I switched to an Android phone a couple of months ago, mostly out of curiosity and realizing that it had come a far way. My curiosity was around the opportunities Android presents for startups that you can’t particularly capitalize on within iOS. iOS has a lot of limitations that Android does not, which made me wonder: what are the opportunities Android makes possible that iOS does not? One big opportunity on Android that rang out the most was around self expression and personalization of the phone’s user interface and default applications.
Many think of personalization as a data play ie- recommend me something based upon my choices. Though folks like Aviate are doing something great here, that is not what I’m talking about with this article. Personalization in the context of this article is about self expression and personalizing the UX of the phone to suit your own taste. The mobile phone is the most personal device that has ever existed and will for some time — Android gives us the chance to make it even more personal.
Think of homescreen apps and wallpapers as decisions of self expression, not technology
Many think of app purchases as technology decisions. In reality, app purchases are lifestyle decisions. Your homescreen is just as representative of who you are as your car, your wardrobe, the music you listen to, or the stickers you throw on the back of your laptop. If your homescreen is full of travel and fitness apps, that says a lot about you. Your wallpaper, lock screen, and launcher are items of self expression as well.
That’s great, but it stops with just apps on iOS — there is nothing more to personalize than the apps you have and your wallpaper. With Android, you can truly personalize the experience to be representative of your taste. The wallpapers, the launcher, the lock screen, the workflow of apps, and even the skin on your SMS client can all be fully personalized. 2014 feels like 1984 with iOS — every person’s phone is pretty much the same.
Open means “open expression”, not open source to the average Android user
Android is gaining ground not because its code is open source, but because it’s able to let users have open expression. What if you could change the iOS home screen launcher, the default applications, and more? Everyone wants to be their own snowflake and express themselves. Everything can be changed on Android and startups need to take advantage of this.
There’s been success with Android Launchers and Live Wallpapers. A company such as Sungy Mobile, a company worth over half a billion dollars, has 100 million+ users using their Go Launcher Pro. It’s not a great product, but it has traction because it lets users fully customize the experience of their homescreen. It even lets users customize the themes and animations (there are 10,000 of them).
As someone that appreciates great design, this strikes me as just the first iteration of what can be done here — the Myspace of homescreen personalization. How do you enable anyone to customize their homescreen and the themes that go with it in a tasteful way? How do you enable a community around the design you’ve created for your phone? I think someone can create a Tumblr-like feeling of self expression for users that’s centered around personalizing your smartphone. Tumblr was about expressing who you are through photos/notes, where this is about expressing who you are through your phone’s design choices — apps, wallpapers, lock screens, etc.. This may be tough to grasp at first, but if you think about it from a teenager’s point of view, it makes a lot of sense. Check out this hashtag on instagram of people just sharing their homescreen and wallpaper if you don’t believe me.
Personalizing your default applications
The default applications on both iOS and Android are getting replaced at an alarming rate. Instagram is the camera, whatsapp is the messenger, spotify is the music player, mailbox is the mail app, waze is maps, and the list goes on. The problem with iOS is that even though apps can now replicate functionality, you cannot set new defaults. I can see that eventually changing, but it will always have a more locked down feel. Android even lets you replace the default SMS client…that’s a stretch for iOS. You should be asking yourself how do I replace default applications on Android that I would never replace on iOS like SMS, the web browser, and phone. This proved out to be the case with desktop software. Firefox and Chrome replaced Internet Explorer and the same will happen in mobile.
Creating new thumbflows
Think of thumbflows as unique UX/UI cues that personalize the workflow of using the phone to your needs. This level of personalization couldn’t happen in iOS. Chatheads did this very well with chat. Another favorite of mine is Link Bubble — a unique way to browse the web on Android. Something like this could never happen on iOS. Another example would be Cover. Not because it intelligently organizes your apps, but because it allows you to peak into open apps. It lets the flow of your thumbs move quicker. An area that could use some optimization is in the push notifications area. I constantly have to use my thumbs too much to make push notifications work for me. Every user will have their own preference, but the best apps focused on creating new thumbflows will work for the majority.
OEMs should help users personalize, instead of doing it for users
Very few startups reading this will become OEMs, but it’s a big opportunity. OEMs should stop customizing the UX out of the gate with things like Sense or TouchWiz. Users don’t want you to install a personalization app for them. When they buy the phone, they want it stock and plain.
What they do want is for you to help them personalize the phone. Themes, wallpapers, launchers, thumb flows, and more. An OEM can have a significant legup if it bundles together and curates a way for any user to truly personalize the phone to be their own. It also creates lock in, where if a user switches, they are going to lose a piece of themselves. Yes, they can get their apps on any other phone, but they can’t get all their personalizations anywhere else. Help users create an emotional bond to the experiences they’ve personalized on the phone.
So, why is it a big billion dollar opportunity?
Tumblr and Myspace were built on the back of letting you express yourself on the web. Chrome and Firefox are billion dollar businesses built upon letting you have a choice on what web browser is your default. Line is making over 100 million a year on stickers alone — a form of self expression. It’s a proven business that self expression is a big business, yet few have nailed it on mobile yet. Add this fuel to the fire: Mobile devices are far more personal than anything we’ve ever seen before and social has given us the channel to share our choices of self expression than ever before.
I don’t doubt this can succeed on iOS to some degree and at some point. Android is just a better place to make an impact. When users want to express themselves, they don’t want limitations. Self expression is about being different and if there aren’t enough outlets, users will get bored. Android lifts that limit.
I’m curious to see what the big companies are that come out of Android as there aren’t currently enough. The key is thinking about taking advantage of what’s only possible on Android and personalization seems to be one of the big open avenues . Seen anything cool? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org