Friday, October 2, 2009

iPhone, Android ride the rising tide

The latest AdMob statistics show that the iPhone share of global mobile web browsing has risen from 33 to 40%. Interestingly, its share in Western Europe (67%) and Oceana is higher than in North America (52%).

By eyeballing it, the iPhone’s impact is diluted due an impressive 13% share here for Android. (Android is only 6% in Western Europe). Since February, Android has jumped from 2% to 7% worldwide, in part due to the new HTC myTouch (Magic).

Palm’s webOS jumped from 0 to 4% in the same period, or 9% in North America, which suggests that North America is 45% of the sample.

GigaOM and others have analyzed the data. Here’s a few points I haven’t seen.

First, market share data doesn’t capture the effect of growing the market. Windows, Symbian and RIM have lost share, but I don’t think this means fewer Blackberry owners are surfing the web. The AdMob data said that mobile web page requests grew 9% from July to August, translating to a 180% annualized growth rate.

After many years of hopes and predictions, the mobile Internet is growing rapidly, and that growth is coming from the most exciting devices — the various incarnations of the iPhone, and the more recent (and more limited) Android and webOS choices. As others have noted, the latter two platforms seem to have lots of potential for growth.

This reinforces the point that Mike Mace and I made two years ago — that the iPhone found a way to deliver the mobile web that everyone was waiting for). Apple got their first, by recognizing the failings of early offerings (see: WAP). By the way, this cements the dominance of WebKit — these three hot platforms are all WebKit, and when you add in Symbian (mostly WebKit S60), that’s 85% of all mobile web browsing in this samle.

The data are somewhat distorted by the fact that these three growing platforms are being sold (at least in the US) with a bundled data plan at an additional $40-50/month — while it’s still possible to buy a Nokia or Windows Mobile (or Treo) smartphone without such a data bundle. There is a selection effect: the only people who buy these devices are those who expect to use the Internet enough to make that cost worthwhile.

The US carriers will eventually run out of people who want to permanently increase their phone bills $600 a month, so they will either have to loosen up on tethering (allowing 20-somethings to cancel their cable or DSL), cut their prices, or expect a cap in the growth of their growth in 3G data usage.

In fact, one place where Android (so far) is not playing is the PDA market. The iPod Touch is about 40% of the total iPhone OS market share, and while they’re not being used to surf the web out in the national parks, they can be used to surf the web at home, work, a college campus or public library. The Zune HD has won good reviews — will this bring up the share of Windows Mobile more than any phone?

Finally, what is the future of Flash for the mobile web? Apple remains adamantly opposed, even if most of its rivals (save RIM) have embraced Adobe’s ubiquitous multimedia platform.

Personally, I’m hoping Apple wins this fight. At least as implemented by Adobe and used by web designers, Flash is an abomination — the single worst thing about the Internet. A computer, web browser and cable modem that would otherwise zip through the web suddenly grind to a halt because of some idiot’s self-centered effort to create catchy graphics in a futile hope of distinguishing their website. Phones have even slower connections and processors, so the last thing we need is to waste that limited bandwidth on websites that benefit the website owner rather than the web visitor.

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