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Is Apple really 'closing the gap' on Android as far as smartphone market share is concerned, or is there more to the battle of the mobile handsets than the latest set of headline figures suggest?

androidshare.jpg Certainly if you take the research, and associated press releases surrounding it, from Nielsen regarding smartphone sales then you might be forgiven for thinking that Android handsets are in danger of being overtaken by iPhones in terms of handsets in, well, hands. The NeilsenWire release in question doesn't help by loudly proclaiming "More US Consumers Choosing Smartphones as Apple Closes the Gap on Android" - a headline which has been copied by news media outlets pretty much word for word in many cases, although some have opted to leave the 'consumer' bit out, and a sentiment which has certainly been echoed as if Gospel in the vast majority of those news stories which I have bothered to read.

The Nielsen research points at the launch of the iPhone 4S in the back half of last year as the driver for this apparent 'surge' in Apple smartphone popularity, which is hardly surprising in my opinion. After all, just look at the media feeding frenzy whenever Apple throws any new product into the pool. The TV coverage bordered on the insane, especially considering that 'new' in the case of the 4S (which, I should point out before I get accused of Apple bashing, I own myself and am more than happy with) actually turned out to be 'much the same as before with a few additional tweaks' truth be told. Nielsen reports that 44.5 percent of folks asked in December said they had opted for an iPhone (and 57 percent of those an iPhone 4S) compared to 25.1 percent back in October.

So, taken at face value you could say that there had been a surge in iPhone popularity, yes. As far as consumers, and US-based consumers at that, are concerned the iPhone 4S effect has had an impact on the Android market share as measured by the Nielsen reporting metric. Android saw a drop from 61.6 percent market share to 46.9 percent between October and December 2011, while iPhones jumped up from 25.1 percent to finish the year just behind the Androids on 44.5 percent.

Part of the problem in taking these numbers and concluding that the iPhone is about to seriously kick some Android ###, is that human nature is such that people will hold back from buying an iPhone until the 'new' model is released. Media coverage continues for months before the actual product is available, in effect depressing iPhone sales until the launch happens when, boom, a flurry of activity boosts the numbers up. The other part of the problem is that the Nielsen numbers relate to the percentages buying new smartphones, not the actual market share at all. All that increased were the number of people buying new iPhones (on the back of a new model launch) compared to those buying new Androids, during a three month period leading up to Christmas.

The truth is that both Apple and Android are doing well, especially when you take a slightly broader look that includes global business and tablet users; and with more than 250 million Android devices activated so far (50 million of them in the last couple of months alone) Google is far from out of the race or even flagging noticeably. You simply cannot take information that addresses a short term snapshot of a particular section of the market and somehow extrapolate from that, as some media outlets have done, that one player is about to capture a bigger slice of the overall market share...

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

As some wag once observed, "There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics!". One could make the case that most people think breathing is bad for your health, assuming you leave off (or minimize) the fact that the study was what people think about breathing truck exhaust fumes...

You forget another effect, and a big one, that's especially prevalent in Apple buyers: replacement envy.

Many of them will buy every single new Apple device that gets released, whether it is an improvement (let alone an improvement warranting the cost of replacement on any objective basis) or not.
Thus I would estimate that possibly as many as 75% of iPhone 4S models sold are replacements for older iPhones (and most of them for iPhone 4 models).
While this happens to a degree in the Android market as well, it's not nearly as big an effect (and where it happens it's often people skipping to another Android vendor because of problems with an older device, or because of a major leap in functionality).

guilty as charged there m'lud :)

I think you have a good point there, not least as I currently have an iPhone 4 (couple of months left on contract) and an iPhone 4S. Erm, guilty as charged methinks :)

Apple is the sole manufacturer of the proprietary iPhones. They don't offer a variety of phones to fit different needs, they offer one phone style that is flexible enough to do just about everything. New releases are rare events that stir up demand.

Android is open-source software backed by Google. Several manufacturers compete to fill niches, hit pricing points or try to dominate the market with innovative hardware. Androids can look like iPhones. There are always new releases of Android phones.

Buying an iPhone is simply a yes/no decision (do I want it?) while someone who shops specifically for an Android has to decide which Android version, manufacturer, phone and design is best. The more complicated the decision gets, the less likely the sale is made - especially if it's to replace a phone that's still working.

But a lot of buyers probably don't start by deciding between an iPhone or an Android. Instead, they probably look at a lot of phones and narrow down their choices. From that perspective, iPhones are just one style of phone out of the many that are Androids.

Both the iPhone and Androids have more capabilities that most people need or will use. As more people buy and get used to Androids, they'll show them off and create more demand. Androids will keep gaining market share because they aren't a single phone controlled by a single company that has only offered a few models over the last five years.

Both types of phones can run thousands of apps to extend uses and functionality. Users like to customize their phones according to their needs; but they also want a phone that looks right, feels rights and operates smoothly. Market forces and competition have allowed manufacturers and software developers to build appealing versions of Android phones that keep innovation moving along at a steady pace.

Android is having its market for different reasons, some of them are that Android is open source OS so there are number of smart phone models, other is that android phones are cheaper than iPhone mobile.
On the contrary side iPhone does not provide a lot of models to pick from and is bit coslty than android phone.
But as i know lot of android users switch to iPhone but not many iPhone users prefer android mobile.

I do like the iPhone, it's a great little phone with a great web OS. Though android phones will only get better with time as they all use the same system they have to make a better phone than everyone else in order to win the market!
Apple don't have to make a good phone as apple snobs will buy anything the put on the market so therefor
I don't see it being long before andriod phones have long surpassed what apple have been able to produce!

Add this one too recent IDC 3Q reports shows Android has dominated the market by occupying 81% of the market shares while iOS fell down to 12.9% of market shares.

i think if apple releases a bigger screen iphone they might eat more market share from android/windows

Well, nope I don't think that releasing a bigger iphone is going to make the difference now because people are already having more than the screen size which Apple is planning to showcase. I would rather say that's just not a smart move instead of it if Apple has work upon in decreasing the prices or making its iOS open source then its going to make a bigger difference. :P So no I don't think that's going to help.

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