If marketing is all about creating stories around a product, few CEOs are as good at storytelling as Apple's Tim Cook. But that doesn't mean the stories he tells are true.
At least, not as true as he'd like. Like any storyteller, Cook likes to cherry pick the data that suits his purposes best. For example, the big news over this holiday period has been, yet again, just how dramatically Apple's iOS devices lead Google's Android when it comes to usage for web browsing and shopping, as illustrated by IBM research. Based on past versions of this same analysis, Cook concludes that Android leads the "junk market" and that only iOS gets used while Android devices sit "in the drawer."
But this isn't what the data says. Not really.
Missing The Forest For The Trees
Commenting on data indicating that, despite Android's massive market share, it still doesn't get used much for Web browsing, Cook opined to Bloomberg earlier this year:
Does a unit of market share matter if it’s not being used? For us, it matters that people use our products. We really want to enrich people’s lives, and you can’t enrich somebody’s life if the product is in the drawer.
IBM's data says that iOS devices capture 32.6% of Web traffic on Christmas Day, as opposed to 14.8% for Android. The IBM Benchmark report focuses on e-commerce data between mobile devices and traditional Web browsing and notes that iOS nearly doubles Android in online spending per sale as well.
It turns out that there are lots of things to do with a smartphone or tablet that have nothing to do with visiting websites or shopping. Recent data from the United Kingdom suggests that the primary thing people do with tablets is watch video and play games. Neither necessarily sparks any online browsing or shopping data to be captured by IBM's report.
Neither may count as "enriching people's lives," either, but then, it's doubtful that much of the shopping or Web browsing being done on Apple's iOS devices does, either. We're a generation that wastes an inordinate amount of time on Instagram and SnapChat and the average American carries over $7,000 in credit card debt: talking about enriching our lives through better ways to browse and spend seems patronizing in the extreme.
Indeed, the device that actually does enrich my life—the Android-based Kindle Paperwhite—doesn't show up on IBM's analysis at all. It's miserable for Web browsing and only lets me shop in one store: Amazon's. But I tend to buy a lot of books there (never videos - it's a Paperwhite, not the Kindle Fire) and ... GASP!, read them on the Paperwhite too.
Nor am I alone, as Flurry data on new device activations shows:
Indeed, separate Flurry data also suggests that WiFi-only tablets are the most gifted devices, given that they're cheap and don't require contracts with a wireless carrier. Cook may have forgotten just how powerful a low-cost, single-purpose device can be (iPod, anyone?) in his haste to denigrate Android adoption. The fact remains: Android devices may not get used for Web browsing but they are getting used.
To be fair, Flurry also released data earlier this year that shows the average Android user also spends about 80% of the time with apps that an iOS user does. What none of these studies really achieve, though, is the ability to break down Android usage as a generic term into specific devices. Many Android smartphones are destined for budget-conscious consumers that may have limited data plans and free time. Comparing the entire Android ecosystem to the iPhone and iPad is no longer a one-to-one an equal equation. If you take the top Android smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or Galaxy Note 3, the Google Nexus 5, HTC One or Moto X and compare them to the iOS devices, would the data look the same?
The analytics on Android vs. iOS tend to talk in generalities without taking the specific sectors of the market (high-end versus low-end smartphones) into account. These generalities play well into Cook's hands as he can then wag a finger at Android and say, "hey, I told you so. Buy an iPhone."
I see the diversity of uses for Android devices whenever I get my hair cut (my barber has two Android devices, one for playing music and the other to entertain her kids with video) and when I go to church and use my Android-based Kindle Fire for nothing other than a once-per-week set of scriptures. These are just two of a variety of examples that Cook seems to ignore. Cook may not think such use counts as "enriching" but it really doesn't matter what he thinks.
After all, he's just trying to pitch a story that sells Apple to consumers and Wall Street.
But What About Developers?
Of course, this does overlook one important constituency: developers. As happy as I may be to use my four Android-based devices for single purposes, developers aren't. They make money selling me apps and they're making far more money on iOS than Android.
That was then, this is now.
It turns out that enterprise app developers make more money, more consistently, than consumer app developers. As we reach saturation in mobile (ReadWrite's Dan Rowinski writes that we may already be there) coupled with increasing success of single-purpose "smart" devices, I suspect we'll see a serious shakeout in the consumer developer ranks.
But not a shakeout in tablet and smartphone interest.
While true that the average smartphone user installs 25 apps on her phone, I suspect that the average number of apps actually used is far lower. I can count on one hand the number of apps I regularly use on my iPhone, and can count the number of apps I use on my iPad on two fingers.
In other words, the real winners in mobile may be the device manufacturers, not the app developers, leaving Cook's rage against the Android machine sounding somewhat hollow.