It's taken some time - and no doubt some scrambling at Clubhouse HQ - but finally, an Android version of the audio social platform is now available, in limited beta for now, with a wider launch coming soon.
As explained by Clubhouse:
"Today, we are thrilled to share that Clubhouse for Android will start rolling out in beta immediately. We will begin gradually, with the U.S. today, followed by other English-speaking countries and then the rest of the world. Our plan over the next few weeks is to collect feedback from the community, fix any issues we see and work to add a few final features like payments and club creation before rolling it out more broadly."
Clubhouse's Android app does have some significant limitation at launch, including the lack of options to follow topics, inability to create or manage clubs, and no capacity to update your name or update username in-app, among others. But it is finally here, which has been a long time coming, and is a critical step for the next stage of the app's development.
Clubhouse's lack of an Android app has become a significant growth impediment of late, with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all adding Clubhouse-like audio social options that could end up slowing the Clubhouse's potential Android user take-up. If you can tune in to all the audio social rooms you want, in the apps that you're already familiar with - which are available on your device right now - do you really need Clubhouse in your life?
The growing variety of audio social tools has now made this a real question, and while Clubhouse may have originated the audio social trend, these newer offerings are refining it, in various ways, which poses a major challenge for Clubhouse as it looks to capitalize on its early momentum, and maximize its audience growth.
Which is already slowing - according to data from Sensor Tower, Clubhouse's total download numbers fell 72% in March, after peaking at 9.6 million in February.
You can see that same downward trend in the app's daily download rankings:
As you can see, while Clubhouse is still seeing small boosts in download numbers, the downward trend here is clear.
This can largely be attributed to its lack of an Android app (though these, of course, are only iOS numbers), the rising competition within the audio social space, as noted, and Clubhouse's invite-only approach, which is designed to both enhance the FOMO factor and fuel more interest in the app, while also alleviating stress on Clubhouse's servers.
Which will still be in place for the new Android version:
"As a part of the effort to keep the growth measured, we will be continuing the waitlist and invite system, ensuring that each new community member can bring along a few close friends. As we head into the summer and continue to scale out the backend, we plan to begin opening up even further, welcoming millions more people in from the iOS waitlist, expanding language support, and adding more accessibility features, so that people worldwide can experience Clubhouse in a way that feels native to them."
This was once one of Clubhouse's key growth features, with its invite-only approach making Clubhouse invites a desired digital item, with many even being auctioned off on eBay for ridiculous prices. But with more audio social options arriving on the scene, it's now become a limitation - though it does also serve a practical purpose, which Clubhouse further explains:
"Earlier this year, Clubhouse started growing very quickly, as people all over the world began inviting their friends faster than we had ever expected. This had its downsides, as the load stressed our systems- causing widespread server outages and notification failures, and surpassing the limits of our early discovery algorithms. It made us shift our focus to hiring, fixing, and company building, rather than the community meetups and product features that we normally like to focus on. It was an important time of investment, which we think will help us serve the community much better in the long run."
This is a problem that its competitors don't have, because most have already built the infrastructure to host multi-participant video streams, meaning that, if anything, downgrading their video tools to audio only is a step back from a data load perspective, while Clubhouse is working to keep up. That puts more pressure on the Clubhouse team to invest heavily in infrastructure to accelerate growth, which it can still do, but as Clubhouse itself notes, its sudden growth has put its systems under significant strain.
And if it can't open up more widely, and maximize its recommendation algorithms, it's at huge risk of being superseded by the bigger platforms, which are already starting from a stronger position, with broader reach, better, more personally attuned algorithms, and improved audio features. And those tools are being updated and refined every single day.
Can Clubhouse stay up with the bigger players, even with the arrival of its Android app?
The key likely comes down to two things: creator incentives and algorithm refinement.
On the first, Clubhouse has already announced the first round of finalists for its Creator Accelerator program, which will eventually see 20 Clubhouse-based projects receive training, funding and support to help develop their concepts. That will, ideally, help the platform keep more of its top broadcasters aligned with the app, while Clubhouse is also working on creator payments as another means to build incentive systems to keep broadcasters, and their audiences, coming back again and again.
On the second, many users have already noted that, even at this stage, its become more and more difficult to find Clubhouse rooms that are aligned with their interests. That will only get worse as the app opens up to more people, so Clubhouse needs to work on its algorithm tools to ensure that each user is being alerted to the most relevant content to them, in order to keep them active - and again, returning to the app.
As Clubhouse notes, it is working on this, while it's also recently added scheduled room listings on user profiles and RSVP tools to help improve its systems. This will become an increasingly complex technological process as more users get access, but if Clubhouse wants to keep competing with its better-resourced competitors, it will need to invest heavily in this element, in order to maximize audience engagement.
That's how TikTok has been able to stick around, and become a significant competitor in the social space. Because every TikTok clip is full-screen, TikTok is better able to determine user interests based on each and every clip, and the TikTok team has worked to build in a range of measurement factors based on the content of each clip, which has helped it build a highly responsive, and heavily refined, personalization algorithm that's able to suck users in, and keep them coming back and scrolling through its video clips for hours on end.
Clubhouse doesn't have the same advantages that TikTok does in this respect, but it can work to establish connections between the rooms each person visits, how long they spend in each, the people they regularly listen to, etc. Using these factors, Clubhouse can create an effective personal recommendation algorithm, which could still see it become a more significant audio social option over time.
But the path ahead is not easy, and Clubhouse seems like it's already stretched as it works to keep pace.
It can still win out, with a dedicated audience, and expanding reach, along with engaged creators and a 'cool factor' that the other, legacy social apps simply don't have at this stage.
But the challenge is significant, and rising.
Hopefully, the arrival of an Android app, slightly ahead of schedule, is a sign of more good things to come for the Clubhouse team.