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Numbers game: Why analyst says iPhone market share will exceed Android

Lex Friedman | April 29, 2013
A report recently published by Yankee Group concludes that, because iPhone customers are considerably more loyal than Android device buyers, Apple will beat its largest competitor in market share by 2015--and that the advantage will benefit the iPad as well.

When I asked Howe about that, however, he maintained--while agreeing with my hypothesis that the report didn't really include customer feedback on the S4--that this itself was an important data point. "Six months before the iPhone 5 was launched," Howe said, "we saw a bump of roughly six to eight points" on the intent-to-buy metric.

In other words, customers knew they wanted the iPhone 5 even before it was officially available. In theory, customers should have anticipated a new Samsung Galaxy S phone was coming. But, Howe said, "we didn't see that bump with the S4." He concludes that customers either weren't excited about the S4, weren't anticipating it, or didn't even care enough to anticipate it.

A second potential red flag is less obvious, but Yankee Group acknowledges it in the report itself: It warns that the model used in the study "assumes consumer brand preferences and intent to buy remain constant through the range of the forecast, but actual consumer behavior is likely to change during the coming years." The survey's predictions, then, should be read "as a forecast of how markets will evolve unless smartphone products and carrier offerings persuade consumers to buy different products than they intend to buy today."

Okay then. So Yankee Group is seemingly predicting precisely how the smartphone market will look going forward, unless anyone makes a new and compelling phone or offer. Isn't that sort of like predicting that a single man who orders pizza today will eat leftover pizza tomorrow, unless he sees there's a good deal at the Chinese food place that day?

By the numbers, if you buy the numbers

Yankee Group says that just nine percent of iPhone owners "plan to switch to another platform with their next phone purchase, while 24 percent of Android owners plan to defect from the Android platform." And 18 percent of Android owners plan to switch to the iPhone, specifically. If you accept those numbers, that means that nearly three times as many Android owners plan to abandon their phone platform, compared to iPhone owners.

iPhone 5

Howe obviously thinks you should accept the numbers.

"If this were a sample of a few hundred people," you could reasonably conclude that the data could be easily swayed by just a few outliers. "But this is a big survey--16,000 people. Each respondent is basically representing a few million folks. There are literally millions of people making these decisions about what they're going to buy. It's kind of hard to get it grossly wrong."

In fact, when I mentioned Gruber's description of the study's conclusions as "bold," Howe didn't quite agree, "because moving the needle on ownership--what phone you own--takes years." Because of carrier contracts, Howe pointed out, "even if people stop buying iPhones tomorrow, that number doesn't go to zero for at least two to three years. The ownership numbers are very, very hard to move." Couple deeply entrenched iPhone ownership with high Apple customer loyalty and one in four Android users looking to switch, Yankee Group concludes, and the iPhone's market share dominance is assured.


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