A few days ago, I ran across an interesting report from IDC regarding mobile gaming. In particular, it provided a breakdown of mobile devices on which people preferred to buy and play games. Allow me to eliminate the drama. People love using iPods touch, iPhones, and iPads for gaming. But that's not the interesting part.

As a platform, Android was a high second. I'm sure you already guessed that, as well. Things get interesting when we look at the breakdown of smartphone vs. tablet gaming. If we disregard the iPod touch, iOS and Android are close to even. But when we look at smartphone vs. tablet, the numbers tell a different story.

On iOS, the split is roughly even between the iPhone and the iPad, though the iPad has a slight advantage. As for Android, the split isn't even close. Gaming on Android phones far outstrips gamin on Android tablets. In fact, Android tablet gaming is so unpopular, the Kindle Fire is a far more popular gaming device, and it doesn't have access to the Google Play store.

First, Android customers simply do not buy Android tablets in large numbers. The vast majority of Android phones are cheap phones sold into the budget market. Even the ones sold in places like the US are highly subsidized, and can be had for very little, to nothing up front. The same isn't true for tablets. Generally, buying a tablet means putting down your own money for the product. While spending $300 - $500 on an entry-level tablet is no problem for iOS users, even $200 is more than most Android users care to spend on a non-smartphone device. 

Second, Android users deploy giant phones as tablet alternatives. A few days ago, I was checking out a few Samsung smartphones at a local store. The phones were not connected to power or any kind of data connection. The only thing I could really look at was the build quality and size of the device. All Samsung phones feel cheap in the hand. However, what is much more notable is the size of the devices. My first thought was that these were not really large phones, but small tablets. These giant phones end up in the tablet column of many analysts who compare Android tablet marketshare to iPad marketshare. If you have never held one, make no mistake about it; 6" phones are, effectively, tablets.

The phablet market is made up of people who need a smartphone and want a tablet, but can't afford one. Rumor has it that Apple is considering a phablet for 2014. That market would be much smaller for Apple since they have no problem selling all of the high-end phones and tablets they can make. Producing such a product might just eat into their bottom line. My hope is that such a device would provide greater accessibility: larger print on a larger screen. What usually happens is that we get more information density, still keeping the print too small. 

Finally, it is notable that people would rather buy a Kindle tablet with a proprietary apps selection, than a decent, inexpensive, Android tablet. Once again, for the most part, people are spending their own money with no subsidies to speak of. This may just come down to a matter of trust. We may be forced to provide Google with access to some of our personal information. But we trust Apple and Amazon with our financial information. When antivirus is the #1 download on a platform, you simply will not feel good about feeding it your credit card information. 

What mobile gaming numbers tell us is that, on the Android side, there is far less, discretionary income, and platform trust. Android users do mobile gaming almost as much as iOS users. But they do so on compromised devices that suggest they would rather have a tablet. There may be profit for the Android manufacturer who can figure out the price and trust equation. I don't expect that to happen anytime soon.

David Johnson

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