Understanding Android to iPhone Switching

There are several dynamics I want to explore about Android-to-iPhone switchers. I’ve seen enough data to suggest double digit percentages of Apple’s iPhone sales the past few quarters came from consumers switching from Android. The bull case for Apple’s growth is driven by share gains from Android, not new/first time smartphone owners. Apple’s larger screen offerings, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, are the clear catalysts driving Android switching. I’ve been trying to gather research and insights with a goal to understanding more deeply this switching dynamic. For now, I’ve concluded a few things.

Upside Outside the US

From data models I’ve made and thanks to discussions with local analysts and carriers, it seems those switching from Android to the iPhone are largely coming from outside the United States. Research suggests two markets in particular are where the bulk of Android switching is happening–China and parts of Europe. In both these regions, the installed base of premium Android phones, ones from Samsung, HTC, and LG, are much higher than in the US. In China, Apple has always led the premium market in terms of sales but, until recently, this volume was relatively low. Premium Android in China is in the $300-$400 range and that price tier represented the largest volume of sales during the Chinese smartphone boom and is driven by local Chinese OEMs. In both these markets “premium” was more defined by specs than price. The Asian consumer viewed larger screen devices as more premium than smaller phones. This point underscores the significance of Apple making larger screen iPhones and why they are now selling in significant quantities in China.

Europe, also has a much larger Android installed base of upper mid-tier and premium smartphones. In both markets, the larger installed base of Android and market demand for larger screen smartphones creates the fertile ground for Apple to attempt to gain share. Where there is clear evidence this is happening is in China, with over 38% of Chinese saying they switched from an Android phone to an iPhone in the previous quarter. According to Kantar, a similar dynamic happened in Europe last quarter with 32% of iPhone buyers switching from Android. Similar data from our surveys shows the US switching rate was in the low 20% range. However, Apple is up against a dynamic which may slow sentiment to switch some of our behavioral research is uncovering.

Familiarity

In some recent research, I set out to understand what percentage of Android users in the US self-identify as Android users. Meaning, they have come to the conclusion Android, not iOS, is for them. I did a consumer insight panel and found 38% of Android users I interviewed specifically used the phrase (or something along the lines of) “I’m an Android user” as we were discussing preferences and decisions to keep buying Android phones vs the iPhone. This group was keenly aware of their self-identification as an Android user. Within this group, the sentiment was stronger to self-identify as an “Android user” for men than women. Another dynamic I uncovered in these interviews was 34% of those I spoke with were staying with Android because it did all the things they needed and felt no need to switch. For this group, Android was “good enough”. In nearly every discussion with Android users, the Android operating system was their entry into the smartphone world and they have built up a familiarity with it. To many, the idea of switching seemed overwhelming given how many years they had experience and invested in the Android platform. These interviews validated a great deal of larger survey work we did. It highlighted the first smartphone OS a consumer used tended to be the one they stuck with.

Through conversations from the carrier ecosystem, I learned the carriers themselves are weary of this familiarity angle and are hesitant to push consumers to switch operating systems, if they are undecided or on the fence, fearing it could lead to higher returns. Whether this is true or not it is a dynamic to keep in mind. In the US, Europe, and key parts of China, the smartphone market is mature. Mature markets have historically not seen platform share churn in significant quantities.

The case for switching from Android to iOS has indeed gotten stronger. However, those switching from Android are not the majority of iPhone buyers today. This dynamic is one worth continuing to study as it is extremely relevant to the global mobile discussion around smartphones. The majority of new customers for Apple already have a smartphone and it is most likely an Android phone. Apple’s iPhone installed base growth hinges on their ability to get consumers to switch platforms. While there are some share gains to be had in the US, it is the switching dynamic outside the US to keep an eye on.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

12 thoughts on “Understanding Android to iPhone Switching”

  1. “The case for switching from Android to iOS has indeed gotten stronger.”

    Objection ! I’m curious what hat assertion is based on ?

    I think the case for premium in general, thus iOS in particular, has gotten weaker:
    – not so long ago, you had to pay big bucks anyway to get a good smartphone which had to be premium, so iPhone was at worst a little bit extra. Nowadays you’ve got good phones at $200, excellent ones at $400, which is about half the cost of a iP6. Storage pricing compounds the problem ($100 for 48GB @Apple, $35 for 64 GB with a µSD)
    – on the hardware side, android flagships keep growing their advantage. The iPhone’s screen and camera were best in class once upon a time, they’re lagging a bit to a lot now.
    – on the software side, both quality and quantity, most everybody agrees it’s a wash, and it used not to be. Ditto on the OS side: iOS keeps adding Android-inspired features, Android keeps getting smoother.
    – I’d argue that even on the design side, Android handsets are getting sexy, especially for those who think they should be able to choose fit and finish. iPhone is no longer the only one that’s not a slab of plastic, though I’d still argue plastic is better for phones than radio-killing metal or easily-killed glass, and design and materials don’t matter, especially for the 75% of buyers who put a case on it.

    1. Based on the assertion that those saying they switched from Android is at an all time high. 😉

      Agree on all fronts that premium Android is no longer price above $500. Great quality specs and devices are now less than $300. But even amidst that reality those switching to iPhone are at an all time high. That has to be taken into consideration even if it is only the 30-40% range.

      There are psychological elements at play as well we have to recognize. The continue status element of iPhone in China, and even some early responses we are seeing from US and Europe switchers about family being on iOS as a reason for switching.

      My goal was to just lay out some framework for why this dynamic is all of a sudden much higher than it was before. The larger screens have something to do with it, but I don’t believe that is the sole reason.

      1. Come on, “this happens” != “the case for this to happen is stronger”, in two ways

        1- is the case for bees to die en masse stronger ? Because they’re dieing en masse more than before too.
        2- one is descriptive, the other one is argumentative. We already know you’ve chosen sides…

        Plus I’m from one of the few countries were iOS share went down again lately, so I’m not equipped to get why ^^

        1. Your reading into my position way too much to make an assumption I’ve chosen sides. I’m honestly simply trying to understand dynamics for switching or not switching. Both the psychological as well as the motivations/drivers for it or against it.

          I recognize there are many countries where iOS does decline and likely never will have any real market share. In certain parts of Europe this is true where buyers are more pragmatic and less emotional, and certainly India as well.

          As I said there are dynamics at play and nuggets of nuance that give insight into choices, preferences, etc., with technology. Those are what I like to try to understand.

          1. I think that, as tech-oriented guys, we’re projecting our wants & needs onto an innocent populace. For the overwhelming majority of customers, smartphones are handbags, not pocket computers. They’re not technology, they’re fashion/tribe identification/financial success statements.
            I’d be really really curious about some segmentation by apps. How many users actually use the camera ? Install apps ? more than 10 ? Actually use them ? Does that actually change much by phone price/segment ?
            Statista says 28 (http://www.statista.com/chart/2415/app-usage-in-the-us-by-age/ ). I find that barely believable ?

            Disregarding screen size, a $150 Moto E 4G would serve perfectly 80+% of smartphone users around me (the remaining 20% are gamers, heavy picture takers, and very few sophisticated professionals). Same as any $50 bag could replace all the overpriced overbranded bags, often advantageously (no one ever stole my grungy bags, they’re washable, etc)

          2. Just counting fairly basic apps, you easily get to 20 – Settings, Contacts, Notes, Reminders, Phone, Messages, Camera, Photos, Calendar, App Store, a Weather app, a Clock app, Mail, Facebook, Safari, a Map app, Music, FaceTime, another one or two social media (Instagram, WeChat, WhatsApp, etc)

            Almost all smartphone users I know, both iPhone and Android, use their smartphone camera.

            Using 28 apps is believable. My wife, who is very much not a computer person and for whom the design of her smartphone cover is very important, easily uses more than 28 iPhone apps in a month. (I know, because she leaves them all open, and if I close them on her, they’re all back within the week.) My teenagers, neither of which are into computers, also easily use more than 28 iPhone apps as they also have games.

            Anecdotal so YMMV. But for me, not that hard to believe, at least for iPhone users.

          3. You’re right, I had tuned out basic built-in apps: phone, contacts, texts, settings, email, browser, clock, music, video player, calendar, gallery, camera, appstore (did I miss any ?). That’s 13 apps, leaving 15 others… sounds more like it: 3 chat apps, 5 games, YouTube, FB, Map, weather, plus the indispensable Flashlight and Mirror ^^ that’s 14.
            28 is the average though… absent more statistical data, I’ll make my stats teacher turn over in his grave and say it means half of users use less than that :-p Median, standard dev, and segmentation would be insightful, I think. Anecdotes around me say a lot of users don’t even use the 13 basic apps, so I’m guessing a very different demo uses a lot more.
            Edit more info on what counts would be useful too, maybe Keyboard, Voice, Now, Launcher… count ?

      2. Plus, isn’t it mostly organic ? At one time there was a 40% smartphone-equipped base, of which 60% had Android; now say there is a 60%-equipped base, of which 80% have Android. It seems natural that more phone buyers had an Android phone before. (numbers pulled out of…, but you get my logic)

        The “case” could be deemed “stronger” if more Android users are switching to iPhone, which is not the same as more iPhone buyers switching from Android. at 80/20 share and installed base (both big assumptions), 30% iPhone buyers coming from Android means 8-9% of Android users switching. Is that figure (hopefully with less shaky/smelly starting numbers) evolving ?

        (Funnily, 30% of Android buyers coming from iPhone would wipe out iPhone in a less than a year ^^)

      3. Yes, the family reason is a big one, that’s why (gasp) Apple are focused on lock-in ^^ If you got a mixed household, the one less locked-in is more likely to switch.

    2. Maybe it was just me, but when I switched from Android, it was because I was tired of buying phones that were out of date in less than a year. Probably quite a bit of an outlier since I was also buying Nexus devices at full price. Maybe Android has gotten a lot more stable and secure and upgradable since 2012 when I started the switch. I do think there are more low priced Android offerings now. And I’m weird because I do want unlocked phones due to international travel.
      Maybe everything just fell into place for me. The experience of a phone that really works as a phone and also as a smartphone is incredible. Nothing like my experiences over the years with Android. I can’t imagine going back,

  2. On the familiarity angle, I suspect that a large portion of switchers in mature markets might have been iOS first adopters who wanted a bigger screen.

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