They may outsell Apple’s iPhones by a wide margin, but Android devices are not being used to their full capabilities. Does the latest research show Android to be simply a glossy-screen feature phone replacement? Guy Daniels reports.
They came, they embraced family, they ate turkey, and then they shopped. As sure as night follows day (or floods follow summer), so Black Friday and Cyber Monday follow Thanksgiving Day. It’s the start of the “holiday season” in the US, and retails go all out to encourage early shopping with heavy discounts and sales.
Perfect time, then, for IBM to release its latest digital commerce report. And it makes for interesting reading. The headline-grabbing conclusion is that 77 per cent of mobile traffic on Black Friday came from iOS devices. Why is that so newsworthy? Because according to the latest ComScore research, iOS has just 34.3 per cent of the US smartphone market, compared with 52.5 per cent for Android.
Of course, tablets also factored heavily. In fact, IBM says the iPad was the single biggest contributor to online sales – that’s using the device to place an order, not sales of the device itself – this is a usage report. According to IBM, the iOS-powered iPad reached nearly 10 per cent of all US online shopping, followed by the iPhone with 8.7 per cent and Android with 5.5 per cent. The iPad dominated tablet traffic at 88.3 per cent followed at some considerable distance by the Barnes and Noble Nook at 3.1 per cent, Amazon Kindle at 2.4 per cent and the Samsung Galaxy at just 1.8 per cent.
So much for the recent declining sales growth for the iPad, which got so many analysts all hot under the collar. Gartner may well be right by reporting iPad sales down 50 per cent in Q3, but IBM’s report suggest they are being well used by their owners.
In all, IBM says that Black Friday 2012 saw mobile traffic growing by more than 67 per cent – an increase of 21 per cent over 2011’s figures. 24 per cent of consumers used a mobile device to visit a retailer’s site, up from 14.3 per cent in 2011, with mobile sales exceeding 16 per cent (up from 9.8 per cent in 2011).
IBM also reported a rise in so-called “multiscreen shopping” where consumers shopped in store, online and on mobile devices simultaneously to get the best bargains. Overall 58 per cent of consumers used smartphones compared to 41 per cent who used tablets to surf for bargains in this manner on Black Friday.
It wasn’t all positive numbers though. Interestingly, shoppers referred from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter generated a lowly 0.34 per cent of all online sales on Black Friday, a decrease of more than 35 per cent from 2011. In fact Twitter referral traffic registered 0.00 per cent…
So where does all of this leave Android? The platform has the most market share in the US, but if reports like IBM’s are to believed, Android devices are not being used to their full potential – at least, not as much as Apple devices. It would appear that iOS owners are more inclined to go online and use the data connectivity of their devices, using them as mobile computers.
Android owners, by comparison, aren’t as keen. Or perhaps not as knowledgeable? Whatever the reason, we’re seeing more and more evidence of an “engagement gap” between the two platforms.
So far, we have yet to see qualitative analysis to prove the case or to come up with compelling reasons. There’s plenty of speculation in blogs and websites (we also recommend you visit Asymco if charts are your thing). And that’s all it is at the moment – speculation. So here’s our contribution.
It’s highly possible that feature-phone owners are upgrading to Android devices, rather than iOS ones, and that these people are less inclined or willing to use the smartphone functionality. You can get plenty of cheap Android phones now, and a visit to a phone retailer confirms that the biggest display area by far comprises Android handsets. So why would you buck the trend and insist on a feature-phone? You could probably walk out of the store with a shiny new black Android slab for free. But would you bother to use it properly?
Would-be Apple owners, on the other hand, are probably more likely to be tech-savvy and willing to explore the full functionality that smartphones have to offer. Especially as they’ll be paying more money for their device. So, the theory goes, Apple users are naturally more inclined to use smartphone capabilities, whereas a good percentage (more than 50 per cent perhaps?) of Android users are disinclined.
There’s also the argument that iOS is a far better operating system and easier for people to understand than Android, but that’s a more difficult line of reasoning to believe. Another argument is that most Android users don’t have the most up-to-date OS installed, as it’s incredibly difficult, time-consuming and costly for operators and vendors to support updates – whereas the update process on the more limited iOS range of devices is straightforward and easy – and if you don’t have the latest OS, you are less inclined to use the interactivity.
We need to find out what exactly is happening. And what are the operator implications? How does this shape traffic use? This isn’t a case of which OS is best, or arguing for just one OS and no consumer choice. It’s about understanding what’s happening. Yes, IBM’s research only focuses on US retail over a very short period. And yes, the iPad is the most used device – begging the question shouldn’t we comparing it with laptops and desktops rather than phones? But the iPhone comes a close second, and beat the whole Android sector in this study.
But until someone does the research, all we’re left with is speculation. And that speculation suggests that Android, far from being a rival to iOS, is merely becoming the new standard for entry-level phones – an over-powered, under-used platform for people who just want to make a phone call and send some texts.
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