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Why 1 in 2 smartphones in the U.K. run Android

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When visiting the U.K. and looking to see what phones the locals use, odds are that every other one has Google Android(s goog) device in hand. Research from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech by way of the Mobile Business Briefing indicates that Android phones command a 49.9 percent market share in the U.K., up from 29 percent a year ago. Much of the Android share comes at the expense of a competitor you might expect to be hurting too badly: Apple’s(s aapl) iPhone.

The data shows that Apple’s market share in the U.K. has fallen to 18.5 percent, which is down from 33 percent last year. That reduction has allowed Research In Motion(s rimm) to capture the no. 2 spot with 22.5 percent of sales. Other notable figures outside the top three include Nokia(s nok) devices (6 percent) and Microsoft (s msft) handsets with a scant 1.4 percent of sales.

There are a few reasons I can think of that explain the numbers, and I expect a bit of a reversal in the next six months or so. First, even though the iPhone 4 was a popular model for more than a year, other Android phones arrived to the market before the traditional yearly iPhone refresh. I suspect some in the U.K. decided not to wait for the iPhone 4S and instead purchased a new Samsung or HTC device. Indeed, these two handset makers accounted for 83 percent of all Android sales in the U.K. in the three-month period ending Oct. 2.

The lack of a new iPhone model also came at a time when smartphone adoption in the country was hitting its stride. Kantar Worldpanel ComTech says 69 percent of U.K. handset sales in the most recent quarter were smartphones. With a growing demand, consumers are likely to gravitate toward the newest device models.

Will the market share mix continue with Android leading the pack? I imagine Android will continue to be the market leader, but Apple will leapfrog back over RIM thanks to the new iPhone 4S. There are surely buyers for both iPhones and BlackBerry devices, but in general, RIM still doesn’t offer near the experience, functionality or diversity of applications found on the latest iPhone. Perhaps that will change when RIM launches phones with the new BBX platform, but that’s looking like a 2012 event at this point.

And RIM will soon be facing a new challenge from Nokia, which has long been a cherished brand in Europe. The latest Windows Phones devices built by Nokia will be available in the U.K. starting this month. Microsoft’s newest software, combined within Nokia’s excellent hardware will mean that RIM is likely to be facing multiple challengers for that no. 2 spot.

14 Responses to “Why 1 in 2 smartphones in the U.K. run Android”

  1. David Pat

    How about the fact that Android phones are just better. iPhone is always behind on specs and you can rant about UX all you want but you wouldn’t buy my Core 2 Duo laptop for $700 would you?

    • AppleFUD

      Better is always subjective and that isn’t something apple fans and the late Steve Jobs can/could understand.

      For many Android is better because is comes packed with some very useful apps, like Google Maps = free turn by turn directions.

      My elderly mother is thinking of getting a smartphone because “it will have all those other things included.” What she doesn’t realize is, it will only have all those other things included if it is Android. . . otherwise she will pay for each one.

      So, in the end it’s about how useful the device is for the user. UX and everything else marketed and hyped ultimately means nothing if it isn’t truly useful for the user.

      And this is why we see Apple apeing Android so much over the past couple years–they have to offer more functionality because Android has it build in for free. iOS 6’s killer feature will be integrated maps with turn by turn directions and they will claim it as revolutionary and a “first” and Android fans will poke fun at apple and apple fans yet again for thinking they are getting/doing something “new” that is old.

      • Andy Budhu

        If apple never made a phone, you would have a android phone that looks like a blackberry. i have no clue what your talking about everything on my g2x is on my iphone 4.

  2. Blackberry have a huge market for the Curve range with schoolkids, BBM is the only thing they are interested in. The new range are getting interest from other age groups now.
    the iphone is starting to lose its charm, it sells mainly to people who want to look like they have more money than they do, or people who just blindly follow adverts and believe its the best phone out there, without even considering an alternative.

  3. MBonetti

    I think that beyond the rough numbers, there may be two fundamental reasons why Android phones swarm the market and sell more than iPhones. First, there are a multitude of models covering a large price range from cheap (like ZTE devices) to more expensive (like HTC devices), therefore the end user subsidised price makes them more attractive to a more price sensitive crowd. The low purchasing price for operators allows them as well to offer cheaper price plans, in the contrary to the ones linked to iPhone. And as a second reason, the mobile operators have a basic aversion to build a market leader (like they did for Apple) without finding alternatives to protect themselves against that potential oligopole they created. Those guys are willing to push Android phones to balance their market as well and broaden their offering. Hence the general (not just in UK) increase of Android and a decrease in market share (but not in units sold, this number increases constantly yoy!) of Apple iPhones.

  4. It’s hard to tell from the press release, but is it
    a) half the smartphones sold “recently” (past month, past quarter, past year) are Android, or
    b) half the smartphones ever sold/currently in use are Android.

    I suspect a) with “past month” or “past quarter”.

    • The UK is still a very mobile phone centric country. Everyone wants to have the latest and the best phone, especially younger people. I think we’ll see a trend away from BlackBerry after the recent outages.

      I’m more interested in the number following the release of the Google Nexus and iPhone 4S.

  5. Hari Seldon

    Hmm, not sure what to make of these numbers, I’m based in London and commute daily. Maybe as an iPhone user I am not noticing the others, but I have to say, I very rarely see Android phones, many iPhones, Blackberrys, Kindles and iPads, but very few Android phones.

  6. A further reason maybe price. You can now get the HTC Desire S for under £20 a month. Compare that with the iPhone 4 at £30+ and £200 for the phone and it is quite easy to see why people are turning to Android. Yes the iPhone 4 is a better phone but customers are not willing to pay nearly double (over the course of a two year contract) for a slightly better phone that has the same functions.

    • Excellent point, Josh. The latest iPhone version here in the U.S. starts at $199 with contract, which is comparable to many high-end Android phones, although the LTE models often start at $249 or higher. And we have no difference in data plan prices between iPhones and other models.