What Tim Cook Didn’t Say About iPad’s Share of Web Traffic

| Analysis

During Apple's 2014 Q2 earnings report, Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that the iPad's share of Web traffic in North America is almost four times that of all the the other Android tablets combined. That's true, but here's what he didn't say.

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First of all, it's important to realize that the Chitika tablet data that Tim Cook referenced is based on a specific methodology. "All Chitika ad impressions in this study are generated through Web browsing, not mobile or desktop applications." That means that if an Amazon Kindle Fire HDX user is using an app that accesses the Internet heavily, say, to a game server, it won't register with Chitika.

The analysis method uses the information communicated by a user's browser such as the HTTP referer (referrer), HTTP user agent and so on to catalog the device, OS and browser name.

Looking at U.S. and Canadian Web traffic in second quarter of 2014 in this way reveals a chart that is much more visually stunning than even Tim Cook's comment.

Share of North American Web traffic via browser, Q2

Chitka provides some interesting analysis in its report. I've highlighted the important findings.

1. The proverbial elephant in the room is iPad usage share, which still stands at over 77% of all U.S. and Canadian tablet-based Web traffic.

2. The new number two player, Samsung, has grown significantly over the past year. Between April 2013 (4.7%) and April 2014 (8.3%)

3. Meanwhile, Amazon has not kept pace with Samsung from a usage share perspective. At 6.1%, North American Kindle Fire users exhibit the lowest usage share observed for the brand since the 2012-2013 holiday season.

An insightful observation was made about Amazon. "Additionally, the Kindle Fire’s close relationship with the Amazon content ecosystem, which has grown more robust in recent months, may mean that Kindle Fire users aren’t currently spending as much time browsing the Web using their device as compared to consuming in-app content."

Also, as shown the chart above, Google and Microsoft tablets barely register in browser-based web traffic. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that these tablets aren't on the Internet. It just means that users, with their browsers, aren't heavy visitors of the roughly 350,000 servers in the Chitika system in North America.

Android vs. iPad Usage

My own interpretation of this is that even though there are about million apps that can run on an iPad, users of other tablets tend to be relatively more app focused than browser focused. This is characteristic of smartphone use where people seldom browse and are almost completely app focused.

So then the question is, why are Android tablet users treating their tablets more like a smartphone? Conversely, what is it about the iPad that promotes so much browser use? Is it the quality and ease of use of Safari? (I've used the browsers on a Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 10 tablet, and they're decent.) Is it the kinds of reading and research creative and professional users do as opposed to living inside special purpose apps? For example, attorneys, doctors and researchers depend on Web-based information. One article I saw suggested that the free Web is in peril because of dominant app usage, although I cataloged it as a possible overreaction at the time.

Could it be that despite the power of specific apps used by creative professionals, activity in the browser is essential for professional reading, research and collaboration? In turn, are Android tablet users inherently more cautious about visiting websites that may contain malware, and they're more comfortable remaining in the confines of an app purchased through their tablet maker's app store? See, for example, "Apple’s Drop in iPad Market Share is a Natural Part of Tablet Evolution." In addition, part of the issue is cumulative market share to date of each tablet brand in North America.

Chitika didn't address these questions except to note that Amazon customers tend to use their Kindles more for shopping, and, as we already know, reading Kindle books.

Interpretation

The declining market share of the iPad in contrast to its enormous share of Web traffic is an apparent paradox. If, as I wrote above, Apple designs its iPads to appeal to a certain kind of user, then it's very important to make sure the iPad has a supremely good browser, and Apple may have stumbled onto something.

On the other hand, this emphasis on apps and neglect of browsing by Android users could also mean that Apple can't be too smug. Heavy browsing behavior on a tablet may be characteristic of minority professional usage.

The iPad's market share may continue to decline despite having fabulous Web usage stats—especially as more and more tablets (and apps) designed for non-professionals flood the market. And yet, as Tim Cook mentioned in the recent earnings report, all those other tablets—that Apple doesn't even try to compete with  — are still cataloged as a tablet sale.

Finally, If Tim Cook wants to claim that people who buy competing tablets are not really doing anything with them, he'll need something besides just Web traffic stats to prove his point. It's an area that needs more research.

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Comments

fultonkbd

I think that the numbers back up that the iPad is a reasonable replacement for a laptop and computer. Or at least a supplement for a lot of the web surfing that would have been done years back on “computers.”

wab95

John:

Two observations.

The firsts is, as Bryan’s article recently pointed out, whether or not Android - specifically Samsung - tablet market share been over-estimated. It may be that the behaviours of the clients of the two OSes, irrespective of hardware build, are not so different, once the distribution is accurately adjusted. To address that issue, one requires validated end sales numbers, minus returns, for Android tablets.

The second is, if the behaviours of the two client bases are that different, do they actually describe the same market? Taking a different angle, and considering the tablet more as a probe of human behaviour, do Android tablets and iPads lend themselves to disparate activities? Does the combination of hardware and software that defines the tablet interface select for and/or facilitate different activities? If so, then, irrespective of form factor, they are not the same thing, but rather different devices that merely share a common shape or morphology, not unlike a fish vs a marine mammal. To be clear, this not quite the same thing as two different markets, a priori, but devices that train their users, by virtue of the tasks they facilitate, to select and engage in different tasks. If that is the case, then might we not expect, barring a course correction by either platform, divergent evolution between these client bases with a persistence in such traits as web browsing.

Both of these issues require more data and, in my view, the passage of more time, to address with greater certainty in the post-PC era.

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