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.

 

Topics: Mobile OS

About

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 webs... Full Bio

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