The eyes of the technology world are focused on the epic patent struggle between Apple and Samsung - the latest iteration of Apple’s frantic legal battle against everything Android. The iPhone maker has also brought suits against Android device manufacturers HTC and Motorola. Apple has faced criticism for its endless lawsuits designed to stunt competition from Google's Android, but a quick look at Android device shipments in the second quarter of 2012 reveals a key number that suggest Apple is right to worry.
That number is 68.
According to research firm IDC, Android devices made up a whopping 68.1% of all smartphone shipments in Q2 2012. That calculates to 104.8 million of the 154 million smartphones that left manufacturers plants in the quarter. By comparison, Apple shipped 26 million iPhones in the quarter, good for 16.9% of the market. Together, iOS and Android made up 85% of all smartphones shipped.
IDC notes that Samsung was responsible for 44% of all Android devices shipped. That equates to 46.11 million devices, or about 20 million more than the iPhone. Apple shipped 5.6 million more iPhones (up from 20.4 million) in Q2 2012 than it did in the same quarter of 2011 but still saw its share of the smartphone market fall from 18.8% last year.
It has been well documented that Apple shipments often decrease in the middle second and third quarters of recent years. Consumers appear to be waiting for the next iPhone to be released (in this case, presumably the iPhone 5 rumored to be announced in mid-September). Though Apple took a hit in overall market share this year, it still shipped more iPhones than in any other second quarter since the first iteration of the device was released in 2007.
Chasing the Android Freight Train
So Apple is doing fine on its own terms. The problem is that Android has become a runaway freight train on the global smartphone market, with Samsung as the engine. Much of Android’s growth is coming in emerging markets with floods of low-priced Android smartphones coming from Asian manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE. Mid-level Android manufacturers like HTC, LG and Motorola also have several different variations of devices in all corners of the world. Apple is fighting not just Samsung’s wide variety of Galaxy devices, but a many-sided war.
This trend is not new. Last year was definitely “The Year of Android” as Google's mobile operating system first eclipsed all comers in the smartphone market to take the overall lead in devices shipped. Apple closed the gap over the holidays and early in the year, but its one-device-per-year approach (with older devices dropping in price at the same time) can't seem to up with new Android devices developed and shipped seemingly every week.
The unrelenting flood of Android devices is one reason that Apple has turned to its legal department for help. Apple knows that it cannot match the Android ecosystem in sales and shipments, but hopes to force Android manufacturers into settlements over patents and design issues that will lead to time-consuming redesigns and functionality changes. Any time that an Android device is taken off the market or delayed to retail shelves because of an Apple patent victory, it leaves open a window for Apple to sell a consumer an iPhone.
Legal Challenges Are Effective
Apple’s tactics may or may not prove fruitful in its battle against Samsung - Apple already achieved a temporary injunction, now lifted, against the Galaxy Nexus. But the company's legal tactics have already been proven effective. HTC, for example, released its One X phone to AT&T in early May - only to have to remove it from shelves a few weeks later because of Apple patent challenges. HTC, a company that designs high-quality devices, had one of its worst quarters in recent memory leading some to question how long it can continue to compete in the smartphone market.
Apple is taking every route it can it can to slow Android’s momentum. Lawsuits, such as the current one against Samsung, are one avenue. Another is accelerating the iPhone release schedule. The new iPhone is rumored to be announced on September 12th and to ship shortly thereafter. Clocking in some 11 months after the release of the iPhone 4S in October 2011, that would be significantly faster than the 15 months between the releases of the iPhone 4 and the 4S. No matter what the outcome of its patent maneuvers, the sooner Apple can get the newest iPhone on the market, the more chances it will have to stand firm against the Android armies.
Number image courtesy of Shutterstock.