posted by Matthew Johnson on Tue 31st Jan 2012 22:24 UTC
IconIn its analysis of last year's smartphone market in the U.S., NPD found that market share for Apple's iOS went up following the release of the iPhone 4S, to 43 percent of all smartphone sales in October and November from 26 percent in the third quarter. Android, meanwhile, retained its lead, but lost market share towards the end of the year, dropping in October and November to 47 percent from 60 percent in the previous quarter. These are some dramatic shifts in market share but what do they really mean to you and me?

The primary benefits of market share statistics can be broken down into three line items:

  1. They can help developers understand usage trends so they know where to allocate resources
  2. They help consumers make better buying decisions based on which platform is most likely to get developer support
  3. They help investors understand usage trends to allow them to invest in companies with the greatest potential for a return
I'd like to focus on numbers 1 and 2 as these affect most of us who use smart phones.

Over the past year it was reported by a handful of online sources that Android's numbers were over-inflated by including incompatible variations of Android such as China Mobile's Ophone and Tapas OS, a project run by the former president of Google China.

Smartphone
Smartphone image via Shutterstock

If true, that would have put a serious damper on Android's total numbers that were widely reported as having overtaken iOS however Google addressed this question by saying that they do not include upgrades and only includes devices that run Google services. So forks of Android built by some Asian manufacturers who don’t license Google services would presumably not be counted.

Earlier this week OS News linked to a BBC article showing that Android recently grew its share of the ever-growing tablet market thanks primarily to Amazon and Samsung's use of the operating system.

The story intrigued me as Amazon's version of Android does not utilize Google services (a specific stipulation required by Google itself) which would therefore not allow it to be a candidate to increase Android's overall market share numbers for tablets let alone their overall Android installations.

With that said, I re-read the quite from Google regarding clarification of the inclusion of incompatible variations of android and learned that Google specified that THEY don't include these OSes into their statistics of Android's share. That doesn't mean that other statistical resources didn't or currently don't include them.

Indeed most statistical resources in fact DO include these incompatible variants which means that Android was most likely not leading iOS before and absolutely isn't doing so now that the statistics include the incompatible android variations and are even dramatically closer than they were before.

Remember, as mentioned at the top of this article, these statistics are important to developers who white software for a single platform and to consumers to have access to that platform. If variations of that platform aren't compatible with the whole then the reported statistic is completely worthless at best and outright false at worst.

To include these incompatible variants is no less misleading than if statisticians were to include the iOS variant within Apple's Nano music player which isn't compatible with Apple's app store within Apple's numbers.

The real beauty of open source software isn't that it's free; it’s that it's free to change. Developers can tinker with it, strip it down or build it out, depending on their wants and needs. In the case of Google’s Android, this increasingly means that we don’t have one Android operating system. Instead, we have a family of different Android forks and flavors.

Even to call Android “fragmented” assumes that it was or ought to be unified and singular from the beginning. It makes more sense to start talking about “Android-compatible” devices, rather than Android.

So does this mean that "Android-compatible" is shrinking?

Far from it. Android is growing, growing by leaps and bounds actually. But a company can grow its numbers while its market share is shrinking as this is comparative to all the other players in the market.

With that said, If one were to remove the incompatible variants that most statistical resources include in their stats including those of Kindle's incompatible variant, Android's reported numbers would be significantly less.

That iOS is now even closing the gap on both Android-compatible AND incompatible is a testament to the growth that Apple's operating system is currently seeing.

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