Smartphone Report Shows Increased Android Dominance, Continued Blackberry Decline and Improved Fortunes for Windows Phone

Kantar World Panel today published its latest smartphone market share report, this time showing sales figures for Q1 2013 in nine key countries. The numbers show an increased dominance for the Android operating system, which is number one in eight out of the nine territories, with Apple’s iOS in second place. The odd country out is Japan where iOS is a few percent ahead of Android. Android sales are a long way in front everywhere else except for the US where the race remains close. iOS share is down marginally everywhere but the biggest loser is Blackberry, which now accounts for less than 1% of the market in six out of the nine featured countries and has fallen behind the increasingly popular Windows Phone in all of them.

Here in Britain, Android phones were bought by 58.4% of smartphone buyers in the first three months of the year, with Apple devices favoured by 28.7% and Windows Phone in third place on 7%.  Across the five largest EU markets (GB, Germany, France, Italy, Spain) the picture is similar though skewed more in favour of Android, which accounts for nearly three quarters of sales in Germany and a massive 93.5% of Spanish sales.

Kantar is predicting further gains for Android in coming months due to sales of new flagship devices such as the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4.

Android & iOS Account for 91% of Smartphone Sales

For much of the last few years the smartphone market has been a three-horse race with Apple, Google and BlackBerry battling for supremacy. Google’s Android has held the lead in recent times while BlackBerry’s market share has continued to dwindle. Figures published yesterday by IDC show that although BlackBerry is still in third place, its share of new devices sold is down to just 3.2% and it remains to be seen whether its new X10 and Q10 devices will do anything to reverse that slide.

With Microsoft (2.4%) so far failing to make a big impact with Windows Phone there are now only two big players in terms of mobile platforms: Android (70.1%) and iOS (21.0%). This is the continuation of a trend previously highlighted on this blog in the discussion of the pros and cons of HTML5 versus native apps.

There are two important caveats in this latest data. Firstly it should be noted that these figures are for sales of new devices. Actual smartphone ownership figures lag behind as devices purchased in the last couple of years remain in use. Secondly, these are worldwide figures and while they are broadly representative of trends across much of Europe and Asia, there are markets where the picture is markedly different. For example, while the same duopoly exists in the United States, the relative shares are very different with Apple’s iOS in pole position (51.2%) and Android in second (44.2%).

Themes from Apps World

Today I attended Day 1 of Apps World at Earls Court in London. Events such as this provide a useful snapshot of the current state of the mobile app economy. Listening to the talks and seeing who is exhibiting you notice certain trends.

Whereas 12 months ago you might have expected similar events to be inundated with mobile ad companies, this year the focus appears to be more on solving the more pressing problem of discoverability. With over one million different apps available on the two leading app stores, making sure that users actually find your offering in the deluge of alternatives is paramount. Whatever your monetisation strategy, it can only be effective if you can attract enough users.

The other thing that was immediately obvious is that both RIM and Microsoft are investing heavily in wooing developers to build apps for their platforms. The two companies are currently fighting for a distant third place, behind Android and iOS, in both platform market share and developer mind share.

Microsoft is pushing Windows 8 hard, and with it attempting to blur the distinction between desktop/laptop computers and tablets. This differs from the iOS/Android approach that treats tablets as very different devices to PCs with very different operating systems. With Windows 8 it seems it is the smartphone that is more the odd-one-out in the trio of device types, although the picture isn’t complete since the Windows Phone 8 development tools haven’t been unveiled yet. The non-phone Windows 8 is available to the general public at the end of this month.

RIM is betting everything on its still-not-quite-ready-yet BlackBerry 10 operating system. Perhaps most significantly, it is offering the most eye-catching incentive for app developers on any platform. The Canadian company guarantees that your paid-for native BlackBerry app will make at least $10,000 in revenue. If it doesn’t RIM will write you a cheque for the difference (so long as you were able to generate at least $1,000 in 12 months).

Developer Relations VP Alec Saunders reiterated that Java is now dead on BlackBerry. It remains to be seen whether existing BlackBerry Java developers will migrate to the new BlackBerry developer tools, as RIM hopes, or instead jump ship to Android where their Java skills are more transferable. RIM may also have inadvertently pushed developers towards an Android-only future by providing the ability for BlackBerry 10 to run repackaged Android apps, thereby obviating any pressing need for a native BlackBerry app.

On a related note, the Apps World organisers did RIM no favours by scheduling the BlackBerry talks beneath the imposing figure of a giant inflatable Android. The symbolism was inescapable.

Latest Smartphone Market Share Data – Android Dominance Increases

At Rectangular Software we try to keep track of the state of the mobile market place so that we can better advise our clients on mobile app strategies. So we’re always on the look-out for the latest data. Things change so fast in this space that figures from 6 months ago can be hopelessly misleading.

I was interested therefore to see that Kantar Worldpanel today published its latest smartphone market share figures for eight key countries (Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and the United States). Based on device sales for the 12-week period ending on 5th August, the figures show that Android is the most popular platform in each of the countries, with over half of the market everywhere except Brazil and 61.2% overall (up from 52.2% this time last year).

Beyond the good news for Google the picture is more varied from country to country. Apple’s iOS is doing much better in the three anglophone countries than elsewhere. It has over 35% of the US market but less than 3% in Spain where Android has an almost total monopoly.

RIM’s market share for its BlackBerry devices has collapsed everywhere except France. In the important US market it has been all but wiped out. Overall RIM has been pushed into fourth place behind Microsoft, which is finally gaining some traction for its Windows Phone OS, albeit with a still modest 4.8% share.

The regional variation in the numbers underline the importance of understanding who your users are before deciding which platforms to focus your resources on.

Operating System GB EU 5 Key 8
Android 62.4% 67.1% 61.2%
iOS 20.8% 14.6% 23.7%
RIM 9.3% 6.1% 3.8%
Windows 4.3% 5.2% 4.8%
Symbian 1.5% 4.3% 3.2%
Bada 0.5% 2.4% 1.3%
Others 0.1% 0.4% 2.1%
GB = Great Britain | EU 5 = GB + France, Germany, Italy, Spain | Key 8 = EU 5 + Australia, Brazil, USA

The full figures can be downloaded here (PDF).

HTML5 vs. Native Mobile Apps

I was interested to read (via the Guardian) that Facebook has replaced its HTML5 mobile web app with a native app for the iPhone and iPad and is most likely preparing to introduce a native Android app too.

This is significant because there has been a growing trend for companies to favour mobile web apps over native apps (that is apps tailored specifically to one mobile platform, such as iOS, Android or BlackBerry, using tools and technologies that are incompatible with the other platforms). The obvious attraction of the web-based approach is that a single application will, in theory, work across all major smartphones and tablets, regardless of which operating system they run. Facebook’s move is an acknowledgement that while this is clearly a cost-effective way of reaching the widest user base, it does not offer the best possible user experience:

“So while utilizing web technology has allowed us to support more than 500 million people using Facebook on more than 7000 supported devices, we realized that when it comes to platforms like iOS, people expect a fast, reliable experience and our iOS app was falling short. Now that our mobile services had breadth, we wanted depth.”

That native apps offer the potential for the richest user experience is not controversial. Being tailored to a single platform, a native app can integrate seamlessly with the device and take advantage of the full range of hardware and operating system features in the most efficient way possible. In contrast, there will always be an element of lowest common denominator compromise in any cross-platform alternative.

The downside to native apps has been the cost of supporting multiple mobile platforms. Build an iOS app and you have an app that runs on iOS devices. You’ll have to build a separate app to reach Android users and then you still don’t have a solution for BlackBerries. So it’s unsurprising that as HTML5 becomes more mature, mobile devices become faster, and mobile network bandwidth increases, more companies are deciding that mobile web apps are good enough. They are happy to trade platform-specific fit and finish in favour of reduced development costs compared to developing several different native apps.

But before dismissing the idea of building separate native apps it’s worth considering how many platforms you would actually need to support. Over the last year the mobile ecosystem has become considerably less diverse, as these recent figures from Gartner show. Whereas in Q2 of 2011 there were four mobile platforms with a double-digit share of devices sold worldwide, in the same quarter this year Android accounts for almost two thirds (64.1%) and Apple’s iOS (18.8%) is the only other big player. Nokia has all but abandoned Symbian, BlackBerry maker RIM has shed more than half of its market share and, despite Microsoft and Nokia’s best efforts, Windows Phone (2.7%) is still languishing in 6th place behind even Samsung’s low-end Bada OS.

Operating System Market Share Q2 2012 Change from Q2 2011
Android 64.1% +20.7%
iOS 18.8% +0.6%
Symbian 5.9% -16.2%
Research In Motion 5.2% -6.5%
Bada 2.7% +0.8%
Microsoft 2.7% +1.3%
Others 0.6% -0.4%

In light of these numbers, it appears that in many cases it may be sufficient to target just two platforms for your mobile app – at least initially. In that case the cost differences compared to developing a single HTML5 mobile web app might not be that significant. Cost is of course not the only consideration. Some apps have requirements that make them inherently more suited to one approach or the other. Here are some of the other factors that may influence your decision:

HTML5 Advantages

  • A single app will work on many different devices
  • Can build on existing non-mobile web app infrastructure
  • Retain full control over app distribution/subscriptions (not subject to app store rules/fees)
  • Ability to update the app immediately if required (no need to wait for a review)

Native App Advantages

  • Faster / smoother user experience
  • Native look and feel (familiar user interface that will function exactly like other apps on the device)
  • Access to all hardware/platform functionality (cameras, Bluetooth, accelerometers, NFC, calendar, contacts, notifications, widgets, etc.)
  • Better offline experience (for apps that can function without Internet)
  • Easier to sell/distribute (hosting and payment processing are provided by the app store)