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Apple: is being a great curator enough? (Part I)

Fascinating data from Kantar came out today, in which their analysis says that iOS not only halted its decline, but raised its sales share to 53.3% in 2012 vs. Android's 41.9% (a 10.9% YOY decline).

I would not have predicted this, especially given my experience on Android over the past four months. I'm inclined to believe the theory that this is simply the result of Q4 iPhone 5 sales rather than any indicator of a long-term trend. Why am I skeptical?

Let's take a quick look at how iOS and Android stack up on the major points of differentiation: 

  • Hardware: The reviews on at least the last 3 iOS products (iPhone 5, iPad Mini, iPad 4th gen) have essentially carried the same message: these are solid products, evolutionary but not revolutionary, with pricing matching or exceeding the most expensive smartphone and tablet competitors. That was an entirely sustainable position even one year ago because of a dearth of real competition, but Samsung's Galaxy S3, Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, and Google's Nexus 7 (built by Asus) are now getting equally strong reviews. Perhaps more crucially, all of these devices are selling at price points lower than Apple, and they offer features which Apple does not (larger screens, better sound, and even snappier performance.
  • Operating System: I drilled further into an OS comparison in the previous post referenced earlier. To restate those conclusions: I would argue that iOS and Android simply aren't different enough consumer experiences to drive a purchase decision one way or another. iOS still tops on ease-of-use, but not so much so that I would hesitate to recommend Android to late adopters. I've watched many friends and associates switch from feature phones to Android--and a few switch from iOS to Android--without complaint. Performance used to be an issue, but with the introduction of Android 4.2, which I'm now running on my Galaxy S3, the lag in Android is gone. It's not that I believe the two operating systems are interchangable commodities; I simply don't believe that the differences are great enough to protect or sustain Apple's market share. 
  • Apps: As I mentioned in my previous post, my personal experience is that 68 of my 71 iOS apps were available for Android when I switched a few months ago. This would certainly not have been true if I had a substantial number of children's apps or games installed on my iOS device. These two categories continue to flourish on iOS. Because they often have significant technical requirements to run well, fragmentation kills development costs. But iOS developers are learning something Android developers have long known: make sure your app runs on 7-10 Samsung, HTC and Amazon devices, and you've gained massive available market for your app sales. OpenSignal wrote a fascinating piece about this a few months ago, which is worth a read.
  • Price: This is an easy one. Android devices are often much less than iOS devices, and the best Android devices are at most equal in price to iOS devices (and often less).
  • Distribution: This is also an easy one. Apple devices are carried by just about every major carrier in the world--as are Android devices. The difference is that multiple Android handset manufacturers are competing for carrier business, with some enjoying closer relationships than others. Apple, on the other hand, is the only manufacturer advocating sale of its handsets. If the relationship between Apple and a carrier is strained, it's likely that fewer iOS devices will be sold through that channel.

The competition is finally quite serious for iOS. What's next for Apple? More on that tomorrow.

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