February 18, 2011

Like With PCs, Mobile Market Share Stats Fire Blanks

What is Android's market share against iPhone? In August of 2010, Nielsen claimed shipments of Android beat iOS for the first time, representing 27 percent of the market against 23 for Apple. By the end of January 2011, a second firm reported news that Android was number one overall, topping Symbian, while practically doubling that of iPhone (32 percent to 16 percent). On the same day, a third firm, NPD, said Android outsells all other competitors combined, with a US market share of 53 percent.

Which one is right and who cares? How many firms get to announce that Android is number one overall or that it has whatever percentage lead over iPhone for installed users or for the most recent quarter before they all agree? I think I've seen this story before (repeated 100 times).

Do consumers select a product based on market share statistics alone? I hope not. Of course, in contrast to the calculator rattling at all these firms, in addition to IDC, Gartner and the box counters of old who are taking turns counting newer and smaller boxes, you've got the Apple faithful who are going to do a great job arguing that Apple isn't in the market share race after all, that more people pay more dollars per iPhone than other platforms, and that developers make more money on their platform. Take a look at the latest report from Mac faithful site AppleInsider for their take, saying today that Apple's rivals battle for iOS scraps.

Can we all, instead of repeating every little survey that ekes one side up a percentage point here, or down another there, simply agree that the iOS is a great operating system, that Android is increasingly high quality with similar features and some solid innovation, and that the total population of Android users is increasing at a faster rate, thanks to broader priceband support and business relationships with handsets and carriers? I don't know which firm is right on which number, and frankly don't care. Like I've said many times over the last year, one's choice in mobile is a personal choice based on preference now. Nokia has fallen in love with the Microsoft Borg, and that leaves iOS and Android to have the dual battle many have been begging for, with the numbers playing out as we expect them to.

Developers who are launching iOS only are a rarity these days. Instagram, Path and Flipboard are all notable for having great interfaces but also because they are the exception and not the rule. I'm glad we've moved on somewhat from counting apps on each marketplace, but I think it's also time to move on from counting total units. Just recognize that smart developers are going to develop for both places, and consumers who make a move - to one platform or another - are going to find the apps they know and prefer available.

Even if Android grows to take 80 percent market share, which maybe it will, Apple knows how to live in its world of a smart minority. So let's cut out the garbage market share reports that flail in accuracy or in detailing anything we don't already know and instead, watch the results of two very different approaches to business models and customer focus take place in front of our eyes. It's the most interesting battle since the IE vs Netscape wars of the mid-90s, but this time, nobody's going to get crushed.