Black Friday is a big deal for retailers, and looking at the trends that emerge from the biggest shopping day of the year is a pretty common, but there are lots of ways to interpret data and some are much more valid than others. So, when Fortune declares that Google’s Pixel smartphone “trounced” Apple’s iPhone over the holiday weekend, it’s important to look at the numbers.
The Google Pixel — or “Pixel, Phone by Google” as the company insists on calling it at every turn — is by most accounts a fantastic Android smartphone. It follows that a flagship device from Google would see some pretty solid demand, especially when big holiday discounts are being offered. However, Fortune‘s declaration that suggests the Pixel outperformed the iPhone is not only misleading, it’s also based on some seriously questionable data.
The key data point that’s being focused on in Fortune‘s piece — and in the blog post by Localytics, the app analytics firm that provided the statistics — is that activiations of Pixel were up 112% during Black Friday weekend when compared to the four previous weekends. The iPhone, in contrast, saw activations jump up by “just” 13% from Thanksgiving day through the following Sunday.
So I guess that’s it, right? Pixel wins, iPhone sucks, and it’s time for Tim Cook to pack his bags and admit he’s been bested.
Dropping words like “trounced” and lines like “Google Pixel is the Black Friday king” suggests that Google’s phone straight up outperformed the iPhone in sales, and that simply isn’t the case.
Analysts currently estimate iPhone sales for the current quarter, which ends on December 31st, to be around 75 million. Compare that with even the most optimistic sales projections for the Google Pixel — currently between 6 million and 9 million — and you can easily see the problem. A 112% increase in sales over any four-day period still doesn’t put the Pixel anywhere near the iPhone’s sales numbers, even without the added 13% Black Friday boost.
But there’s an even more important issue with Fortune‘s — and Localytics’ — very narrow view of the data, and that’s the implication that shoppers chose the Pixel instead of the iPhone on Black Friday.
“It’s hard to say exactly what caused the massive discrepancy in activations during the holiday weekend,” Fortune‘s Don Reisinger writes. I’m not so sure it’s actually all that hard. There are plenty of factors that easily explain the Pixel’s better-than-average sales performance over the holiday weekend.
Consider the following factors at work:
- The Pixel just launched at the end of October, and the biggest advertising push for the device didn’t start until about halfway through November.
- Samsung’s Note 7 debacle has made the Pixel XL the only true flagship Android phablet available this season.
- Verizon was knocking hundreds of dollars off the price of the Pixel in a massive Black Friday promotion, and as Localytics notes, that alone accounted for roughly half of the new device activations.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 7 had already been out for over a month longer by the time Black Friday hit, and it had sold out almost immediately. The phone initially sold better than even Apple expected, according to reports, and despite the fact that its year-over-year sales are thought to be behind that of the iPhone 6s, it’s still lapping the competition handily.
Combine all of that with the fact that Apple’s Black Friday sale was absolutely trash, and that the biggest discount you could find on an iPhone 7 during the event was $49 off — from eBay of all places — and you see why the iPhone’s week-over-week sales bump wasn’t as impressive as the Pixel’s.
So no, the Pixel didn’t “trounce” the iPhone, and when you’re not moving tens of millions of phones every month, a 112% jump isn’t nearly as difficult as it might seem. Numbers matter.