Smartphone market share surveys from IDC and Kantar have shown for a long time that the Android phone volume surge is leaving the iPhone in the dust in major growth markets from Brazil to India. But one thing that Apple has had on its side has been the propensity of iPhone owners to consume far more content than Android phone owners. One argument has been that it does not matter if iPhone has a 5% share vs. Android’s 40% share if Apple (AAPL) still dominates in app revenue generation and browsing volume. Content is king. Another argument is that it does not matter who moves the most units, since only hardware margins count. Here Apple reigns supreme.
In the long run it’s difficult to say whether selling smartphones at extremely high margins is more important than dominating mobile content. As consumers keep shifting their precious entertainment consumption minutes to smartphones from television, print media and video games, the value of owning the mobile browsing and mobile application markets increases. Samsung (005930) is playing the deep game of flooding the world market with hundreds of millions of Android phones, most of them cheap, some of them very expensive. The goal is to blanket the globe with Samsung devices and bet that the content consumption of Android devices can catch up with Apple in aggregate.
That is why it’s interesting to see how different research houses started to detect clear signs of Android surge in content consumption in 2012. According to AppAnnie, Google Play showed 48% download growth over the summer, while iOS download volume ticked up by just 3%. In South Korea, Google Play moved ahead of iOS in app revenue generation.
And StatCounter numbers on mobile browser usage seem to be pointing to the same direction. A year ago, Android phones had 17% mobile browsing market share in the Philippines vs. iPhone’s 12%. In January 2013 that lead had grown to 27% vs. 14%. This was the first month when Android took the browsing share lead from Opera in the Philippines. As feature phones fade, Android is grabbing their share of mobile page views.
In Brazil, Android’s mobile browser share has vaulted to 38% from 19% in a year. The iPhone still has a respectable 11% share, which is maybe five times higher than iPhone’s slice of smartphone shipments in Brazil. But that outperformance is no longer enough to keep up with the avalanche of Android phones that are now a prime vehicle for mobile content consumption for Brazil’s middle classes.
In Germany, Europe’s leading mobile market, Android has just pulled into a dramatic 51% vs. 31% lead in page views. In Russia, Android has opened a 25% vs. 18% lead in just the past five months. In affluent Japan, iPhone is leading Android by just 48% v. 44%.
Apple is still punching way above its unit volume class when it comes to grabbing consumers who use the smartphone most frequently for content consumption purposes. But the Google (GOOG)-Samsung strategy of swamping the market with cheap smartphones is working. Android’s lead in mobile browsing is growing at an accelerating rate in many major markets. The new wave of sub-$150 smartphones from Samsung, Huawei and ZTE is shooing consumers across the globe under Google’s mobile content umbrella. These consumers will shape the future of mapping, shopping, localized news and other mobile content industries.
One of these days Apple must choose between the goals of dominating mobile content and maintaining sky-high phone operating margins. The blended iPhone ASP of $620 is not compatible with competing against the Android Armada in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and perhaps not even in Germany or Spain.