Apple to court Android defectors with switcher's app

Hopes to maintain momentum in convincing customers to flip

Apple did not trumpet it earlier this week during the keynote address kicking off its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), but the company will release an Android-to-iOS migration app alongside iOS 9 this fall.

The app, given the prosaic name "Move to iOS," will help switchers defect Android for Apple's iPhone or iPad.

"It securely transfers your contacts, message history, camera photos and videos, [browser] bookmarks, mail accounts, calendars, wallpaper, and DRM-free songs and books," Apple asserted in its iOS 9 online marketing materials.

The migration app shouldn't come as a surprise, said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel Comtech.

"Anything vendors can do to make it as pain-free as possible for users to make [a migration] is a good thing," Milanesi said in an email. "We are in a very saturated market and sales will come from keeping your clients loyal and engaged, and attracting customers from your competitors."

Apple's focus on snatching customers from Android device makers isn't new.

In a January call with Wall Street analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook trumpeted his firm's ability to tempt consumers to dump Android. "The current iPhone line-up experienced the highest Android switcher rate in any of the last three launches in the three previous years," Cook said.

Apple sold a record 74.5 million iPhones in the three months that ended Dec. 31, 2014, a 46% improvement compared to the same period the year prior. Analysts attributed much of that growth to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus that Apple started selling in September 2014, when the Cupertino, Calif. finally offered smartphones with screens in sizes previously available only from Android ODMs (original device manufacturers) such as Samsung.

iPhone sales dropped to 61.2 million units in the March 2015 quarter, but that was still a 40% year-over-year increase.

While Cook did not peg an Android-to-iOS switch rate, outsiders have. In January, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) said its polling showed that 19% of U.S. iPhone customers confirmed they had switched from an Android phone. That number was squarely in the usual range of 16% to 26%, CIRP maintained.

Apple isn't preparing the Move to iOS app because it's suddenly figured out it has been gaining customers at Android's expense: It knows that in many countries, particularly developed markets, rivals' users are the biggest pool of potential new iPhone owners.

"There are users who do not have a smartphone yet and users who have an Android phone. While Apple has been growing the number of first-time users they are attracting, the reality is that the users who remain with a feature phone are not prime Apple customer material," said Milanesi. "This leaves switchers to fuel growth."

If Apple's smart, it will most aggressively pitch the Move to iOS app to consumers in China, according to data from Milanesi.

Although 10.8% of the iPhone buyers in the U.S. during the three months ending in April were switchers, that was dwarfed by the 49.8% in China, again illustrating the draw of the larger-screen iPhone 6 (4.7-in.) and iPhone 6 Plus (5.5-in.) there.

If Cook's January commentary was accurate, he was probably talking about China, where the larger devices has fueled a huge uptick in iOS's share of the smartphone OS market. In August 2014, the month before the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were launched, iOS powered just 14.2% of all smartphones in China, Kantar said, while Android ran a whopping 83.9%. By April, iOS had climbed to 24.4% and Android had slipped to 74% in the People's Republic.

The European Union fell between those extremes, with 29.4% of iPhone buyers coming from an Android smartphone in the three months ending in April.

"The numbers have been pretty constant since the launch of the new products [the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus], which provided a boost in switchers, especially thanks to the larger screens," said Milanesi.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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