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Tuesday, 08 June 2010 19:14

Are Apple's sales stats dodgy?


During his WWDC 2010 keynote address, Apple CEO Steve Jobs boasted that the iPhone was currently number two behind RIM in smartphone sales. He quoted a Nielsen survey but there was a noticeable absentee in Apple's stats - Symbian. So what's the truth?

We're the first to admit that Mark Twain had it right when he said that there were three types of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics. Now, the discerning reader will not base their understanding on just one set of numbers. Whenever a statistic is quoted it needs to be checked. After all we need to counter that other maxim; 62% of statistics are made up on the spot (OK, we made that one up!).

Jobs said in his address that some studies are 'questionable'. According to Jobs' keynote , the smartphone market in the United States looks like this.

RIM holds 19%
iPhone holds 28%
Windows Mobile holds 19%
Android holds 9%
Other holds 9%

These numbers come from a Nielsen survey for the first quarter of 2010. The problem is that Apple doesn't operate in the American market - it participates in a global one. But more importantly, The most prominent smartphone operating system, Symbian, simply isn't mentioned. Surely, it can't be bundled into the 'Other' category?

A look at some different statistics, this time from respected market analysts Gartner, reveals a different picture.

Gartner's most recent survey of the smartphone market, published in May 2010 put Symbian in the top spot, clearly ahead of RIM.

Symbian's market share is 48.8%
RIM's market share is 20.6%
iPhone OS market share is 10.5%
Android market share is 1.6%
Microsoft Windows Mobile market share is 10.2%
Other makes up the remaining 8.2%

We're not saying that Nielsen's research is flawed. We're saying that it's an incomplete picture. Perhaps Jobs was hoping that his famed Reality Distortion Field would wipe anyone's recollection of Symbian's existence.

The other thing that Jobs' 'point in time' snapshot fails to reveal is that Android is on a steep growth curve - just like the iPhone was a year or so ago. Gartner's research speculates that by 2010 Symbian's share of the market will fall to about 37.4% and Android will grab about 18% - about 4% more than iOS. Now, that's Gartner's best guess on growth but it's a sobering thought for any aspiring developers hoping to get a piece of the next $1B Apple gives to developers as their cut from the App Store.

There's little doubt that Android's star is on the rise. It's being embraced by several hardware makers including LG, Sony Ericsson and HTC and is growing at a rate that is giving developers pause to consider what platform they really want to write applications for.

It's important to remember that WWDC is not a consumer event - it's a developer conference. So it was important for Jobs to sell the developer message (thankfully there was no monkey dance involved). Hence the time spent on telling developers that Apple supported the open HTML5 platform as well as the curated App Store and making sure that the financial benefit for developers was clear. However, we we're left wondering about how worried Apple really is. The stats they chose to show omitted one major player and didn't tell the full story about another. Perhaps there's a hint of worry in Cupertino.


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