World’s Android MP3 Piracy Rampant Amid Google’s Muddled Response piece from 2011.

In March 2014, NPD Group stoked the row by claiming that around 27m people in the US alone had used mobile apps to download a song illegally in the previous year – more than the 21m people who’d used peer-to-peer filesharing services that year. It paired this estimate with the claim that around 250 MP3 download apps were available on Google Play.

As time has gone on, though, Google has responded to the problem. In December 2014, for example, it removed apps including The Pirate Bay Proxy, The Pirate Bay Premium and The Pirate Bay Mirror from Google Play, citing violation of its content policy’s “intellectual property and impersonation or deceptive behaviour provisions”.

In April 2015, meanwhile, torrenting app FrostWire was also removed, albeit for a violation of terms involving YouTube. But even back in 2011 and 2012, Google removed, then reinstated, and finally removed for good Grooveshark’s app from Google Play, long before the company lost a copyright infringement case brought by music labels.

8. The next version of Android is Android Marshmallow

What comes after Android Lollipop? With alphabetically-sweet logic, it’s Android Marshmallow, which will soon be released by Google – and then distributed by its various handset and mobile-operator partners according to their own timetables.

Unveiled in May, the new version has an emphasis on security and battery life, with Google promising that Android smartphones will be able to eke out as much as twice the battery life on standby as with previous versions of the software, thanks to smarter handling of apps running in the background.

Another key feature – and very relevant given the recent rumpus over Spotify’s new privacy policy – is a change to the way the Android software will deal with permissions. Previously, it has listed all the permissions an app has required (for example access to contacts, the microphone, location) at the point of install.

From Marshmallow onwards, in the words of Google’s Dave Burke: “Apps will now ask you for permissions the first time you try to use a feature, instead of asking during app installation” – allowing each request to be approved or denied.


9. Android’s next frontier is smartwatches and cars…

Like Apple, Google is already spreading beyond smartphones and tablets with its mobile software. Android Wear, for example, is the version of Android for smartwatches, powering devices by Samsung, Motorola, LG and Sony among other manufacturers.

It’s early days for Android Wear, just as it is for the Apple Watch. Research firm Canalys estimates that more than 720k Android Wear watches shipped in 2014, although that’s no guarantee that all of them were sold.

Despite reports that Apple beat that figure on the very first day of pre-orders for the Apple Watch in 2015, Android Wear’s ecosystem is just getting going. Music apps with Android Wear versions include Google Play Musicdjay, Bandsintown and Musixmatch.

Google is also plotting its move into cars, with its Android Auto platform competing directly with Apple’s CarPlay. Designed for in-car use – with an emphasis on voice commands and steering-wheel controls – it’ll be installed in 35 vehicle models by the end of 2015. Android Auto cars will also come bundled with 90 days of Google Play Music, representing a new marketing channel for the streaming service.

10. …but also emerging markets like Africa

Perhaps the reason the music industry should be most excited about Android is the way it’s putting affordable smartphones into the hands of people in Africa, Latin America, south east Asia and other emerging markets – and providing the base in those places for digital music services, whether global or local.

The driver for this is an initiative called Android One, which was first announced in June 2014, focused on countries where less than 10% of the adult population owned a smartphone. With Micromax, Karbonn and Spice as its first manufacturing partners, Google launched the first Android One smartphones in India in September 2014, retailing for as little as $96.

In December 2014, Android One expanded to Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, before setting its sights on Africa – Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Morocco – in August 2015. Android One is accompanied by some initiatives to reduce the cost of data access for smartphone owners in these countries: a streamlined version of Google’s search engine, and offline features for YouTube to store videos on phones.

Android One is one of several reasons not to underestimate Google Play as a major streaming music service going forward, but it will also be an important platform for rival services expanding into these markets.

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