Android up, iOS down… but can we believe the numbers?

Android up, iOS down… but can we believe the numbers?

Summary: Today's stats from NetMarketShare and Statcounter show an uptick in web browsing with the Android operating system and a dip in Apple's iOS. But the two firms disagree about which OS is ahead, and that doesn't inspire confidence in the numbers.


Android has shown a promising uptick in web browsing, according to statistics published by NetMarketShare today (Thursday). There's a corresponding dip in Apple's iOS. This may not mean anything: it could be a blip caused by the timing of Apple's iPad launches and the initial success of Google's Nexus 7 tablet, or whatever. But if the trend continues, we could see Android overtaking iOS in the metric that NetMarketShare measures: web usage.

NetMarketShare's numbers for Mobile/Tablet Top Operating System Share are already somewhat odd, in view of the sales of Android phones. According to Gartner's tracking data for the second quarter of this year, for example, Android had 64.1 percent of the market by units compared with 18.8 percent for iOS, and Android has been ahead for some time. NetMarketShare's numbers for June 2012 are the reverse of Gartner's, and show iOS with a 65.3 percent share of web browsing compared with 19.7 percent for Android.

Mobile OS share trend according to NetMarketShare
Mobile OS share trend over the past two years according to NetMarketShare

Assuming both numbers are correct, then Apple device owners must have a much greater propensity to browse than Android owners. This could be a reflection of other factors: perhaps iPhone owners have a better browsing experience, or perhaps they get (on average) better data deals, or whatever. Since large tablet screens also seem likely to encourage more web browsing, Apple's tablet market leadership should also be a significant factor.

But these are just assumptions. Maybe NetMarketShare's numbers are simply wrong.

Statcounter certainly has a different view. Its numbers show that mobile Android web browsing has grown strongly over the past two years. On Statcounter's graph, the latest uptick shows Android increasing its market share from 26.5 percent in July 2012 to 30.2 percent today, with iOS dipping from 25.4 percent to 23.7 percent. Rather than Android trailing far behind iOS, as NetMarketShare thinks, Statcounter reckons it's already ahead.

Mobile OS share trend over the past two years according to Statcounter
Mobile OS share trend over the past two years according to Statcounter

Either way, it would be useful if NetMarketShare's numbers provided a pretty accurate view of the mobile operating system market, as they appear to do with desktop operating systems and web browsers. Yes, we still have shipment data from Gartner, IDC, IHS iSupply and similar companies. However, these have other problems, and shipments don't account for the scrappage rate. (For example, if mobile phones last for two years, on average, while PCs last for four years, mobiles will need to ship many more units to sustain the same installed base.)

There may well be a disparity when it comes to tracking Apple and Android unit shipments. Apple provides quarterly numbers that we can be sure are accurate, and it's the only source of iOS devices. By contrast, loads of Android phones and tablets are shipped by small Chinese companies, many of them using their own versions of Android. These "white box" and off-brand sales are very hard to track, but they could be a significant part of the Android market.

If we can't see these phones and tablets coming off Chinese production lines, we should at least be able to see them appear on the web.


Topic: Mobile OS

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • Most Android devices are used only as featurephones at best

    People just need a phone with big enough screen to look at photos they take, and that is it. They do not care about what Android OS can actually do, nor they want to pay for celullar Internet traffic. At homes, they either use notebooks or bigger PCs, or do not care much altogether.

    This is the reason why web usage data is upside-down of sales statistics.

    Gradually, this is going to change, because people will get used to see their phones as smartphones, and data traffic around the world will get cheaper.

    So yes, we can believe the numbers. However, there is distinction should be made between overall OS web usage statistics and specifically tablet web usage statistics. This one for iOS not only did not go down, it actually went slightly up, according to latest researches.

    Thus what we have now with overall statistics: iOS web usage went down specifically for *smartphones* -- Apple was stagnating in smartphone sales for couple of quarters, while Android advanced. And yes, more Android phone buyers are getting used to treat their phones as smartphones.
    • Yet another DERSSS spin

      Both NetMarketShare and Statcounter use *OS* for web browsing basis which means it doesn't matter what devices they are (Feature phone/smartphone/tablet), Android get used more than iOS for browsing internet.

      Saying "oh but the smart phone is more" or "but tablet is more" is just trying to find silverlinings of an overall losing situation. It's like someone argued that he lose a debate but he looks good on tv.

      Seriously Apple, go find a better paid shill for zdnet.
      • More Samic lies?

        "Both NetMarketShare and Statcounter use *OS* for web browsing basis which means it doesn't matter what devices they are (Feature phone/smartphone/tablet), Android get used more than iOS for browsing internet."

        Nope. Each have drastically different basis's for how they handle devices. iOS far far far outpaces Android on web data. If you want to see StatCounters full data use the following link:

        and download the RAW data in CSV file format.
        • yeah and NetmarkeShare stats are always years off

          and that's putting it gently.

          I personally dont trust and use NetMarketShare, as it does not correlate with our own browser stats. Statcounter on the other hand statistically closely follows what we track.

          To each their own.
          • NetMarketShare is balanced for global usage

            NetMarketShare says it balances its numbers to reflect global usage. Unless your website has a similar global appeal (and therefore a Chinese version, for example), then you shouldn't expect the numbers to match. Statcounter lets you look at regional variations, which should give you a better match....
            Jack Schofield
          • "Balancing Numbers" means injecting imaginary numbers.

            The only other way they could 'balance' real data is to actually *take* real data from global sources.

            Keep in mind that NMS only monitors corporate customers--not commercial websites. That alone skews numbers ridiculously.
    • Pretty much...

      A lot of the people I know have been pretty much "forced" into getting smartphones by their carriers. They get a mid-range Android device for 1€ with their contract and continue to use it like they did their old dumb phone - the odd photo, write the odd SMS and make calls...

      And they all complain that the battery only lasts a couple of days, instead of a couple of weeks.
    • You have to realize that Android users have had 4 years to get used

      ... to browsing on their smartphones--only one year less than iPhone users. So why the discrepancy?
      • iCoud syncing

        You look at a web page on your ipad and your phone automatically syncs the same page.
        bang! one user but double the web traffic.
        • Just like your theory

          your boat has sprung a leak.
          • yeh

            and everytime you switch tabs in safari, it reloads pages.
            presto, more web traffic.
            even someone as dense as you would realise iOS is not very efficient with internet bandwidth.
  • You are misusing the data.

    Different web analytics collect and split data differently. StatCounter, for example, counts:

    Mobile iOS is iPhone only.

    OS iOS is iPhone+iPad+iPod Touch.

    Mobile Android is all Android devices. To date, I have not seen a spit of different form factors on StatCounter.

    Net Applications on the other hand treat iOS as iOS regardless of iPhone or iPad. Seen in this light, both StatCounter and Net Applications have closer data with iOS still having the lions share of mobile data usage.
  • I'm Not Sure Why We Care

    It's a known fact that Android has the lion's share of the smartphone market, and still growing. It's the world's fastest-shipping OS (beat out Microsoft Windows over the last month) and it will soon be the OS with the largest installed base as well.

    Given all this, why do we care that IOS users seem to use the web more? All it can mean is that they're using their apps less. So if you want to offer a native app instead of pushing your users to a website, you will get more usage (and users) on Android.
    • Actually, most data points to iOS users using their Apps more.

      As well as the web. In short, iOS users are more engaged with their devices.

      There is no question Android has unit share but it is little more than a sustaining technology and has shown to have minimal disruptive potential. iOS, on the other hand, has been seriously disruptive driving existing manufactures to look for some tech (Android today, WP8 the next day, Tizen the next) to sustain their current business. Market share without utilization is a fools game.

      This difference in disruptive VS sustaining forces is what drives the average iOS users to be much heavier more engaged with their device when compared to the average Android user.
      • Re: Actually, most data points to iOS users using their Apps more

        Not the web traffic data, though. Which is the point of this article.
        • But the stats are misused.

          That is the point of my comments.

          StatCounter tracks iOS as meaning the iPhone.

          Net Applications track iOS as the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. You can't do the simplistic comparison the blogger did.

          Android showed large gains in Africa and Asia and almost none in North America and Europe.

          The author did not dig into the data to begin to understand it.
          • Re: But the stats are misused.

            Where is your evidence that they are being "misused"? You claim IOS users use their apps more, can you provide evidence to back that up? Because according to these stats, they're using the web more, and they can't be doing both.
          • OS Activity Differences

            I have long known, use both devices, for the same types of use, my iPhone consumes a lot more data than my Android.

            Why? Not sure.
      • Perhaps you are a bit "skewed"....

        Your comments appear to be tainted by your obvious but unspoken love for Apple/iOS.

        You can always spot Apple people in these conversations, because the think it's still 2008.
  • Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

    Nothing new.