Finding Color on Why iPhone Owners Do More than Android Owners

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Apple vs. AndroidI've been asking a basic question about Android for quite a while: what the heck are they doing with all those Android devices? Thanks to a couple of recent studies from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), we're starting to get some color on that question.

Lagging Usage

At issue is the discrepancy between the gagillions of Android devices sold around the world—Android had somewhere around 80 percent market share in the June quarter—and the massively disproportionate use enjoyed by iPhone and iPad. Every metric I have seen says that iOS device owners do more with their devices, including Web browsing, app usage, shopping, app downloads, paid downloads, pictures uploaded, ad taps...every single metric.

The one metric where Android has been showing progress is total downloads. Earlier this month, Google Play downloads surpassed Apple's App Store for the first time. But, considering how many more Android devices have been sold, getting excited about that is kind of like patting a child on the head for only spilling most of the macaroni onto the floor.

Maraschino or Fresh?

One factor is that Android partisans like to cherry pick their numbers. They, and Google, like to talk about the huge numbers of total Android device activations around the world. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and CEO Larry Page have both touted that they've reached 1.5 million activations per day.

That's a staggering number that blithely ignores the reality that most of those devices are cheap devices with cheap specs that are used like feature phones (phone calls and text). This is particularly true in emerging markets where no-name hardware makers still churn out devices running antique versions of Android 2.x.

Here's a page on Alibaba (a top Chinese ecommerce site/service) with a ton of Android devices running Android 2.3. I didn't look very hard to find that, either. In fact, here's a current product from CoolPad, a popular Chinese brand that sells a smartphone today in the U.S. running Android 2.3.7.

Mmmmm...good. No wait, this tastes terrible! (Plus Loose Car Analogies)

Those devices do Google little good because users aren't using their devices to contribute significantly to the user profiles that are Google's product. In emerging markets—especially China—many of these low end devices come with no Google services at all. Their makers are getting a free ride for an operating system without giving back to the ecosystem.

They don't do Android developers any good, either. These device owners don't download apps, and most don't have ready access to Google Play in the first place.

Including these cheap devices when considering the size of the Android platform would be like considering sales of the Yugo when considering the size of the car industry. Or the Chevy Chevette. Or the Trabant.

My analogy isn't perfect because those models didn't sell in large volumes, not even in aggregate, but my point is that those cars barely functioned as cars and had life spans sometimes measured in months. In the same fashion, the cheapest smartphones aren't smart in any practical way.

Android Jelly Bean

If one were to exclude these devices when looking at usage metrics, the discrepancy becomes must less bizarre, at least to me. We'd still see that iOS users as a whole use their devices more than this subset of Android users, but it wouldn't be the shocking difference we see when comparing against Android as a whole.

To wit, nineteen times more shopping on iOS devices than Android with the same number of devices is staggering, but nineteen times much shopping with 1/4 of the devices is mind boggling. (Note that this particular factoid is about nine months old—today's numbers would surely be different.)

What About CIRP?

OK, so that's part of the equation, but CIRP has been looking at the U.S. market, and the firm's studies show a couple of interesting things about smartphone users. Last week, as covered by Fortune's Philip Elmer-Dewitt, we learned that Apple's brand loyalty crushes Samsung, but that's not germane to today's topic.

What is pertinent is that Samsung in particular gets more first-time customers than Apple, that Apple's customers are more educated and younger, and that they make more money. If that's the case, no wonder Android usage lags behind iOS.

Cut to this week, and a new report from CIRP looking at Android as a whole compared to iOS (covered by Mr. Elmer-Dewitt). According to that survey, Android owners are three times more likely to have purchased their device at the big discount giants (Wal-mart, Sam's Club, Costco) than iPhone owners. They're also more likely to be new to smartphones.

And, as Philip Elmer-Dewitt put it, "CIRP found that Americans who buy Android phones tend to be older, less wealthy and less well educated than those who buy iPhones."

Ah, I Get It

I personally have no doubt that what CIRP found for Android and Samsung is skewed by the vast numbers of cheap devices Samsung sells when Apple sells none. If you looked at just owners of HTC One, Galaxy Note II, Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4, Nexus 4, and a couple of other devices, my gut says those users are very similar to Apple's iPhone customers in age, income education, and wealth.

It's the customers who buy the massive range of other products that are new to smartphones, less wealthy, older, and less educated, and many of these users aren't looking for a computer they can put in their pocket. Many might only have a vague idea of what a smartphone is.

Those of us in the echo chamber might scoff at the idea, but in the larger American market, it's true. Most people do not obsess about this stuff.

When you combine low-end specs, poor quality screens, customer service that doesn't have the time or training to properly educate their customers, and a lack of familiarity with smartphone concepts, it's no wonder Android usage lags so far behind iOS.

CIRP's data suggests to me that this is just as true in the U.S. as it is in emerging markets, though with lower percentages.


I think this is at the heart of the disconnect that phandroids have about their platform of choice. They think that because they make the most of their devices, every other Android user must be, too. The usage data says that isn't so, and now we have some demographic data to explain it.

Jellybean made with help from Shutterstock.


Lee Dronick

A lot of people I know who have bought Android phones say that they did so on the recommendation of the guy at the phone store.


I’ve been to a couple Best Buys recently and have to say Apple is hardly visible to the ‘new to a smart phone demographic’. Display space is vastly favoring android and more specifically, the new Samsung ‘store-within-a-store’ is dominating compared to the little presence the iPhone has. And didn’t Apple bring this strategy to Best Buy with the Mac line? Apple is losing a lot of image battles on this front if not actual customers.


As I expected when it first came out, Android has become the OS of choice in the 3rd World.  I’m just waiting now for the first Cheapdroid review over at Dr. Ashens’.


This was bound to happen given Apple’s way of doing business. If they would license iOS the story would be different, but that’s not their model, and so they have to be satisfied with a smaller portion of the market. Given Apple wants to be your all-and-everything, this probably works in their advantage, I mean, what would happen to the iCloud servers if a sizable fraction of the Chinese population was trying to use them all at once?

Lee Dronick

  Given Apple wants to be your all-and-everything, this probably works in their advantage, I mean, what would happen to the iCloud servers if a sizable fraction of the Chinese population was trying to use them all at once?

That might explain the NSA size server farms that Apple is building. smile

But ya know, if there is going to be a cheap iPhone what features and services will pay the price? Less memory, slower CPU, no iCloud synch? There has to be something to differentiate it from the higher priced models. And what defines cheap, 10% lower than the luxury model?




Many thanks for posting these data. Of these, in particular, I had not seen Elmer-DeWitt’s comparison piece of Apple vs Samsung customers.

I find it ironic, given Samsung’s not-quite-so-subliminal suggestions to the contrary,  that Apple customers are in fact younger overall than Samsung customers. While I tend to concur with you that, if you look at the high end of Samsung, HTC, and other purchasers, you probably won’t find much daylight between them in demographics, I suspect that, to the extent that there are differences, those differences are meaningful, such as education and/or profession. At least in the health field, iOS enjoys a substantive advantage - at least in my circles.

That said, no one should be surprised at these findings. Anyone who spends any time in Sub-Saharan Africa or most of Asia will appreciate that, of the smartphone owners, the majority by far are Android-based, cheap devices of Chinese origin (most of whose names I cannot recall). More relevant to your story however, is something I’ve shared before but it bears repeating, people are using these almost exactly as they are using their feature phones.

I have asked a few Android smartphone owners in Asia about their devices and how they use them. In almost every case, apart from those who work in a major business or university, most do not have email accounts, and do not surf the internet. When pressed as to what they then do with those phones, they identify: 1) phone calls, 2) texting, 3) photos - albeit limited, given their lack of storage options. In short, they’re using these devices just as they did their feature phone. When I have asked why then go with the smartphone, they have said, in effect, they get a touch screen, bigger display for about the same price as they did a feature phone, so why not? Why not, indeed. It’s easier to text with, if nothing else.

Of the handful of ‘phablets’ I’ve seen (I’ll use that term, since @jgamet is not authoring this column), including one from a gentleman arriving at my clinic on rickshaw and clad in a lungi (a wrap-around used in lieu of trousers), they all say, because it’s big. This particular gentleman, however, pointed out that the large screen size makes it easier for him to read text. This is important to people who are semi-literate. It’s the same reason why we use large print for children’s books - the characters are less ambiguous if they are large. Again, that makes sense. If you having difficulty making out characters, if you can put them on a bigger screen (with presumably larger font), then it makes reading them easier.

BTW: most of these people to whom I’ve spoken, this chap in particular, had no idea what was powering their smartphone. They just assumed it was something made by the handset maker. Many of these are not individuals in search of Android so that they can side-load apps and avoid Apple’s walled garden. Indeed, many don’t even know that they can put apps on these phones, and if they did, often lack the means to do so.

Globally speaking, USA, Western Europe, Japan and S Korea aside (and the Aussies), this is your typical Android client. Not only is there no anti-Apple decision being made, there is no pro-smartphone decision either; they’re going for a device that’s easier to use with a larger display that they can touch-activate to do what they already know how to do and need to do, i.e. make phone calls and text.

From that perspective, I don’t see how these devices, sold in such markets for such purposes, qualify as smartphones. There is obvious propaganda advantage to doing so, but the functional statistics continue to embarrass the propaganda.

Perhaps we need more nuanced comparisons.


I would add that many people in USA and other tech savvy countries don’t know that Android powers their phone or what they can do with them.

Case in point, my girlfriend had a Galaxy III, which she used for calls, texting and occasional pictures although there were other apps on the phone, she never used any. She didn’t know about Android or iOS or apps to download, she just had a few phones that were offered to her at the store with a family plan. Her two 13 year old boys didn’t use them for anything except calls and texting, that is if they bothered to carry them. Anyway after a while she went back to feature phones that she already had to save money.

Now, last week as she was working around the house, she found an iPod 2nd gen, that I had given up for dead last January, it didn’t turn on at all like the battery needed replacing, but she plugged it in and it charged up and she started using the apps on it. while not an iPhone, she just started trying out the apps I had on it and playing with it, more than she ever did with any apps on her Galaxy III.

I just found it interesting that she never used any apps on her Android, yet she just started going through the apps on the iPod without any coaxing from me. She since has had me show her how some work and uses some apps and of course uses it for listening to music.

Makes me think that Android is just more difficult to use (or less friendly) for non-tech-savvy people than iOS, which would also account for less App usage among Android users. Heck, I had difficulty working with some apps on her phone, and I have considerable technical experience - although not with Android…


Yeah, I never got why everyone was so confused by the numbers.

Cheap/poor people buy cheap/poor phones and don’t use or purchase with them very much because they are… cheap/poor.  (I think that sums up your more lengthy and eloquent article)

Bryan Chaffin

Mmmmm….more succinct you are being.

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