Mobile browsing stats: why do iOS users surf more than Android users?

If Android smartphones and now tablets (as of 2013) outsell iOS devices so convincingly worldwide, why do iOS devices command such a substantial share of mobile browsing in Western markets such the US? This blog post examines why this happens today and whether this will continue to be the case in the future, and what it all means for your mobile strategy.

Mobile Websites see visits from an awe-inspiring number of different mobile devices. US sites were visited by 3,133 different models of Web-enabled device, while UK sites were visited by 1,255; India 1,918; China 1,387; Russia 1111; Brazil 741 – that’s according to dotMobi’s Device Data Explorer, which analyses data from billions of visits to goMobi mobile sites. (Check this tool out – you can search on anything from device screen size to support for html audio… and it’s free). But despite this huge smorgasbord of mobile Web-enabled devices, it is striking how many pageviews come from Apple devices in some countries.

Please note: worldwide Android pageviews outnumber iOS pageviews. StatCounter (March 2014) attributes 43.5 percent of pageviews to Android smartphones/tablets and 33.2 percent iOS smartphones/tablets. In fact, you’d expect the Android share to be much higher considering that Android accounted for 78.4 percent of smartphones Gartner, February 2014) and 61.9 percent of tablets Gartner, March 2014) sold in 2013.

Many countries conform to this global picture of Android devices delivering more page views, such as China, India, South Korea, Germany and Spain. But the dotMobi (March 2014) research indicates that in many of the more developed mobile markets, such as the USA, UK, Japan, Canada, Australia and Sweden, iOS devices, i.e. the iPhone and iPad, still clock considerably more pageviews than Android or any other device. When you cross-reference these stats with StatCounter, an independent source, the results show a similar pattern.

To analyze this, let’s concentrate on the US, which is the largest of the countries where iOS delivers the majority of pageviews and Apple’s home market. Here dotMobi research indicates that iOS accounts for an incredible 62 percent of pageviews across goMobi Websites. That breaks down to 21.7 percent of pageviews from iPad and 39.5 percent from iPhone. Cross-referencing with StatCounter suggests this is no anomaly, as it, too, finds that a similar proportion, 60.1 percent of pageviews to US sites (using its analytics tools), come from iOS. Notably, if you remove tablets iOS share of pageviews drops to 53 percent, which demonstrates the impact of tablets on iOS share.

So why is the iOS share of page views so high in the US? Are there are more iOS users than Android in the US?

To answer this most accurately you need stats for market penetration i.e. the number of people who use a particular type of device.

ComScore (February 2014) estimates 156 million people in the US – roughly half the population – own a smartphone and 82 million – roughly a quarter of the population – own a tablet. For US smartphones, Android accounts for 52 percent compared with Apple’s 41 percent, according to ComScore.

For US tablets, market penetration is a bit of a mystery, unfortunately. However, bearing in mind that prior to 2013, iOS was the tablet market leader worldwide, it is probable that iOS retains a healthy market penetration for tablets in the US – though it is improbable that iPad’s share could be sufficiently huge to overturn Android’s leadership in the larger smartphone market.

So for the US, the answer, based on ComScores statistics, is (almost certainly): No. It is very unlikely that iOS users outnumber Android users in the US. This means iOS users simply must browse more than Android users. Why is this? There are four possible reasons:
• The contract;
• The device;
• The connection;
• The user.

1) The impact of the data contract on mobile browsing

From the outset, iOS devices have always tended to come with contracts at the pricier end of the scale, which include generous data allowances that encourage extensive Internet surfing. If it’s there and you’re paying for it, you will use it. It is feasible the data allowance is down to the initiative of the mobile networks, but more likely to be due to demands of the manufacturer. By contrast there is an array of Android devices at all price points with a variety of contracts to match all pockets, some with generous, some very limited data plans… and this influences how much Android users surf. Many feature phones (non-smartphones) can also browse the mobile Web, but rarely come with much of data allowance, which discourages surfing.

2) The capability of the device

Part of this is the ability of the device. High-spec Android devices should compete with iOS devices for a pleasurable mobile Web experience, but you’d expect low-end Android devices to deliver a lesser experience… or why would anyone buy the expensive devices?
Then there’s the type of device. Research suggests that the larger the size of the screen, the more people surf. Adobe (March 2013) found that in some countries, including the US, UK, Canada, France and Germany, mobile sites see more visits from tablets, including Apple’s iPad, than smartphones – despite smartphone penetration being considerably higher than tablets.
Clearly these results are influenced by the number of Websites that still do not deliver a good experience for smaller screens, but even for mobile-friendly sites, e.g. those using goMobi, tablet users seem to surf more than smartphone users and large-screen smartphones more than smaller and so on.
Then there’s the purpose of the device. For example, Amazon devices (which run the Android operating system) are targeted at the eReader audience, so the user can be expected to spend more time reading digital books and less time surfing the Web than an iPad user.

3) The influence of the connection on browsing

The big difference between tablets and smartphones is where they are used. The vast majority of tablets are used via a WIFI connection, two/thirds of tablets are incapable of connecting to a mobile network at all, and most are only at home. Arguably tablets aren’t any more of a mobile device than a laptop. This all influences how much tablet users surf compared to smartphone users.
ComScore (February 2013) finds that only 6 percent of tablet use in the US is over a mobile connection, which is shockingly low. This is in stark contrast to smartphones which are used over a mobile connection 58 percent of the time. Interestingly Android handsets are more likely to be used over a mobile connection (66 percent) than an iPhone (45 percent).
A survey by the Consumer Electronics Association (October 2013) suggests that only 29 percent of US tablets are 3G/4G capable, but half of the owners don’t bother to subscribe to a data plan.
Research from Google (August 2012) reinforces the image of the tablet used mostly at home as an entertainment device.
What does this mean for usage? As WIFI connections tend to be faster and more reliable than mobile connections, and there will be no issue with cost of mobile data, this all encourages more pageviews. Additionally people have more time on their hands for surfing when at home, compared to when they are out and about. So it should be expected that tablet computers, such as Apple’s iPad, will clock up a higher proportion of pageviews than would be expected from the sales figures.

4) The type of user

Some people just like surfing the Web more than others – some browse to kill time, others browse only when they have a specific need. The question is: are the more prolific surfers more inclined to purchase an iOS device, or does having an iOS device encourage people to browse the Web more; and how much of this has to do with the package – i.e. data allowance – rather than the device itself. What came first: the chicken or the egg?

Implications and conclusions

So should you change your mobile strategy to focus exclusively on iOS users because they surf more? As always, the answer is: No.

It’s very easy to jump to the wrong conclusion with pageviews: page impressions neither indicate device market share, nor who is likely to be a more valuable customer, nor latent demand for a native app.
All mobile users should be treated with equal importance, whether they browse a little or a lot. There are many reasons why mobile users might visit with more or less frequency, including their data contract, location and context. If your site is attracting a disproportionate number of visitors of one type, ask: why? Then ask what you can do to make your site more tempting to those less frequent visitors.
Knowing what device your visitor is using is very useful, as you can tailor the Web experience to suit their device – e.g. make it fit the screen better, allow for touch interaction or to enable functions such as click-to-call or click-to-find-on-a-map; or make assumptions about their situation – e.g. a tablet user is likely to be sat around at home, while a mobile phone user is more likely to be out-and-about (arguably more likely to visit your physical premises) – and requirements. But it should never be used to justify prioritizing one set of customers over another, simply because they prefer one type of handset.
Expect browsing figures to change as data-inclusive contracts become the norm, whatever the handset; and as sales of Android tablets start to influence market share even in developed markets.
However with 3133 different types of devices visiting US mobile sites, focusing on one or two devices is counterintuitive.

Two questions to ponder:

1) Is a device that is predominantly used via a WIFI connection (as the majority of tablets appear to be) any more of a mobile device than a laptop computer?
2) Is a smartphone really a smartphone if it doesn’t have a data contract and or is predominantly used for voice, text, email, taking pictures etc (i.e. all the things you can do just as easily with a midrange feature phone)?

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