April 16 2013
by Todd Hixon

Cracks In The Myth of iOS Superiority

This post first appeared at in May 2012. Since then Android’s market share has been up and recently down relative to Apple, and Samsung has launched a huge brand-building campaign, so this deeper dive has continued relevance.

Apple invented the smart phone. It has been building iOS and its ecosystem since the iPhone launched in 2007. iOS made Apple the world’s most valuable company. Steve Jobs was a genius, and Jony Ives and the other wizards of Cupertino carry on the magic. Surely iOS is the best smart phone OS, and surely that matters a lot to Apple’s success. At least I thought so, until I looked at the data.


Consider the chart above which analyzes the importance of the smart phone OS in the purchase process. This data comes from a large survey (n = 25,000) of smart phone buyers conducted by

The data says that ~50% of iOS and Android fans consider the OS to be very important, and fans of Blackberries and other smart phones think it is less important. Blackberry is widely viewed as a weak OS, and iOS is widely viewed as very good. It makes sense that Blackberry fans think the OS less important, and iOS fans think it is more important. What’s fascinating is that Android fans put even more importance on the OS. To me this says that people who buy Android phones like the Android OS as much or more than Apple users like iOS.

The second chart compares the importance of the OS relative to other attributes of the smart phone. My takes from this data:

1.  The OS is not the dominant factor in choice of phone family. “Functionality” (i.e., hardware capability, form factor, and the non-OS features of the phone) and price are the biggest factors, even for Apple buyers.


2.  iOS buyers are least price-sensitive, Android buyers more so, and Blackberry and Windows buyers are most. This makes sense: Apple is definitely the premium product.

3.  Carrier availability is a factor: iOS buyers care about it somewhat less, which makes sense today, given that iPhone is widely, but not universally, available. Android buyers care about it a bit more, but it’s not a big difference, which runs against the received wisdom that Android wins on the basis of breadth of distribution.

4.  Last, a surprise to me: hardware brand (“manufacturer”) is a big factor, distinct from the OS. Apple buyers place strong importance on the Apple brand, and Android buyers place very little importance on hardware brand. This tells me that the main Android hardware manufacturers (Samsung, HTC, Moto, and LG) have done a poor job creating brand equity. They have to use price appeal and distribution breadth to overcome this. The biggest weakness of Android is the hardware manufacturers’ brands, not the OS.

Chart via


Of course, Android retains a strong market share lead: 48.6% U.S. market share in January, 2012, versus Apple’s 29.5%, a nice 2.3 point rebound for Android from the fall of 2011 when Apple’s iPhone 4S launch increased its market share. Taken as a whole, the Android formula is a winner.

What thoughts does this spark? Here are a couple:

1.  There’s an opportunity for a major consumer electronics company to gain a lot of ground on Apple by making its hardware and brand fully competitive, and leveraging the already-quite-competitive Android OS. Samsung is the obvious candidate. Can they do to Apple what they did to Sony in the video market?

2.  Apple is dominant in the tablet market (more), despite Google’s determined investment in tablet-ready Android (v4.x, “Ice Cream Sandwich”). I hypothesize the OS is less of a differentiator here, too, and hardware brand and value are more important. And the content ecosystem is big for tablets, too: phones make much of their own content (talk, text), but tablets consume commercial media. The lesson from phones for Android tablets is: don’t go head to head with the Apple brand with high-priced tablets, as Google did at first. Instead, focus on very good hardware at a lower price, build up the content ecosystem, and make it available to these lower priced tablets. Then, when a hardware brand emerges that can challenge Apple, Google can engage at the top of the market. Is this part of the strategy for the Moto acquisition? It will be interesting to watch.

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