Sorry, Steve -- Apple's still losing to Android

Apple Android Activations

Oh, that Steve Jobs. He sure likes to throw around his "magic" to make things look like more they are.

At Apple's special event yesterday, the Turtlenecked One tossed out some strong accusations about Android and how Google might be distorting the platform's sales figures.

"We think some of our friends are counting upgrades in their numbers," Jobsy said. "We think we are ahead of everyone."

Mr. Apple went on to proclaim that his company is activating 230,000 new iOS devices every day. As is frequently the case, however, you can't take Jobs' words at face value.

Apple vs. Android Activations

Jobs' hope, of course, was to quiet some of the attention surrounding Android's astronomical growth. During a Q&A session with reporters last month, Google CEO Eric Schmidt revealed that 200,000 new Android devices were being activated every day.

Google now confirms that that figure, in contrast to what Jobs implied, does not include upgrades. A spokesperson tells me it also factors in only devices that utilize Google services, meaning the total number of handsets in circulation is actually even higher.

Whoops -- sorry, Steve-O. You might have looked into that a bit more carefully before sounding the Apple alarm.

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Decoding the Apple and Android Numbers

Even if you forgive his incorrect upgrade assumption, Jobs' assertion that Apple's "ahead of everyone" is pretty misleading. Jobs' 230,000-activations-a-day number covers all iOS devices, meaning it includes iPhones, iPads, and iPods. (But not iCarambas.) The Android sales figures focus solely on phones.

Talking about sales of smartphones powered by a particular platform and talking about combined sales of phones, MP3 players, and tablets are two very different things. Most independent mobile market analyses focus on the former; comparing apples to apples, so to speak, is the only way to have a consistent and meaningful comparison.

That distinction aside, it's been almost an entire month since Google mentioned the 200,000-Android-activations-a-day figure. Based on recent growth trends, it'd be surprising if that number weren't now higher.

Consider this: In February, Google said it was activating 60,000 Androids a day. In late May, the number was up to 100,000. One month later, in June, it had grown to 160,000. And then in August, it reached that aforementioned 200,000 milestone.

Since then, three out of four of Samsung's Galaxy S phones have hit the U.S. market. We saw the introduction of Motorola's Droid 2, the successor to the hottest-selling Android phone to date. And other popular Android devices continue to sell out as quickly as they're made. All put together, one would imagine the number of daily Android phone activations has well surpassed Apple's (nonphone-specific) 230,000 mark.

[UPDATE: Android steals more market share from Apple in August]

Of course, regardless of which platform is in first, second, or third place, what really counts as a consumer is which device you like. And obviously, numbers alone don't dictate financial success; Apple could be in fifth place and it'd still be turning a handsome profit. (A fiercely loyal fan base goes a long way.)

That said, sales and market positioning are significant in terms of analysis and assessing a platform's ability to attract users. I know Steve Jobs is all about big, bold proclamations and not-technically-untrue-but-definitely-misleading statements -- but come on, Steve: Leave the "magical" logic to the marketing department. If we're going to talk about statistics, let's stick to reality.

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway.


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