The Truth About Apple's iPhone Market Share

There are many ways to compare the iPhone to the competition, and the choice may depend on what kind of story you want to tell. Or your hidden agenda. Here are the facts about Apple's iPhone market share.

We're all familiar with the phrase, "The fastest growing publication in America." I've used that phrase myself in the past, and it's an interesting feature of statistics. When something is very small, modest real number gains produce amazing percentage results. For example, when a publication doubles its subscribers from 2,000 to 4,000, that's a 100 percent growth rate. However, if another publication grows from, say, 150,000 subscribers to 152,000, that's merely a 1.3 percent gain. So the phrase "fastest growing" often means "the smallest" in absolute numbers.

On Monday, Silicon Alley Insider posted some numbers from ChangeWave Research which showed the results of a survey, from its own members, which asked "Which Mobile OS would you prefer to have on the Smartphone you plan on buying?"


ChangeWave data, as published by Silicon Alley Insider

It was accompanied by the lurid headline, "Android Taking Wind Out of iPhone's Sails." This was quite a different take than the sober, researched analysis by our own Bryan Chaffin on Monday, using the same report from ChangeWave.

Of course, the intentions of a small group of technical users has nothing much to do with the overall smartphone market share. The Android market share growth may be at a (spectacular) high rate, yet as in the example above, the absolute numbers can remain small. Let's take a look at the absolute numbers from several sources, including SAI itself.

On December 17, SAI published a chart showing the user base numbers, in absolute terms, and the rate of growth during 2009. Here's the chart.

ComScore data

iPhone user base from ComScore, presented by SAI

The story there was that Apple's iPhone user base has surpassed Microsoft's Windows Mobile. The chart also gives a feel for the installed base of Smartphone users in the U.S. and the rate of growth. As of October, Google remained small in absolute terms.

On November 3, 2009, Appleinsider published market share numbers from Canalys, by platform and maker. This is for global sales and confirms that 1) Symbian still holds dominant global market share, 2) Apple is right behind RIM/BlackBerry in Q3 2009, and Google remains down around 3.5 percent.



Global Smartphone Market Share from Canalys, presented by AppleInsider

All this isn't to say that Google's Android smartphone OS isn't gaining in popularity. It is. But when one looks at market share numbers for the present time, Windows Mobile is stagnant and Apple and RIM are growing in market share and fighting for dominant market share in the U.S. Android still has a ways yet to go.

So when you see a data chart and a spectacular headline about how the iPhone is fading, think again. Dig for the real market share data. It's out there.