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Android has good reason to fear Apple's resurgence

Galen Gruman | Aug. 11, 2014
Suddenly, the punditocracy is saying Samsung's best days are behind, and Apple may dominate mobile again.

In recent weeks, a drumbeat has grown among tech analysts that Apple's iPhone is poised for massive uptake while Android smartphone sales may have peaked in developed nations. Also,Android is threatened in the developing worldfrom a Google creation called AOSP, which strips out Google's services (where Google makes its money) and lets any device maker avoid paying Google service royalties. This is especially significant in China, the world's biggest emerging market, where AOSP is the top-selling mobile OS and which accounts for 20 percent or more of global "Android" sales. At the same time, various analysts have noted that Samsung is being squeezed by both Apple and AOSP, and Samsung may have already peaked in mobile, with 2012's Galaxy S III representing the high point.

Although some of the claims are clearly inspired by techno-partisanship, I'm struck that several thoughtful, nonpartisan analysts like Jackdaw Research's Jan Dawson and Yankee Group's Philip Elmer-DeWitt are noting these trends, not just Apple fans like Creative Strategies' Ben Bajarin (who have excellent data, but their interpretations tend to favor Apple). What in the world is going on?

For years now, we've been seeing competing storylines in the tech press:

  • On one hand, Android will take over the mobile world -- it's on 85 percent of smartphones shipped today, says a recent report -- while Apple's iPhone will fade into a niche product for fashion-conscious rich buyers. In this view, iPads are a fad yet Android tablets are not.
  • On the other, Android is an unholy mess that includes lots of not-really-Android devices like those AOSP units common in China and much of Asia, as well as Amazon.com's Kindle Fire, with little actual usage for the cheapie models that dominate sales. Meanwhile, Apple's iOS is what people actually use for real business and entertainment, as evidenced by its majority presence in website-usage tracking data. In this view, the fractured Android has little cohesion beyond the use of the robot icon, so it doesn't really matter.

Both storylines are true, which is why you keep seeing them. As in economics and politics, everything you read is filtered through someone's perspective, which sometimes is actually a deep bias. Sadly, much of the research you read of tech market wars is created to support a predetermined point of view.

Even when analysts try to figure out the market trends without a presupposed result, the data they rely on is inherently biased. Most Android sales data comes from guesstimates, not actual sales figures -- because companies like Samsung, HTC, and Amazon.com don't report sales figures. (Apple is the only major mobile provider that provides data on actual sales to customers.) In those sales guesstimates, some people include AOSP and Kindle Fire devices, some don't. Plus, some companies -- Samsung is notorious for this -- produce false data to look better.

 

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