27 Nov 2012

Android vs. iOS: Usage & Engagement Patterns

IBM - Mobile Black Friday Sales
Image Credit: IBM
IBM has just released their report on Black Friday sales, which shows that iOS devices accounted for 18.5% of online transactions compared to just 5.5% for Android. Unsurprisingly, this report caused quite a flutter in the tech community, with many calling this the Android "Engagement Paradox". Let's attempt to reconcile the differences between the conflicting research findings related to usage and install base.

Usage Share by Platform

Since Black Friday sales data is just available on an annual basis, it does not give us enough data points for a meaningful analysis. However, NetApplications measures usage share by mobile platform by measuring browser hits. This data, like most other engagement reports, is skewed towards US consumers, so it can be considered a good substitute. Let's take a look at the usage data from the last two years:

NetApplications - Usage Share by Platform

NetApplications' data shows that Android's usage share was just one-third of the iPhone's in late 2010, even though Android had already surpassed it in terms of quarterly sales volume and installed base. However, over the next two years, the iPhone's usage share declined from over 30% to about 25%, while Android overtook the iPhone. The data also shows that the iPad's usage share is been much higher than both Android and the iPhone, as tablets are far more likely to be used for browsing. But this also means that we need to exclude Android tablets from Android's usage share. Let's take a look at NetApplications' usage share by Android version:

Usage Share by Android Version

The data clearly shows that Android's usage share growth (at least until mid-2012) has been primarily driven by Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which is consistent with the version distribution published by Google. Since smartphones comprise the vast majority of Android 2.3's install base, Android's usage share is mostly driven by smartphones. Android 4.0, in the chart above, includes both smartphones and tablets (but the Kindle Fire HD was the only significant launch on Android 4.0, in September 2012). The declining usage share of "Other Android Versions" suggests that the vast majority of this is driven by older Android versions on smartphones as opposed to tablets.

Browser Usage vs. Engagement

Now that we've understood the pace of usage share growth, we can attempt to analyze the reasons for the disparity between the usage shares of both platforms. The first and most oft quoted reason for this disparity is that the average iOS user tends to be more "sophisticated" and have higher income, as compared the average Android user (driven by Apple's premium positioning and Android's mass appeal). A second, slightly related, but lesser known factor is the access & availability of WiFi. Android seems to be leading all iOS devices (both the iPhone and iPad) in browsing over cellular networks. This means that Android users either have no WiFi access (understandable for lower income users) or prefer to use other devices for browsing when they do. This suggests that this is a "browser engagement" issue and not necessarily a "user engagement issue". Let's attempt to understand the reason for this.

In the charts above, the pace of Android 4.0's growth in usage share is quite high when compared to Android's version distribution pattern. In fact, Android 4.0 has seen the fastest growth in usage share among all platforms/device types. Let's take a look at a rough, per-device browser utilization/engagement factor for the two major Android versions since the launch of Android 4.0, i.e. a ratio of usage share to install base:

Android Version Utilization Factor

Curiously, the chart shows that per-device browser engagement on Android 4.0 has increased in line with the install base (the data for the first few months of a new Android version may be distorted by a small sample size for usage share). This means that per device browser sessions have increased over time. The most likely reasons for this pattern are the browser improvements introduced in Android 4.0, along with the introduction of the Chrome browser (which became the default browser in Android 4.1). The stock Android browser in previous versions reportedly had problems rendering non-mobile optimized web-pages, leading to lower usage. If a user realized that certain webpages were improperly rendered on a mobile device, it would obviously lead to a drop in future browsing sessions from that device. Meanwhile, on Android 4.0, as consumers have realized that the browsing experience is more "desktop-like", it has led to an increase in browser usage. This suggests that as the penetration of Android 4.0+ tablets & smartphones increases, the Android platform should see a sharp rise in browser usage.