iPhone Can Still Beat Android in Smartphone Market Share

On smartphone battlefields where iPhone hasn’t yet arrived, Android is winning the battle. 

It is premature to declare Android the eventual winner in the smartphone market share race, even with Google now activating 300,000 Android units/day. Steve Jobs noted on Apple’s recent quarterly earnings call that there is "no solid data" on Android phone shipments. For this argument, let me assume Google is actually selling 300,000 Android units/day (27 million/quarter). Apple sold 14.1 million iPhones in the most recent quarter and is on track to sell 15-16 million iPhones/quarter.  

How can iPhone outsell Android if these sales numbers are correct? Here are the reasons why I think iOS can still beat Android in terms of smartphone unit market share:

1) iPhone (4 and 3GS) is outselling Android (dozens of models) in markets where both iPhone and Android are competing face-to-face on the same carrier.

iPhone dominates European mobile ad market

Mobile OS usage; iOS #1 in North America, Europe, and Australia

When a customer has the choice between iPhone and Android, side by side, they are choosing iPhone. 

(I recognize that these links rely on data that carries a number of disclaimers and is often based on some sort of survey, to which I say, show me clearer evidence. With Google, mobile carriers, and phone manufactures not releasing actual Android unit sales figures, what other type of evidence can be obtained on a regional basis? The only surveys and evidence that even try to depict OS mobile market share continuously point to iOS leading Android in regions where both are sold on the same carriers)

2) Verizon. Android has received a ton of attention and mind share due to its strong hold on Verizon’s 90 million customers. While a few million Verizon subscribers have jumped ship over the past three years to buy iPhone on AT&T, the majority haven’t due to high carrier switching costs, including termination fees, sticky family plans, and differing coverage areas.

Why are Verizon customers buying Android phones?

A) Coming from a feature phone, any Android phone will appear amazing. The ability to use the internet or check email on a touchscreen is truly amazing for someone coming from a basic phone. 

B) Android phones are in front of Verizon customers.  Most Verizon subscribers pick a phone from the selection that they see in a Verizon store or kiosk. If the only thing a customer sees is Android, chances are good that they will buy an Android phone. 

C) Verizon customers have few options: stay with a feature phone, buy Android, or leave Verizon and buy iPhone on a network that doesn’t support phone calls due to their awful coverage and service.  Which option would you choose?

In addition, with Sprint and T-Mobile not selling the iPhone, Android has the perfect incubator to flourish - a market of about 180 million subscribers with no access to iPhone (AT&T has 90 million subscribers).  

3) Interesting Android developments in recent weeks have actually supported my thinking that iOS isn’t in as bad shape as some may say. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Tab has sold 1 million units in its first 28 days - nearly as fast as the iPad - pretty remarkable.

Although the Galaxy Tab is a tablet computer and not a smartphone, I think there is an interesting development to be seen from this data. The Galaxy Tab has done well thanks in part to its sales in South Korea, a country where android has 80% market share, a country where Samsung is a source of national pride. Reports indicate that approximately 50,000 - 70,000 Galaxy Tabs were sold in South Korea in the first 28 days (the Galaxy Tab went on sale in a total of 30 countries). What about iPad? In South Korea, the the iPad just went on sale three weeks ago and initial sales are already on par with Galaxy Tab and I imagine iPad sales will soon exceed the Galaxy Tab. The Galaxy Tab entered a market that was void of iPads, with people eagerly wanting to get their hands on iOS. 

Google VP of Engineering Andy Rubin recently said, “After the US, (Android) saw Asia go crazy” with sales in South Korea going “berserk” in the past four months. Once again, it’s funny how Android is doing so well in South Korea. How about iPhone? Well, South Korea recently decided to allow iPhone sales in South Korea.  So Android was doing great in South Korea, a country where iPhone was banned.  A true battle is one where both sides are present.

China is another interesting story. China Unicom, China’s second largest mobile carrier with approximately 175 million customers, is the exclusive provider of iPhone in China. Last year, the iPhone unveiling was a disaster in China due to restrictions imposed on the device by the Chinese Government. In 2010, iPhone 4 is a complete success with over 200,000 pre-orders being taken for the device and curbs having to be put in place to control the buying frenzy in Apple stores.  Overall though, Apple still has a small presence in China with only four retail stores and the largest mobile carrier, China Mobile and its 570 million customers, still not carrying the iPhone.  A true battle is one where both sides are present. 

My thesis will be validated, or disproven, by Verizon iPhone data in 2011 (and possibly by China Mobile carrying iPhone in 2011). If Verizon sells the same number of iPhones as AT&T (somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 million in the first year), my thesis will most likely hold true and iOS will be the top selling smartphone platform in the U.S.