Why Android users surf less than iPhone users

Yesterday we saw that in Q3 the Android browser has a 24% market share according to StatCounter. On the other hand, Tomi Ahonen reports Android’s Q3 sales market share was 71% and its installed base share 48%. Even allowing for fuzzy data and margins of error, that’s a huge difference. What’s the cause?

Operators (carriers) are heavily weighting the scales in favour of Android by convincing their clients to buy one, but many of those clients aren’t very interested in surfing.

Operators offer their clients subsidies, which range from about 70% for the iPhone 5 ($200 from the operator vs. $650 directly from Apple) to 100% for cheaper devices. Of course the operators don’t give you $450 out of their pockets when you buy an iPhone: they make that money back, and more besides, on the two-year contract you’re obliged to sign. It’s actually cheaper to buy an unlocked phone for the full price and a separate SIM-only contract.

Still, the psychological difference between $200 and $650, or $0 and $250, is so huge that most consumers don’t think it through and go to the operator store for their phones. And there they’re caught in the operators’ other influencing scheme.

Operators offer their store clerks a commission on any phone they sell — but some phones earn them higher commissions than others. Right now the phones that give the clerks the most commission are Samsung Androids. The personal contact between consumer and clerk in the store makes sure all uncommitted consumers buy one.

Why Samsung Androids? Because right now they’re the cheapest phones in their segments. To put it mildly, economy of scale applies to the Android device market — and the absence of any royalty payments for the OS is a nice extra. Operators make more money by selling their clients Androids than on iPhones, BlackBerries, Nokias, and all the rest.

Thus, once consumers arrive in the operator store the clerks efficiently steer them toward the Samsung Androids that make everybody most money. (Unless the consumer demands an iPhone, of course. That short-circuits the plan.)

Many consumers don’t particularly want to surf on their phones, because they don’t see the point and they think it’ll cost them a lot of money (and, especially in the developing world, they are likely right). A friend of mine, who recently got a mid-range Samsung Android with his new contract, explicitly asked me to turn off his Internet access because of the cost.

What I think is happening is that consumers who in the past would have been happy with a mid-range Nokia are now buying mid-range Androids. They don’t really care what kind of phone they have, so they’re willing to take a Galaxy, especially if it’s “free.” But they won’t surf. That’s too expensive.

These Android phones count in the sales and installed base statistics, but don’t turn up in the browsing statistics. That, as far as I can see, is the reason Android users surf less than the Android sales market figures would suggest.

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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