updated 01:06 pm EST, Mon January 21, 2013
Travel CEO offers theory of slow-but-rising Android web growth
In survey after survey, Apple's iOS platform wallops its rival Android in a number of key metrics other than overall sales, but nowhere is the disparity so lopsided as in web use. Although Android phones (in combination) outsell iOS phones most of the time, and are heavily pushed by carriers because Android allows the experience fragmentation and customization that Apple will not, looking at web usage stats most people would conclude that Android phones are little-used beyond the most basic phone, game and music-player functions.
In such surveys, the iPhone can account for anywhere up to 70 percent or more of mobile smartphone web browsing, and a clear majority of other online activity such as streaming video or online shopping. The latest data point, reported by Business Insider, comes directly from the creator of one of the web's most popular travel sites, Kayak. Bill O'Donnell says that while Android visits to his site and use of the Android version of his app are slowly growing, iOS users make up three times as many visitors.
O'Donnell's theory is that Android buyers simply ask for a smartphone, and buy based on specific features or the lowest price. Based on visits to carrier's stores to test new models, he thinks that many customers get steered to Android by salespeople because they didn't specifically request an iPhone. Buyers who want an iPhone, he says, ask for it by name and want the overall experience and feature set of iPhones.
He adds that until recently, his theory on the disparate browsing and use results of iPhones came from the idea that iPhone (and iPad) buyers are aware that the device is a "mini-computer" and use it as such, replacing most of the day-to-day functions of other computers. Android users, he thinks, tend to stick to the core functions more because many Android phones are far less feature-rich than the typical smartphone, some barely qualifying for the designation. As more of the top-end of Android phones and tablets catch on and the Android OS improves, users are discovering more of the "mini-computer" functions and, like iPhone users, taking advantage of a more full range of the device's capabilities.
If true, the recent change in behavior among Android buyers could have marked effects on the smartphone industry, including more development for Android apps. It could also mean an eventual increase in the notoriously low rate of paid app return or in-app purchasing, which would raise the profitability of the platform -- a crucial measure that would strengthen the platform's future.