updated 11:02 pm EDT, Mon March 11, 2013
Actual-use studies show lopsided iOS influence
Yet another real-world usage study has emerged that would seem to contradict data based on shipments of smartphones. In a report issued by web video network provider Ooyala, iOS users account for two-thirds (67 percent) of mobile traffic for watching videos on smartphones, with Android devices making up only one-third (33 percent). This comes in seeming defiance of statistics from IDC that say Android devices have 68 percent share of smartphone shipments, with iOS only 19 percent of the market.
The two sets of data offer a few possibilities to explain the discrepancies. One possible explanation is that the survey measured time spent watching web video rather than assessing the number of videos watched, and thus is only showing that iOS users spend more than twice as much time watching web video as Android users do. Another option is that in this and several other areas, Android users are simply fundamentally different than iOS users and don't tend to engage with the Internet generally on their mobile devices in the way that iOS users do, possibly due to fewer options for video apps.
A more plausible explanation -- and one corroborated by other studies of real-world usage, including in-flight Wi-Fi use and travel site visits -- is that the accuracy of Android "shipment" reports rather than actual end-user sales figures are increasingly suspect. All smartphone and tablet manufacturer apart from Apple and Amazon report only shipments rather than actual end-user sales. Apple reports actual sales, while Amazon rarely gives out specific figures on its hardware manufacturing at all, and only reports general division revenues.
A rare example of how shipments do not equal end-user sales was brought to light in Apple's lawsuit against Samsung for patent and copyright infringement. During the trial, held last summer, both Apple and Samsung were ordered by the judge in the case to reveal actual sales figures rather than shipments. The figures covered US sales for two years -- from mid-2010 to mid 2012 -- and showed that Samsung had actually sold only 21 million smartphones during that period, compared to around 62 million iPhones. The actual sales figures closely mirror the current US percentage of iOS and Android as reflected in real-world usage, but are almost the reverse of current "marketshare" estimates based on shipments.
Despite this, trade journals and Wall Street continue to rely on shipment numbers as evidence that Android currently has (and has had for some time now) market dominance in North America. This contention is further undermined by revenue figures, which show Apple and Samsung with greater than 100 percent of smartphone revenues owing to the fact that all other manufacturers are losing money on smartphones, creating negative revenues. Of the Apple-Samsung profit pie, Apple by far takes the larger slice -- about 70 percent of smartphone profits, despite a higher cost-per-unit in manufacturing its smartphones than most Android devices.
Were Apple actually selling only 19 percent of North Americans smartphones, there would simply be no way -- even with higher profit margins and subsidies than other manufacturers -- for it to so completely dominate the profitability landscape over the combined revenues of all the Android handset makers. While not the only factor that could account for the chasm between real-world use and "shipments," the idea that at least some manufacturers are shipping far more units than they are actually selling provides the most likely explanation why iOS is so strongly dominant in studies where shipments and sales are discarded as a data point.