The September comScore numbers are out, and the market transition hinted at by the June numbers seems to be under way. Growth in the U.S. smartphone market is slowing, and the flavor of the competitive game is about to change.
Since early 2011 I’ve been writing that the U.S. smartphone market didn’t look like its players were in a zero-sum game. In particular, both Android and Apple were spared having to compete head-to-head in each others’ core markets by the huge volume of dumbphone conversions and customers bailing out of RIM and Microsoft. But I also expected this to change in 3Q2011 as the U.S. smartphone market neared saturation; this change was hinted at in the June numbers and I think the September ones show it arriving right on schedule.
Comparing the first and third graphs at statistics page tells the story. Apple and Android userbases are continuing to grow on their usual trendlines, but RIM and Microsoft seem to have found some sort of floor; their decline has notably slowed and (if you’re prepared to trust the last decimal digit, which I’m not) Microsoft may even have picked up a handful of users.
This means it’s going to be a tougher game from now on. Android and Apple have captured the easy switchers; now they’re going to have to fight harder for increased share, and more against each other.
Apple fans will want to spin the flat Apple share numbers as people holding off purchases for the 4S, and will predict a big spike in Apple’s October numbers. The trouble with this a narrative is that we could equally interpret the fall-off in Android share growth as people waiting for Android 4 – and meanwhile, the ratio between share growth rates has actually increased in Android’s favor.
Again, it’s helpful to compare with the userbase graph; there’s no sign of weakness in Android’s competitive position there. The longer-term U.S. trend is still that Android is growing twice as fast as Apple, and in fact the difference in growth rates is widening rather than narrowing.
For some perspective, let’s hop across the pond. In England, Android utterly crushes its competition. The article doesn’t specify whether “market share” is installed base a la comScore or new sales, but either way it’s nor a pretty picture for competitors. RIM has seen a slight recent uptick, but everybody else – including Apple – has gotten kerb-stomped.
Of course, the 4S could still surprise everyone in the holiday season. But we’re now in the third cycle of “Oooh! Oooh! the New Apple phone will crush Android and restore Cupertino’s rightful dominance…” and we all know what became of those blithe and wishful imaginings the first two times. The smart bet is that this time won’t be different.