Andy Rubin: Android 'Perfect Storm' brewing in emerging markets

December 14, 2010: 10:25 AM ET

The falling prices of handsets and the buildout of advanced mobile networks will help Android grow at unprecedented rates in the developing world, according to Google's head of Android.

Andy Rubin tweeted last week that Google (GOOG) was activating 300,000 Android phones a day.  That number reflects incredible growth in a year that started with a tenth as many activations.  At 300,000 phones/day, Google is on track to activate over 110 million phones next year.  If this year's growth continues, that number could be dramatically higher.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently mused about Android phones being in the hands of a billion people.  At the time, the numbers didn't add up.  Now that is starting to look like more of a reality.

In an interview with the Financial Times today, Rubin said that the recent growth was attributable to Asia, but going forward, growth will be largest in emerging markets.  Two factors were coming together to make a perfect storm in the developing nations, including Brazil, Indonesia and India.  The dropping prices of handsets coupled with the build out of advanced data networks are making continued Android growth a near certainty. 

"After the US, we saw Asia go crazy," he said, with sales in South Korea in particular going "berserk" in the past four months.  The cost of handsets is falling fast and many emerging countries are building advanced mobile networks, he said, adding: "It's set up for a perfect storm."

Android handset prices are also bringing more and more feature phone users in the U.S. over to Android.  The T-Mobile Comet is a sub $200 pay-as-you-go phone that can be subsidized with the purchase of a low price plan.

Perhaps the best example of an Android phone/plan that is likely to woo U.S. feature phone users is the Samsung Intercept on Virgin Mobile.  It currently costs $180 and $25/month for unlimited text and data with 300 minutes on Sprint's nationwide network.  That is less than most "Dumbphone" plans.

The original success of smartphones was due to the cheap, flat-rate data services which made the U.S. a ripe breeding ground for smartphone explosion. That flat-rate plan was pioneered by Apple's (AAPL) iPhone on AT&T.  The FT says that Android is currently running around double Apple's iPhone, based on Apple's most recent 14.1 million in phone sales this past quarter, which is about 150,000 iPhones/day.

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Seth Weintraub
Seth Weintraub

Google went from searching the Web to worming its way into nearly every facet of business and government. Seth Weintraub unveils where the company is going, who it's competing with, who it's about to compete with and how market forces push the company to veer or adhere to its Don't Be Evil motto. For 15 years, Weintraub was a global IT director for a number of companies before becoming a blogger.

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