Android market share crosses 80%, but there's no single "Android"

Credit: Racchio via Flickr

Android continues to dominate new smartphone sales, according to third quarter 2013 statistics from IDC, and has crossed 80% for the first time. 

Although market share isn't as important as installed base when considering which platform to develop for, Android's increasing market share dominance means that, eventually, its installed base will surpass that of iOS. Android is clearly becoming the most popular smartphone platform in the world.

But IDC also cautions that "Android" is not really a single thing:

While Android, as a whole, moved forward, the vast majority of its vendors still struggle to find meaningful market share. Samsung accounted for 39.9% of all Android shipments for the quarter, while the rest of the vendors either saw single-digit market share or, in the case of the majority of vendors, market share of less than 1%.

Some of these vendors, particularly outside the U.S., are shipping Android versions that have limited or no connections to Google services. The dominant one, Samsung, seems to be moving away from Google in some key ways -- it has its own added security technologies for enterprises, it just held its own developer conference, and may even branch Android into a separate fork, as Amazon has done with the Kindle.

The iPhone is part of a coherent ecosystem from a single vendor, Apple. There are strong benefits to sticking within that ecosystem. This loyalty is shown by the fact that more than 50% of iPhone users upgraded to the new iOS 7 platform within a week of release, and more than 75% have upgraded within two months, according to app analytics company Mixpanel.

In contrast, the latest version of Android, KitKat, isn't even going to be made available to some recent Android devices. Two weeks after Google unveiled it on the new Nexus 5, it's only on 0.21% of devices.

The Android ecosystem is much less coherent -- depending on the vendor and carrier, users might get new skins and UI features, new attached services, and a different upgrade cycle (not all carriers or hardware vendors make new Android versions available at the same rate). That reduces the lock-in potential for Android. Indeed, a recent poll of 400 new iPhone buyers found that about 20% of them had switched from Android. 

Android may be beating the iPhone, but it's not quite as cut and dried as the market share stats would suggest. Over the long term, loyalty and ecosystem matter.

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