There’s been a lot of talk in the trade press over the last month by people who believe – or want to believe, or want us to think they believe – that Android’s momentum is slowing, and in particular that the multicarrier release of the Apple iPhone was a game-changer that will eventually pull Apple back into the dominant position in smartphones. Most of these talkers have been obvious Apple fanboys; a few have been contrarians, or tired of reporting the same old Android-wins-again stories, or merely linkbaiting.
The last week has not been kind to these people. First, Canalys reported that in a survey of usage in 56 countries, Android has reached 48% market share worldwide. Then the comScore figures on US installed base up to June 2011 came out, and report only 40% share here.
I think comparing these sources is instructive, particularly with the longer-term trends as context. It’s also worth noting a couple of other recent developments that cast doubt on the Apple-comeback scenario.
The 40% to 48% discrepancy is easily explained. With Nokia and RIM in collapse and Microsoft failing to gain traction, the smartphone market is increasingly just a two-horse race – Android va. Apple. Android does better against Apple in price-sensitive markets; U.S. consumers are the least price-sensitive in the world and so Apple competes better here.
More interesting, perhaps, is what is not happening in the latest figures. Tragically for the contrarians, it is Apple’s U.S market-share growth rather than Android’s that has stalled. Android share growth continues to bucket along at about 2% a month, while Apple’s shows no increase in the latest figures.
The future is another country, of course, but right now it looks like those of us who thought that multicarrier iPhone was going to be largely unable to fix Apple’s long-term positioning problem were correct. The iPhone’s market isn’t exactly saturated in the normal sense, but sales volumes are only growing as fast as the smartphone userbase as a whole; the multicarrier ‘breakout’ only netted Apple about a 1% competitive gain, and that gain now appears to be over.
Apple is now relying on smartphones for 68% of revenue, so they’d be very vulnerable to an actual drop in marketshare. I’ve taken a lot of flak for saying the company looks like a late-stage sustainer with a principal product line about to experience disruptive collapse, but this is yet another straw in the wind. If next month’s figures show an actual share drop, expect it to be self-reinforcing and get the hell out of Apple stock.
Meanwhile, the whole smartphone market may be undergoing some sort of subtle shift. Microsoft didn’t hemhorrage any share this month, which compared to their performance since the WP7 release is a major victory for them – they even gained a few users. I have no theory about what this means.
HP’s WebOS has fallen so far (below 2.2%) that comScore has stopped reporting it, probably because it’s now below their normal statistical noise level. Now they’re tracking Symbian instead.
In other news, Google is buying patents from IBM, doubtless with the intention of turning the confrontations with Sun and Apple into Mexican standoffs. My evaluation continues to be that the smartphone patent wars will be like a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury but in the end signifying nothing.
Finally, there’s really superb article on Android vs. iOS. Anybody still laboring under the delusion that iOS’s toolset for app development is unequivocally better than Android’s should read this.