We've been asking why Android device owners don't seem to use their devices all that much for months at The Mac Observer. On Thursday, Flurry released a report with quantifiable data demonstrating the discrepancy in usage between iOS and Android device owners along with three possible reasons for that discrepancy.
At issue are disparate measures of mobile device use that have consistently shown that iPhone and iPad owners do more with their devices than owners of Android smartphones and tablets. Apple's customers do more online shopping, download more apps, buy more apps, tap through to more ads, do more Web surfing, and spend more time in the apps they have.
Time Spent in Apps
That last line item we mentioned comes from Flurry itself. In the chart below, the analytics firm measured total time spent in apps on all Android devices in use as compared to time spent in apps on iOS devices in use, as shown in the chart below. The "100%" line at the top is the iOS usage, while the moving line is Android devices.
The key to understanding the full impact of this chart is that the total number of Android devices sold exceeded the total number of iOS devices sold starting in 2012.
The device names in the chart show when those devices were released.
Time Spent in Apps Per Device
Flurry also offered a chart (see below) of time spent in apps per device, a different measurement than total time spent. Again, the "100%" line is the time in apps per iOS device, while the moving line is the measurement of time in apps per Android device.
One of the most interesting things about both of the above charts is that the release of Android's most popular devices—Samsung's Galaxy S2, S3, S4, and Note II—doesn't appear to have made much of a dent in how much time Android users are spending in their apps.
It's long been our contention that the usage data is skewed by the proliferation of cheap, low-end Android devices that make up the bulk of the platform. Flurry mentioned this, too (more on that below), but app usage as a whole and as measured per device has actually declined during the last year.
That's the same year in which the emergence of the super large screens of Samsung's high-end Galaxy devices was hailed as the triumph of Android and the proof for Apple haters that the company was no longer relevant.
Devices in Use
The last chart we'll look at measures active Android devices. This is a measure of devices in use with apps that have Flurry's analytic tools built into them. The data is similar to comScore's measurement of U.S. subscribers, in that it's about boots on the ground rather than sales.
It shows that there are more Android devices in use than iOS devices, but a rough look at the percentages reflects the reality that iOS devices have longer lifespans than Android devices.
It is our belief that this difference diminishes as you skew towards the higher end of the Android market. Devices like the HTC One, Samsung's Galaxy S3, S4, and Note II, and Google's own Nexus-branded devices will most likely have much longer life spans than the cheap devices given away by carriers or offered on a two-for-one basis. We haven't seen data to that effect, but it stands up to the sniff test.
Flurry's Three Reasons
Analysts at Flurry have been asking themselves the same question we have been asking: what the heck are Android device owners doing with their devices? The company didn't exactly answer that question, but the report did include three reasons why there is less app usage on Android.
The first is the most interesting: the company said that the two platforms attract different types of users. Flurry said that once the App Store was launched for iPhone, "many of the consumers who purchased iOS devices were doing so to be able to run apps on those devices. They were buying a computer that fit in their pocket or purse." [Emphasis added]
Those users, according to Flurry, seek out apps because that's why they bought their iOS devices in the first place. "There's an app for that" resonates for Apple's owners, according to the report.
Many Android owners, however, are "upgrading" to low-end Android devices when they replace their feature phones. They aren't seeking out a computer that will fit in their pocket, but rather a phone. The fact that it can use apps, "may be a nice add-on, but [it is] not a central feature of the device" to those users.
We don't think that applies as much to customers buying the high-end Android devices mentioned above, and it is definitely not the case for users purchasing Google's Nexus-branded devices. Nexus owners are absolutely looking for computers that fit in their pockets, but their numbers aren't enough to equal the iOS customer base.
Fr agm en t at ion
Flurry also said that the massive fragmentation of the Android platform works against app usage. A bewildering array of different screen sizes and device features means that it's harder for developers to ensure a great experience, and very few Android devices are capable of upgrading the OS, and even fewer Android device owners actually do so.
This is a well-established fact that has been discusses far and wide. It's a fact and doesn't need additional pontification from us.
Build It and They Will Come?
Lastly, Flurry put forth the notion that, "the arguably larger and richer ecosystem of apps that exists for iOS feeds on itself. iOS device owners use apps so developers create apps for iOS users and that in turn generates positive experiences, word-of-mouth, and further increases in app use."
This idea has some truthiness to it, but we think that even if it is a factor, it's less important than the first two ideas. The lack of devices sold didn't stop the Android platform from attracting developers in the first place, and today—despite the fact that iOS app purchases, in-app purchases, and in-app ad revenue dwarfs Android, the total number of Android apps has steadily grown and may now surpass the number of iOS apps.
In other words, Android currently has as "rich" an ecosystem as iOS—at least in sheer numbers—yet app usage still lags. That contradicts the build it and they will come idea in our eyes.
And if there is a word-of-mouth effect based on experience that helps propel app usage, it's due to more than just the richness of the ecosystem. The app-purchase, download, and management process, the upgradeability of devices and software, the backwards compatibility of devices, the uniformity of experience...
In short, the nature of Apple's whole widget, walled-garden business model is at least as important as the richness of the ecosystem in explaining the difference in time spent in apps.