Tech.pinions Industry Insider Preview

There are a number of things worth pointing out about the current state of smartphones. The first is that from a hardware standpoint vendors are staying relatively flat with a few seeing slight growth. Here is an updated chart showing IDC’s estimates for smartphone vendor share up to Q3’13.

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As you can see not a ton of change any which way. What stands out however, is the continued growth of Android. Here is Gartner’s estimate of Android’s global market share for smartphones.

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As you can see this is an important chart. However, without the lacking context it is very misleading. Do spend a minute looking at the rapid rise of Android in this chart because it is important to soak in for the next few data points I will show.

With this rapid and what seems like dominating market share rise of Android we would think that we would see some change in the web browsing statistics yet that is not the case. First let’s look at America. According to StatCounter Android’s market share is declining in the US with iPhone staying relatively steady.

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I’m anticipating iPhone to grow slightly in the US with regards to this statistic and even overall OS market share. I also expect Android’s continued decline as well in this statistic. I will update both toward the end of December and add more context.

Next let’s look at worldwide global browsing share. Keep in mind that the earlier Android chart plotting its market share growth is a result of emerging markets coming online and purchasing very low-cost smartphones. Devices that cost less that $150 USD. This is where Android’s growth is coming from and understanding that is key context. Here is a chart from NetMarketShare showing global mobile browser trends.

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What myself–and many others–are continually perplexed by is that Android’s quarter growth at at WW level does not seem to change its low browser share. So the question we have to ask is why? There are several possible explanations.

First, and quite simply, they are not being bought to browse the web. This does not mean they are not using the devices data connection but that they are not using it to browse the web. Any data being used by the device is coming from a download of an app, media, or other in app usage of data. No network provider would really consider this a heavy data usage point and I think it is clear that these devices are not heavy drivers of data services.

Second, and along those lines, many of these devices are consumers first experience with the internet. Perhaps a significant percent do not have consistent access to Wi-fi at home. We know that data plans vary greatly in these regions and some are very expensive and to a degree extremely slow, particularly in emerging markets. So between price barriers and experience barriers, perhaps the local regions where Android is growing simply do not lend themselves to drive much data. If you have to pay for the data you consume, rather than have an all you can eat data plan, perhaps you are more cautious about the data you use. This would mean that consumers are prioritizing their data usage. We know consumers in these regions likely have a data plan but not a text messaging plan which explains the rise in messaging apps like WeChat, WhatsApp, and Line. Consumers are prioritizing using the web for communication rather than browsing, or other rich web experiences.

Lastly, perhaps a large percentage of these devices are not being purchased with a data plan at all. Only 29% of global mobile subscribers have a data plan. I was told by a carrier in India that just over 50% of their Android device sales did not include data plans. Perhaps this is happening much more than we realize and in all emerging markets.

The key conclusion is that low-end Android phones are not proving to be effective network and business model drivers for the carriers and the carriers know it. This is what makes the speculation of the iPhone’s launch on China Mobile as a part of the launch of their 4G network so interesting. China Mobile, and other Chinese carriers, know that in order for them get a return on their network investments in future networks they need devices on that network that take advantage of those investments as a premium data driver. It seems as though many carriers across the globe know the iPhone will serve as a premium network driver. So as those regions develop and add new network infrastructure it is safe to assume those network carriers will be aggressive about getting devices that drive network value, by way of data, into the hands of consumers.

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