Blog Post

Why Worldwide Smartphone Sales Figures Matter to You

Gartner today reported its worldwide smartphone share findings and it’s more of the same for those watching the numbers. For months we’ve seen smartphone stalwart platforms like Symbian and Windows Mobile (s msft) lose out to the relative upstarts. Research In Motion’s BlackBerry (s rimm), Apple’s iPhone (s aapl) and Google’s Android (s goog) operating systems all gained ground. Palm’s (s palm) rejuvenation with webOS also grabbed a little piece of the pie, which should continue as Palm partners with new carriers.

There are two aspects difficult to see from the above graph I built from Gartner’s numbers. It can be confusing to see a higher red value because it looks like a platform has grown. In fact, this case shows the decline of a platform as red indicates 2008 market share, while blue is for 2009 share. The other item is the percentage growth or decline for each platform. Here are the actual market share numbers from Gartner, along with the percentage change over the prior year. These numbers clearly show who’s growing, and by how much, as compared to those whose shares are eroding.

The percentages add credence to the newer platforms gaining at the expense of the older ones. But why should you even care about this as a consumer? What do market share numbers have to do with your own personal smartphone purchase?

There are a number of factors, but I think the main one is software. I’ve harped on this point before, but it bears repeating in light of the Gartner numbers. Developers are following the sales figures because the better selling platforms offer a wider audience interested in the apps being developed and sold. Yes, there are other factors as noted in our recent GigaOm Pro Research report on what developers are considering for mobile platforms (subscription required), but this one is key. And the number of apps for a handset — and more importantly, the quality of those titles — can make a particular device more appealing to you.

Let me offer a real-world application of this concept. I own both an iPhone and an Android handset. I’m considering leaving one or the other to reduce my monthly bills. But right now, there are key and unique applications on each platform that the other doesn’t offer. So I’m in a holding pattern because in some cases there isn’t an equally functional and equivalent app on the one platform or the other. A perfect example is my long-time usage of RunKeeper for the iPhone to track my workouts. I haven’t just invested in a software title — I’ve invested in a platform because my data is tabulated on the RunKeeper website. (Note that RunKeeper is working on an Android version of their software.) Could I switch to SportyPal for Android? Sure, but how do I move my training history from one platform to another? My entire decision process is based on the software — much like it was for many Windows users years ago that couldn’t migrate to Mac due to non-equivalent software tool choices. And this just one of several possible examples.

Is your everyday, average consumer limited by the apps on a particular platform? Probably not if they’re moving from a feature phone to a smartphone as many are. After all, these folks don’t yet have experience with the different platforms to see which apps are offered and which are “missing.” But if you’re familiar with smartphones, I think there’s an app constraint that either does or could affect your handset purchase decisions. Thoughts?

21 Responses to “Why Worldwide Smartphone Sales Figures Matter to You”

  1. One other number to consider is the number of devices sold. Even though Nokia had a net decrease in marketshare, it had a net increase in smartphone sales. Unlike most of the people here, I love Symbian and have had several symbian devices and all the flexibility that they have.

    I am looking at getting an android phone this year but I guess everyone needs to look at their needs and their use cases to determine what works best. Apps is nice but if a phone doesn’t do what it should do “out the box” there is a problem.

    • The two year contract impact would be interesting to see, but I wouldn’t expect it has much of an impact overall. These figures are for worldwide sales. I don’t believe that two year contracts are the norm in many place outside of the U.S.

  2. Apparently, since most of the popular apps are all available for most of the phones, the factor that becomes more important is the capability of the phone- multitasking, swappable battery, great camera, swappable memory card, physical keyboard or not, etc.. It’s also great to a have a choice of browsers all in one phone- Opera Mobile 9.5, Opera 10 beta, Skyfire, Internet Explorer- it’s great to have choices. Also, for a worldwide smartphone view, in most wealthy countries, unlimited data plans are generally affordable; for the rest of the phone-owning billions, there’s text and voice.

  3. Kevin,

    Stupid question here, but I see comments similar to yours from so many people on sites like this one. Do you just carry 2 contracts and 2 numbers with your phones at the same time? I’ve always wondered how you manage that with someone calling one phone or the other to reach you. Or do you just use a data plan on one? I know it’s a business expense for you, but what’s the secret to managing life with 2 smartphones?

    • I actually can speak for Kevin. ;) As James points out, the easiest way I’ve found to manage multiple smartphones is with Google Voice. It’s fully configurable so you can specify which of your phones you want to ring. This can be done by a schedule or even at the contact group level, i.e.: you only want calls from the “Personal” group on a particular phone, for example.

      Although I’ve had multiple phones, there are only 2 numbers I’ve really given out. The one I’ve had for over 10 years, which I port when changing carriers and my Google Voice number. For those that are used to the number I’ve had for 10 years, I simply forward calls from that number to Google Voice as needed, so I have total control over which phone(s) I want to use at any given time.

      With Google Voice and the approach I’ve outlined, every call comes to whichever phone I have with me, regardless of the the number a person dialed. And these are just the handset benefits. I won’t even get into the web integration, GV client software and such. :)

      • So it sounds like there’s a definite method to your madness.

        If I had 4 phones in the house ringing or buzzing each time someone called me or a text/email alert arrived, I think at least 3 of them would come flying at my head from my wife!

  4. Jahan Khan Rashid

    I cant tell you how long ive been waiting for the perfect apps for the perfect device, having been burned by leaving windows mobile and about 50 apps i had, ive been patiently waiting for a perfect android device (its looking like the x10i from the previews ive seen, if thats a let down then ill certainly be getting the next excellent android phone that comes out with an 8mp camera) as once i buy it ill be staying with android devices for a long long time due to paid apps. It seems most of the good handy apps are already built into android phones or free on their app store.
    Apple have had a hell of a heads start as not many are going to want to leave apple after spending a bucket load on apple apps.

  5. Actually this is precisely why I refuse to invest any meaningful amount in mobile applications that are not available on my top two choices of phone OS. Freeware, okay I dont care. A one dollar news app, okay

    But not anything where I end up collecting useful data of my own. It’s just common sense.

  6. if its all about marketshare then why is the Blackberry app store essentially irrelevant?

    because its about alot more than just marketshare, its also a combination of marketsold (sheer volume) & platform demographics (iphone/Android/webOS users are more likely to buy apps).

    BB has a much larger userbase than Android, so why are developers flocking to Android instead?

    • It’s not “all about marketshare” — I indicated that there are many factors, but this one is primary. Your example illustrates some of those other factors.

      As far as why developers are flocking to Android, I can only speculate. My take — it has more momentum than BlackBerry, i.e.: both have shown growth, but the rate of growth is much higher in Android. And BlackBerry as an OS isn’t maturing as quickly as Android. Not saying it’s a bad OS or the apps are better on one platform over the other, but developers are looking not only at today’s handsets but those of tomorrow as well. Just my opinion, which is certainly arguable.

    • Good question. Looking just at market share is misleading. The critical factor seems to be the development tools that each platform provides. This includes of course the distribution model, homogeneity as opposed to fragmentation ect. Actually, by simply comparing Apple to Nokia for example shows that It is software development that drives market share and not the other way round.

  7. I’m not sure I agree about apps being a predictor of switching to another platform. I, for example, was a Windows OS and Windows Mobile person for, well, forever. Until a friend let me play with his iPhone at the beginning of last year. I had a lot of apps running on my XV6800 on Verizon. Then the HTC Advantage came out and I moved from Verizon to AT&T to get that one. Then I got an HTC Fuze (and left the Advantage by the bedside as an evening reader). All of the Windows apps moved from phone to phone. However, when I played with iPhone, it was the great experience more than anything that swayed me (especially when compared to the aged Windows Mobile environment). After seeing what it would do with touch (as opposed to stylus on the Windows Mobile devices) and how easy it was to just go get an app I wanted directly on iPhone instead of having to use a computer as an intermediary, I was hooked. I picked up the 3GS on June 19 and haven’t looked back (and I’ve given my Windows phones to charity). I have been able to find several (but not most) of my Windows Mobile programs on iPhone, while those I can’t find have alternatives that work well enough for me. I do agree that developers will (and should) go where growth is greatest, so I suggest that those Windows Mobile holdouts come on over to iPhone and program me up all those apps that I had to leave behind (grin)!

  8. Actually Kevin, I ran into the same issue with the iphone. I didn’t switch form my treo to an iphone until SplashData was avaialbe on the iPhone. I ws still holding out for PocketQuicken to be avaialble for the iphone, but my treo died so I made the leap.

    I completely understand agbout software driving a phone purchase descision