Market Insight

Google Q4 2011 results: the search for mobile revenue and profits

January 23, 2012

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In Google's most recent results the company reported:

  • 250m Android devices activated to date. This represents first time activations of devices that include Google's proprietary apps such as Gmail, Android Market etc.
  • 11 billion app downloads cumulatively from Android Market.
  • A continued rate of 700,000 Android device activations a day.

Google's Android operating system clearly has a strong market velocity with tremendous levels of adoption. But as the reported activations per day figure has not changed since November, the rate of Android growth appears to have stabilised. Android's momentum, while extremely good, is no longer accelerating.

Android Market is closing on the Apple App Store with 11 billion cumulative Android downloads, due to the vast volumes of Android smartphones shipping. Up to October 2011, there were 18 billion Apple iOS app downloads. The Android Market total is  an impressive 10 per cent up on December but will include any boost provided by the ten day Android app promotion that Google ran to celebrate December's 10 billion figure.

Google is not yet matching Apple's ability to monetize mobile. Fewer Android app downloads are paid compared with the iPhone platform. Each addressable iOS user generated over €12 of app revenue in 2011 compared with approximately €2.56 from Market apps by addressable Android users.

Company results are often as important for what they don't include as for what they do. This time Google provided no information on the revenues that they are making from Android or their revenues from the mobile market as a whole. Showing great usage growth combined with no evidence of monetisation is akin to a technology start-up's early growth phase. It's unusual for a large company, such as Google, to be so bold with a diversification into a new market. Google is right to do it. The mobile opportunity is enormous. Google's Android platform grab of adoption first, revenues later, is a differentiated software strategy that counters Apple's strongly margin-focused mobile portfolio strategy where the bulk of profits come from hardware, rather than software or services.


Google's mobile revenues comprise the following components:-


  • In-browser advertising for mobile browsers from all smartphone platforms, for example as part of mobile search.
  • In-app advertising revenue from Google's Admob subsidiary (acquired in 2009). Admob offers advertising on a number of smartphone platforms, including the iPhone.
  • Advertising built into Google's Android Maps application. This is a relatively new and small source of revenues from devices running recent versions of Android. As of January 2012, 59 per cent of Android devices are running either Gingerbread or Ice Cream Sandwich, although only 0.6 per cent run the latest version, Ice Cream Sandwich.
  • Google proprietary software and other services shipped as standard as part of most smartphone devices. This includes the Google-supplied software that has been a part of the iPhone's core built-in apps since  its launch in 2007, for example to support the iPhone's Maps application. While Google does not currently charge licensing fees for its proprietary Android apps - Android Market, Gmail, Maps, Voice, etc - it could choose to do so in future.


In Google's previous results earnings call, CEO Larry Page referred to an annualised mobile revenue run rate of $2.5bn. This time Page reported no figure for mobile revenue. Even that number was too vague to provide significant insight into Google's mobile revenues as Page provided no guidance on how the rate was calculated: Was it based on the average mobile revenue over the first three quarters of 2011 scaled up? Based on the most recent monthly revenue? Or, was it derived from the best week of revenue they'd seen to date?

Due to the wide variety of sources for Google's mobile revenues, for now Google likely gains more revenue from non-Android smartphones than it does from its own Android platform. Google is succeeding with driving Android adoption, but in the future it must successfully translate this tremendous adoption into vast revenue. If Google fails, then Android's success will be pyrrhic and allow others to dominate the part of the mobile business that ultimately matters most: profits.


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