I hear it constantly: Android has 81% of the market, Android is bigger, it’s only a matter of time before it squishes Apple into oblivion, just like Windows crushed Mac OS.
I can’t predict the future any better than anyone else can, so I have to say it’s possible that one day Google’s operating system may indeed dominate Apple’s operating system in some meaningful way. But it certainly doesn’t do so today.
Alongside those glowing reports of Android’s success are reports less easy to quantify, apparently far less interesting reports, suggesting that Android devices aren’t used the same way, or to the same extent, as iOS devices. But what could that mean? I mean, sure, maybe we all know someone who has a terrible old Android device they don’t use anymore, but surely that percentage must be small, right? I mean, 81%!
As someone who uses a smartphone, I can’t imagine it matters except in the most abstract sense. As someone who develops for smartphones, however, the questions of market share are far more important. So we hear that Android comprises 81% of shipments, but then we also hear that as many as two-thirds of those are not really smartphones at all, or that iOS dominates Android when measuring web-browsing data.
So which is it? In which direction is it heading? How much does it matter? Here’s what I know based on the recent worldwide release of a big-name game.
Google promoted the game heavily. Nearly every Android user got an email promoting the game. It lived on the front page of Google Play store for at least a week. I’m not sure any other game has ever been promoted as heavily. Nobody could possibly ask Google for more. The end result of all of that was roughly one-third as many Android users as iOS users.
We did get some promotion from Apple as well, though not a coveted “Editor’s Pick,” and not nearly at the same level as Google provided. Still, iOS users downloaded and continued to play the game roughly three times as much as Android users.
So I don’t know what that 81% number means. If Android is on more than three-quarters of devices shipped, but only about one-quarter of the people playing my game, which number is more important to me?
My recent experience suggests that my focus as a developer should be on the web-browsing number rather than the units-shipped number.