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Summary:

Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch are the most used mobile browsing devices by far in North America, but Google Android handsets are quickly eroding Apple’s lead. Other players aren’t even competing with these two and until they do, the mobile browser battle is a two-horse race.

Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch may currently be the most popular mobile browsing devices in North America, but handsets using Google’s Android operating system are quickly eroding Apple’s lead. Over the past year, Android browser share on mobiles has increased 12.2 percent and is now used by one in five mobile web users in North America, according to Quantcast, a San Francisco-based web analytics firm. While browsing is down on nearly all other platforms, Apple’s drop is the steepest, down 8.1 percent in the last 12 months. But Android’s gain can really only take a bite out of Apple as everyone else is essentially sitting on the sidelines.

Most of Android’s browser share gain in Quantcast’s data appears in the past eight months — looking at the graph, you can see the Android trend really take off in October of last year. Not so coincidentally, that’s exactly when Verizon launched the Motorola Droid; the then-updated Android 2.0 operating system with later-added multitouch morphed Android from a platform for techies to one that most consumers could comfortably use. It also helps that U.S. Android handset sales outpaced those of Apple in the first quarter of this year and that Droid launched on the largest U.S. carrier with 92.8 million customers.

While Apple and Google aren’t the only players in the North American smartphone market, Quantcast’s data makes clear that for the moment, everyone else is an “also ran” when it comes to mobile browsing. Indeed, the numbers ought to act as a wake-up call; browsing can’t be seen as a supplemental handheld activity — mobile web usage is growing faster than desktop browsing did thanks to powerful handsets, efficient browsers, wireless broadband and Wi-Fi access. Odds are stacked against any new smartphone without a usable browser that supports multitouch capabilities, a fast JavaScript engine, simple bookmarking — perhaps even with synchronization of those bookmarks on the desktop — and support for current web standards.

Need proof? By most measures, there are more BlackBerry devices than iPhones or Android handsets in the U.S., yet such phones only account for around 10 percent of the mobile web consumption — easily explained by a last-generation and less capable browser. Research In Motion plans to change that with an improved browser based on WebKit, the same engine utilized by both Apple and Google for mobile web access. But until it does, the mobile browser market is a clash of the titans: Apple and Google. Microsoft’s Windows Mobile share is declining and Windows Phone 7 devices aren’t expected for at least another three months. Nokia is a worldwide leader, but isn’t competitive within the U.S. and Palm is treading water pending its sale to HP.

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  1. Philippe Winthrop Monday, June 14, 2010

    This data can be misleading. What is meant by share? Are we talking traffic? RIM uses heavy data compression that greatly skews this out of their favor.

    1. I highly doubt that they are measuring data volume.
      “Shares” more than likely implies number of hits per user-agent.

    2. Good question, Philippe, and although Quantcast doesn’t specifically mention the metric used, I believe it has nothing to do with throughput measurement. As you say, RIM data would be skewed, as would any device using Opera Mini, for example.

      I do know that Quantcast uses tracking code available for use on any website in order to measure traffic analytics.

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  3. Given the surge in smartphone devices onto the Verizon/T-Mobile/Sprint networks due to Android since Oct, I think the QuantCast numbers are mostly accurate. But the rate of growth will slow as the “first adopters” get their desires fulfilled – about 20-25% on each network. AT&T is already into this slower period of trying to persuade additional users to switch to smartphones.

    Also, more iPhones are using Apps now to access websites, so that could decrease general hits on a webpage.

  4. I think this just demonstrates the pent up demand for iPhones on CDMA carriers. Android will continue its meteoric rise until the iPhone appears on other US carriers. However, Android is good enough to steal and keep a significant amount of mind share even after the iPhone appears on their preferred carrier.

    In the mean time HTC is feasting on the other category fairly heavily also. Won’t be long be fore its gaping maw begins nibbling at RIM also.

  5. GoodThings2Life Monday, June 14, 2010

    Obviously this does scream out how big a role Android has taken in the smartphone space, and how much people are buying into the Android market.

    But more importantly, it definitely sends conflicting but uncertain ideas about the iPhone though. You can see it several ways, any of which may have valid points… either people hate AT&T so they are leaving carriers, and Android is the only choice; or they are getting sick of the iPhone and AT&T doesn’t have any other viable choice; or they are tired of both Apple and AT&T… perhaps a combination of all three.

    1. It’s important to remember that Apple’s decrease in browser share can happen in two ways: either smartphone users leave the iPhone for another platform (presumably Android) or the growth in new users is skewed towards a different platform relative to the previous distribution. The most likely scenario is a combination of these two trends. Remember, it’s only in the last six months or so that serious iPhone-like smart phones have appeared on other carriers and offered a real smartphone option to those who were for whatever reason unable or unwilling to switch to ATT.

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  7. This is plain selective reporting. Quantcast state that iPad browsing is excluded from this graph. But since the same site also shows that in 2 months, iPad browser share has already eclipsed RIMM, Android and iPodtouch figures, you could equally say that in fact Apples iOS share has gone up against Android rather than down since they purport to show ‘web browsing’ share rather phone sales.
    Who can you believe anyway? If I really wanted to skew the figures, I could show that Android and all the also-rans eclipsed Apple by a factor of 10 by choosing Flash heavy sites as the metric for measurement. They say the figures are based on site visits but do not disclose which ones.

  8. Good article. It’ll be interesting to see how Apple arrests this trend. One (apparently not!) obvious strategy is to open up the iPhone to other carriers in the US. A snazzy product can only go far in stoking adoption: the fact that a lot of customers are beholden to non AT&T carriers still doesn’t seem to have dawned on the Cupertino folks. Also, it’s hard to see how worse off the other carriers will be, given AT&T’s problems. Seems like a problem that is pretty much up to Apple to solve.
    http://bit.ly/97iYNh

  9. Kevin, be careful relying on only one source.

    Net Applications found that the iPhone actually gained more mobile browser share than Android in May 2010, going from 30.3% to 32.8%. In the same timeframe, Android went from 5.3% to only 6.2%.

    Likewise, the iPad in only two months has already captured more browser marketshare than all Android devices put together as measured by Morgan Stanley.

    Also, you shouldn’t rely on those dodgy numbers from NPD which suggest that Android sales in the USA have over-taken the iPhone. NPD only covers the consumer market and considering that 40% of AT&T’s iPhone sales are to businesses, right there NPD’s figures go out the window. (Android’s business share is much less due to lack of hardware encryption, exchange support, remote wipe etc).

    Nielsen reports that the iPhone outnumbered Android by three to one (28% vs 9%) in the USA during q1 2010 with both growing their share by 2%. And these numbers don’t include the other members of the iOS platform – the iPod touch or the rip roaring iPad which together double the size of the iOS platform. Remember it’s not just about the phone anymore – it’s the platform.

    -Mart

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