Android Growth Picks Up in Mobile Ad Race Against Apple

Over the past few months, mobile ad networks have reported substantial growth in ads from devices running Google Android, presenting mobile marketers with an increasingly viable alternative to Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch devices.

According to data from mobile ad network AdMob, ad requests from Android devices grew 56 percent between December 2009 and February 2010, considerably outpacing overall growth in smartphone requests – which increased 24 percent during that period. Google’s acquisition of AdMob is pending approval.

Rival network Millennial Media also witnessed considerable Android growth last month, claiming impressions on its own network jumped 25 percent in February, representing the largest month-over-month growth Millennial has seen for the OS on its network. Though reluctant to read too much into that figure, Millennial’s SVP of marketing, Erin McKelvey, said impressions for RIM’s Blackberry devices decreased 1 percent in that period, with Apple devices experiencing growth of just under 2 percent. “It’s too early to say if this is a trend,” she said.

However, Admob’s figures appear to suggest that growth has been sustained for more than just the one month, and the data is backed up by numbers provided by Todacell. The Israel-based mobile ad network witnessed 600 percent growth in Android requests between December 2009 and January 2010. Overall requests in its network also grew by 300 percent; however, but the data still suggests Android OS is growing at twice the pace of the overall market.

So what does this mean for advertisers, who often think of “mobile advertising” as synonymous with Apple devices? “For Android specifically, we’ve observed a significant increase in interest from both publishers and advertisers,” Johanna Werther, product marketing manager at AdMob told ClickZ. “Android traffic is the most rapidly growing portion of our network,” she added.

Millennial’s McKelvey acknowledged that Apple is still by far the dominant mobile player, but acknowledged a possible shift in momentum. “Android reach is still quite small compared with RIM and Apple, but the wake up call to advertisers is that it’s growing and that its users are active,” she said.

Android also generates growing interest from developers and brands in the application space, as handsets running it proliferate. In December, Pandora — the personalized online radio service — and CBS launched dedicated Android mobile applications.

Android apps also appear to be on the rise. According to data from mobile application analytics outfit, Flurry, Android developers purportedly began work on 270 new applications – up from around 160 the previous month. In January, that figure was higher, at around 300 new applications. In December, Android app development reached its highest level thus far when new Android apps represented around one third of all new apps tracked by Flurry.

Flurry also estimated that Motorola’s newly launched Droid device actually sold more units in its first 74 days than Apple’s iPhone 1G model, which sold a million units in that period.

Despite the growth in Android handsets and applications, Millennial Media’s SVP of sales, Marcus Startzel, suggests advertisers continue to focus their efforts on Apple devices. “We don’t have a lot of advertisers coming to us asking for Android impressions,” he said, adding, “There’s a perceived better experience on Apple handsets.”

However, he suggests that from a technology and user experience standpoint, there’s little difference between Android and Apple devices. “It’s not really about ad execution. For the advertiser it’s a question of reach – it’s just that the iPhone has a head start, and there’s still a lot of noise around it.”

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