What Tim Cook Really Said about Android Switchers

| Analysis

The Mac Web and mainstream news outlets alike are reporting that 30 percent of Apple's iPhone customers in the September quarter switched from Android. If true, that would mean some 14.4 million Android users switched to iOS, but that's not what Apple CEO Tim Cook actually said.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

​Apple CEO Tim Cook

Here's the full quote from Tim Cook, which came 45 minutes into the conference call in response to a request for clarification from Steven Milunovich from UBS:

For customers who purchased an iPhone last quarter, and [original emphasis] replaced a smartphone, that 30 percent of those switched from an Android device. There would have been some switchers on top of that from other operating systems, but obviously Android is the largest one by far.

That number is the largest that we've ever recorded since we began measuring it three or so years ago. It's a huge number and we're very, very proud of that number.

The key phrase there is the clause "and replaced a smartphone." That means Apple's switcher number is based on a subset of total iPhone sales during the quarter.

In other words, Apple isn't claiming that 30 percent of iPhone customers switched from Android. Instead, Apple said 30 percent of those who were upgrading from another smartphone—including iPhones, as I read it—were switching from Android.

Furthermore, while much of the U.S. and Europe are approaching saturated status, in emerging markets, many customer are new to smartphones. That includes China, where Apple's smartphone sales jumped some 87 percent year over year during the quarter. Many of those customers are new to smartphones.

News outlets far and wide have gotten this wrong, with some reporting that 14.4 million Android users switched to iPhones during the quarter. That's not what Apple claimed. In fact, we don't know exactly how many Android users switched because Apple didn't break out the total number of users who upgraded from another smartphone.

The takeaway here is that what Apple actually claimed is very impressive, if not more impressive than the misinterpretation being reported elsehwere. Apple saw the largest number of switchers since it began tracking such numbers, and that shows the company is gaining momentum in the smartphone market.

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Some of the press are today beginning to clarify their language and interpretation of what Tim said.

In fairness, when one does not work with numbers, specifically statistics, their interpretation can be a challenge. Many a clinician colleague, despite their familiarity with the literature, routinely misreport and misinterpret epidemiological statistics.

Not surprising, then, that the press would stumble over them.

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