No, Apple isn't 'closing in' on Android

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Apple Android Smartphone Market Share

This week, tons of websites are reporting that Apple is catching up with Android when it comes to U.S. smartphone market share. The reports are based on some new data from Nielsen, a metrics company that measures smartphone use. The only problem: People are completely misinterpreting the data.

A story from The Register, for example -- featured prominently on the Google News Tech page this morning -- states the following:

According to U.S. market watcher Nielsen, during the three months of October, November and December 2011, Android's share of the smartphone OS market dropped from 61.6 percent to 48.7 percent and then to 46.9 percent. ... iOS' share of the US smartphone market rose from 25.1 percent in October 2011 to 38.8 percent and on to 44.5 percent.

If you look at Nielsen's actual data, you'll see that those referenced numbers refer only to "recent smartphone acquirers." In other words, the relative percentage of people actively buying new Apple phones increased over that three month period, according to Nielsen, while the relative percentage of people actively buying new Android phones went down. That's no surprise; we knew there'd be a spike in iPhone purchases following the launch of the new iPhone, particularly given the lull in sales preceding it, and of course that's going to have an impact on the entire short-term sales graph. 

What we're looking at, though, is a zoomed-in view of sales during a small chunk of time. It is not the same thing as a surge forward in overall share of the smartphone market, as many stories out there would lead you to believe.

Nielsen didn't provide any info explicitly describing the change in overall market share, so I went back and pulled its last set of published numbers, showing U.S. smartphone market share for the third quarter of 2011. In those numbers, Android was at 42.8 percent and Apple was at 28.3 percent of the overall smartphone market. In the new quarter-four numbers, Android is at 46.3 percent while Apple is at 30 percent. Data from ComScore, another independent metrics company, shows a similar scenario.

Android Power Twitter

So did Apple grow in overall smartphone market share from the third to fourth quarter? Sure. But so did Android. And Android grew quite a bit more, gauging by Nielsen's measurements -- twice as much, with a total share increase of 3.5 points compared to Apple's 1.7. Despite the boost in iPhone sales following the launch of the iPhone 4S, the gap between the two platforms has actually continued to widen.

Damn facts. Always getting in the way of a good story.

(Pre-emptive footnote: If you're thinking of leaving a comment along the lines of "one iPhone vs. many Android phones isn't fair" or "but Apple still makes more money," please see this list of market share comparison disclaimers. Odds are, it'll address your point.)

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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