Is Android really the winner in the mobile market?

So Apple reports its record sales figures for the last quarter and its stocks tumble while all the tech junkies and analysts shift their attention to the next king on the consumer electronics block - Samsung. This is even more interesting in the light of the fact that Samsung does not release its quarterly sales figures, only the number of shipped items.

So, on what merit can Samsung be put on the tech throne?

Lets challenge the usual data collectors such as IDC whose recently published data suggest that Apple's tablet market share had fallen to only 43%, behind that of Google's Android. However, an surge in mobile web usage by iOS devices, matched by an even greater decline in Android web traffic since November, is calling into question figures from IDC that reported an apparent, significant slippage by Apple in global tablet market share.

As noted in a report by Fortune, web statistics by Net Applications indicate that iOS users have actually increased their web presence since November 2012, after the release of the iPhone 5 and iPad mini. In contrast, Android's collective representation on the web has declined significantly by 13 percent since hitting a peak of 28 percent of mobile web traffic; for January, the figure is now at 24.5 percent. In contrast, Apple's iOS represents more than 60 percent of mobile web traffic.

Given that web browsing is a primary function of smartphone devices, how it is that Android, repeatedly lauded by its fans to have an edge in both sales and the installed base of users and devices, has only 40 percent of global mobile web usage of iOS?

The truth may lie in the fact that the likes of IDC aren't tracking tablet sales but are compiling estimated shipments of devices. Outside of Apple, few tablet manufacturers are reporting their actual sales or even their overall shipments. The real issue isn't the accuracy of IDC's estimations; it's the legitimacy of conflating shipments with sales.

This winter, Microsoft reportedly shipped 1.25 million Surface RT units however the sales "were significantly lower, maybe on the order of 55 to 60 percent of that figure," Rhoda Alexander of IHS told CNET. That comes out to real sales of "roughly 680,000 and 750,000." On top of that, Alexander noted that "return rates were high" which just proves that people have not warmed to either Windows Phone 8 or Windows 8.

As have already noted most data trackers count all shipped items (including the ones which are sitting on the shelves of stockrooms around the globe) as being in the market which basically drives Apple's share down. There are some indications that Microsoft shipped only 900,000 Surface RT tablets in the quarter, or about three quarters as much as iSuppli estimated. If iSuppli's sell through rates are correct, that would mean Microsoft may actually have sold fewer than 500,000 units in the quarter, even before considering return rates. So there's a vast discrepancy between reported shipments and what is actually selling and being used by consumers.

This type of reporting market share by inventory shipments is not only misleading, but borderline illegal. Claiming a huge chunk of market share plays into the hands of OEMs but is greatly dishonest towards the consumer because it creates an illusion about the popularity of a certain product or operating system which in reality is not. 

Samsung similarly created a big ripple in tablet market share at the end of 2010 when it dumped millions of Android 2.2 tablets into the channel, very few of which were actually sold (as was later revealed in confidential sales reports in the Apple v. Samsung trial which showed only 38.000 Samsung units sold). Despite this, it was reported at the time to have taken significant "market share" from Apple, "gains" that were similarly not reflected in web usage (or app sales) because they were not real.  In the most recent winter quarter, Apple reported selling 22.9 million iPads, amounting to 1.7 million iPads per week, up from 1.1 million per week in last year's winter quarter.

It is a shame that companies who cannot cut it in the competitive market would retort to this kind of truth bending, or at the very least, tolerate the wrong data publishing in order to create a true demand for their products. However, I believe that in the end the consumer will win because as the old adage says "once bitten, twice shy".


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