Android’s Dirty Secret: Shipping Numbers Are Strong But Returns Are 30-40%

It’s generally accepted that, on the aggregate, Android device sales will far outpace iOS sales year after year. However, there’s a dirty little secret about Android devices that most manufacturers are facing: the return rate on some Android devices is between 30 and 40 percent, in comparison to the iPhone 4’s 1.7% return rate as of Antennagate in 2010.

As we learned yesterday, Samsung is selling 18 to 21 million phones this quarter. Although all of those won’t be Android phones – Samsung manufactures Bada phones as well for the low-end. We do know for sure that the Galaxy S II sold 3 million in 55 days, a strong showing.

However, on the ground, many return rates are approaching 40% said a person familiar with handset sales for multiple manufacturers. Why? Well, as Matt noted, consumer understanding of the platform and handset availability is massively bifurcated.

For us nerds, Android makes a lot of sense. It’s ostensibly open platform (but not really) that offers far more flexibility to the programmer, carrier, and, ideally, the user.

For the “average” phone user, however, Android is a maze. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of multiple examples of folks who bought an Android phone in order to “Think Different” and came away disappointed when faced with the glaring differences between Android and a friend’s iPhone or Blackberry.

Sure, the Android hardware ecosystem is more variegated and expansive and sure, Android is free for carriers to implement (in general) but clearly it’s the little differences that are driving sales and, more important, returns.