With iPhone 4S, Apple reclaims the smartphone crown

By Jonny Evans

Reports that Apple [AAPL] has lost its biggest-selling handset position to Samsung and HTC may be over-exaggerated, as the release of the iPhone 4S drove iOS usage up an impressive 61 percent in October.

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The statistics

The latest data from Canalys, Strategy Analytics, Juniper Research and IDC all claim Apple's lost ground in the smartphone space. That's despite the firm's determination to destroy Android.

I've assembled published marketshare statistics in the table below. I'm anticipating marketshare data from other analysts will emerge, so if you have access to this information please send it through and I'll update the chart.

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Askin' the analysts

What's impacted the percentages? Most analysts agree that Apple's share was impacted by its delayed transition to the iPhone 4S, but with four million of those devices sold on launch the company seems set to fight back in the current quarter.

"The decline, not coincidentally, happened as Apple readied itself for the 4S launch, which many waited for," writes IDC.

Daniel Ashdown, Research Analyst with Juniper Research notes: "While the 4S is essentially an iPhone 4 with hardware upgrades, Siri is going to be a killer app for Apple. And the continuation of the iPhone 4 and 3GS in effect positions the company's handsets at a range of price points, without losing their premium image."

"The combination of economic uncertainty and anticipation over fourth quarter or late third quarter product releases caused some consumers to delay their smartphone purchases," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker. "Many waited for products such as the iPhone 4S, which was announced after the quarter closed, or Research In Motion's BlackBerry 7 phone series, which were released in the final weeks of the quarter."

Use it or lose it

Sales are only part of the value chain. The other side of the equation is actual usage. It's on this that the fate of the future rests, and it is in this department that Apple's devices already excel.

Net Applications October data confirms that after a period of relative flatness while consumers awaited the new iPhone, Apple's iOS now accounts for the largest share of mobile browsing -- a share which grew rapidly on release of its new iPhone.

In October iOS market share jumped up by 7 percentage points to 61.6 percent of the global market, an increase from 54 percent in September. Snapping at Apple's heels? Android, of course, which now holds 18.9 percent of the market.

It is also interesting that when it comes to mobiles and tablet device browsers, Apple's Safari leads with 62.3 percent of the browser market, while Android claims 18.7 percent of the same.

That 7 percentage point jump implies an an approximate 10 percent increase in iOS usage in October, a strong hint of strong demand for Apple's upgraded smartphones.

With over 140 million iPhones sold worldwide since the product reached the market in 2007, Apple has been expected to sell 25 million or more of the things in the current quarter. Net Applications' market share data suggests the company is on course for such a record.

If a smartphone never gets used, is it really smart?

What does this prove? I think it proves that when it actually comes to using their smartphones -- or perhaps having a usable smartphone -- Apple still leads the pack in terms of delivering accessible user experiences. The fact its devices are easy to use is part of what drives its customers to use the features of their devices.

Handsets running Google's Android platform collectively accounted for a leading 43.7 percent share of the US smartphone market in August. I find it tragic that Android devices, despite their growing marketshare, don't yet enjoy the usage levels of Apple's offerings. It hints at lack of customer loyalty.

When you reach the top, which way do you go?

What the last few years of the smartphone wars also tell us is that being at the top of the stack in a fast-changing industry is transitory. Look at the salutory lesson of RIM. This time last year, RIM held 24 percent of the US smartphone market (Canalys), now in the most recent quarter, the company's share has collapsed to a depressing 9 percent.

RIM has been completely out-maneuvered. Its CEO's failed to keep up with the changing industry and failed to appreciate the depth of the connection to market enjoyed by new nemesis' Apple and Google.

Apple's delivery of superior features has been aped by Google to deliver user experiences RIM has been unable to match, hampered as that firm is by a corporate mind set.

While RIM's share among enterprise users remains steady, the rise of the 'Bring Your Own Device To Work' set is challenging even that hegemony, to the benefit of Apple and (to a lesser extent) Android.

"Apple's ability to upgrade 3GS users to the 4S, for example, and make continued inroads into developing economies, where it has been less successful, will help dictate the company's smartphone fortunes in the future," said IDC.

Apple is widely expected to introduce the iPhone in China via the world's biggest mobile phone carrier in the next few weeks.

What are your thoughts? Speak up, I'm interested.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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