Android: Facebook’s Springboard To The World

Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has always said that his goal for the company is to connect the world. With Facebook being the social network of choice in 127 countries across the globe, it is doing a pretty good job so far. However, its work is far from done. It’s up to devices powered by Google’s Android to continue Facebook’s international vision.

Recently, some surprising figures came to light, showing that more smartphone users all over the world connect with Facebook through their Android devices than their iPhones. Numbers by analyst Benedict Evans revealed that, despite developers’ preference for dealing with iOS, Android is the dominant smartphone referrer to Facebook.

Evans (and later TechCrunch) showed that in the fiscal third quarter, 192 million people accessed Facebook through Android phones, 147 million through iPhones, and 48 million through iPads.

In addition, Android was the fastest-growing operating system, in terms of Facebook traffic. Evans tracked Facebook mobile usage, comparing numbers from September 2011 to September 2012. While the iPhone grew from 91 million monthly active users to 141 million, Android shot up from 66 million to 175 million. Given these numbers, it’s no secret why late in 2012, Facebook employees started “Droidfooding,” themselves.

Advertisers have followed suit. A recent study by Kenshoo Social showed that ad spending on Android phones absolutely blew away iPhone — 71 percent to 29 percent.

Evans talked with AllFacebook and noted that worldwide, there’s a big difference between iPhone users and those who have Androids in their pockets. While Android is more popular than iOS by roughly one-third in countries such as the U.S. and U.K., the Google-powered devices are much more popular throughout the world.

Evans noted that iPhone and iPad customers — willing to pay more for Apple products — are generally different types of consumers than those who use Android, which has a lower price point for entry.

Mobile users in countries less affluent than the U.S. and the U.K. have Android as the dominant option — and Facebook knows that. By making the social network accessible to more and more users (who may not be able to afford iPhones), that means there are more and more portals throughout the world where Facebook can be accessed.

If Facebook truly wants to connect the world, Android devices are the links, as Evans explained:

In the U.S. market, there’s relatively little price difference between an iPhone and an Android phone. But when you step out of the U.S. market, particularly when you remember that even half of Europeans are on prepay, so they’re paying full price for a phone, then all of a sudden, you’re looking at a $650 iPhone, as opposed to a $150 or $200 low-end Android handset … (Facebook’s focus on Android) is a reflection of a desire for Facebook to expand beyond the U.S. So, to drive share in India, and Brazil, and other emerging markets, instead of mid-tier emerging markets, where a lot of people can afford $150 or $200 for an Android, but a lot fewer can afford $600 for an iPhone. That’s where all the growth comes from.

Evans talked about how Android is growing in popularity in emerging markets. Facebook is growing right along with Android, in countries such as Brazil and Russia.

But despite the sheer number of Android users, Facebook continues to roll out products for iPad and iPhone users first. For instance, Facebook Wednesday rolled out Pages Manager to all Android users who have access to Google Play, giving page administrators a more powerful way to track and post to their pages on the go.

When did this come out for iOS? May 17, 2012. And Facebook apps such as Poke and Camera are still iOS- or iPhone-only.

There are some simple reasons for this, as explained by Evans and Mobile Moxie CEO Cindy Krum. The most obvious one is that there’s only one iPhone, but dozens of Android phones, so instead of focusing on the experience on a variety of phones, they only have to worry about how it looks on the latest couple of versions of the iPhone. Developers have also told AllFacebook that the reason they focus on iOS first, and then Android, is because the Apple mobile infrastructure is much stronger than Android — although the latter is improving.

Evans wrote that in September 2012, roughly 200 million iPhone users had installed Facebook’s mobile app — a 70 percent penetration rate. He estimated that the Android base is somewhere around 550 million, but with nearly 100 million users in China, where Facebook is blackballed and firewalled. This means that of the 450 million Android phones outside of China, Facebook has a 40 percent penetration rate — and that could rise in the future, as Facebook continues to improve its Android apps.

Krum also said that Android users are also less likely to pay for apps and more likely to use the Web version of Facebook (which she sees as Facebook’s next big development project) than their iPhone counterparts.

While this may be the historical record for updates on iOS vs. Android, it’s clearly changing. Facebook’s Droidfooding efforts have resulted in a much sleeker and improved Android 2.0 app, and as the introduction of Pages Manager for Android shows that the social network really cares about how those 192 million use Facebook.

Krum talked with AllFacebook about how Android fits in with Facebook’s plan to expand well beyond its home base of the U.S., not only to bump up its numbers, but to offer a greater range for marketers:

I don’t think Facebook is worried so much about their user base per se. I think they’re worried much more about profitability. Once you have a strong user base, then you can start selling them mobile marketing and actually start doing a good job with mobile ads. I see that’s where Facebook’s model has to go.

Readers: What more can Facebook do to improve the experience on Android?

Graph courtesy of Benedict Evans. Globe image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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