Polite Questions for a Popular Headline
People in the tech world are a-talking, and the words on their lips are straight from a hot headline: WHOA: Google Android Outsells Apple iPhone in US. Like a lot of people, my first thought was that this took a lot less time than I would have thought.
There’s no doubt that mobile is shaping up as a two-horse race between Android and iPhoneOS while RIM dithers in front of a mirror trying to figure out what it wants to be. But figuring out just where each horse is on the track requires a depth of reporting that the tech press isn’t inclined to provide. To help them out, here are a few simple questions about the Android vs. iPhone numbers:
Can we compare on a single provider?
iPhone currently sells only on AT&T, while Android has been picked up by HTC, LG, Motorola and others. It would be useful to see sales of Android devices against iPhone just on AT&T.
Can we compare on equivalent hardware subsidies?
Where the iPhone sells with a subsidy that takes its price range from $99 to $299, Android devices often have very deep subsidies like two-for-one sales or handsets going for a cool $0 with a contract. Comparing iPhone and Android devices with the same percentage of hardware subsidy might be useful.
Can we settle on whether this is an OS or device race?
Tech journalists love the semantics shell game around operating systems and devices, and pinning down exactly what they mean by Android and iPhone is challenging. If we take Android as an operating system, which we should, then we need to compare sales of devices running it with sales of devices running iPhoneOS, which includes the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.
Dan Frommer hilariously contorts himself in a comment thread when challenged on this point, contending that Android vs iPhone is both an OS war, AND that the Touch and iPad must not be included in sales because they aren’t phones.
Can we compare on profitability?
We don’t really see comparisons of market vs. profit share in the Android vs. iPhone story because it puts the story back to sleep for now. Apple’s strategy has not been to own any one market, but rather to enjoy the most that it can from a manageable slice of that market. By knowing who they serve and working only for that segment, Apple takes in a lot more cake per unit sold than any of its competitors: in a 7% market share they take 35% of the operating profit (profit-operating expenses). Having a lot of customers means grinding in a lot of headaches when you make next to nothing from them.
Can we have a discussion without invoking holy wars?
That’s more of a meta question about the tech press in general, and it’s like wishing for more sunshine, but it really gets tiring to see lazy journalists fix a slow news day by stirring up instant reactions and inflammatory comments with boneheaded headlines that take one piece of information out of context and drive it to ridiculous conclusions.