Measuring a platform’s smartness

John Gruber points to and agrees with this article that says that many activated Android phones are not used as smartphones, proving that iOS is more important in the smartphone market than the sales market shares show.

They could be right, they could be wrong. The question is: How do you measure a platform’s “smartness?” Unfortunately the article does not offer any answers to this crucial question.

The best way I can think of is measuring a platform’s occurrence in browser statistics. However you define a smartphone, browsing is a crucial part of the experience nowadays, and if its browsing market share does not live up to its sales market share, the platform is less smart.

So let’s take a look at the mobile browser market’s most recent OS statistics:

Worldwide browsing OSs, July 2011
OS Share Remarks
Symbian 32% Nokia WebKit has only 17% market share. The rest of Symbian users use Opera.
iOS 20%
Android 19%
BlackBerry 12%
Unknown 6% Mostly Opera Mini, which does not always give platform information.
Samsung 6% Non-Android, non-bada OSs.
Sony Ericsson 3% Non-Android OSs.
Other 2%

Lo and behold, Android’s share is one point less than iOS’s, while the Q1 sales figures are more like a 7:4 division in favour of Android (roughly 35 vs. 20 million).

However, it would be a mistake to compare the current browsing stats to the current sales stats. The browsing stats are mostly caused by already deployed devices, including the three-year old devices that are still the best the less affluent smartphone users have.

So it’s best to see the current browsing stats as a kind of 12- to 24-month moving average of smartphone sales coupled with platform “smartness” (and note the deliberate vagueness and huge margin of error). That explains Symbian’s continued dominance: its sales market share may plummet all it wants, people still have an awful lot of Symbian devices on hand to do their browsing with.

Calculating smartness

So let’s make a back-of-napkin calculation and make a lot of assumptions. We’ll assume that the July 2011 browser stats are a moving average of the Q1 2010 to Q1 2011 (inclusive) sales market share, since those are the only quarters I have full figures for.

We’ll concentrate on the top four platforms, since I’m still investigating the other platforms and can’t easily translate them to browser market shares. Besides, the older Samsung and Sony Ericsson OSs that make up most of the other platforms are not counted as smartphones in the sales stats, so the calculation does not work.

In addition, we’ll leave the sizable Unknown contingent entirely out of the equation and re-calculate the browsing market stats from there.

Then we divide the browsing share by the sales share. Ideally the result is 1 for a perfect match between sales and browsing shares. If it’s less than 1 the platform is less smart, if it’s more than 1 the platform is smarter.

Q1 2010-Q1 2011 sales compared to July 2011 browsing
OS Sales % Browsing share Smartness
Symbian 135,3 34% 34% 1
Android 102,1 26% 20% 0.75
iOS 66,1 17% 21% 1.25
BlackBerry 62,9 16% 13% 0.8
Other 26,5 7% 12% n/a
Total 392,9 100% 100% 1

A surprising outcome. Let’s take them on in order of “smartness:”

  1. iOS comes first. No surprises here; we already knew iPhone users surf a lot more than users of other phones.
  2. The comes Symbian, and I hadn’t expected that. Apparently Symbian users don’t mind surfing at all, although almost half of them use Opera.
  3. BlackBerry comes next: its users surf somewhat less than should be expected from the sales stats. No surprises here.
  4. Android, indeed, is the least “smart” of the big four platforms. So the article is right up to a point.

Thus I conclude provisionally that the Android platform is somewhat less “smart” than iOS. Still, the blanket statement that “not many” Android devices are used as smartphones is misleading at best: quite a few Android users do browse the web.

So the article has a point, but less than the author seems to think.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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