Why Android is stealing share from iOS

In the mobile context, Android opens up a world of choice that's just not available to iOS users

Hardly a week goes by without some fresh evidence of Android's growing success.

The latest example comes from research firm Quantcast, which on Friday released data showing that Google's mobile operating system stole significant market share from every other contender in August, especially Apple's iOS.

By the end of that month, Android had risen to account for 25 percent mobile Web consumption, whereas Apple's iOS had fallen to 56 percent. Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS was down to 9 percent.

The real story, of course, is in the trend lines. To get to its present spot, Android rose 2 percent in share over the course of the month, 5.5 percent over the quarter, and a full 18.6 percent over the past year. For iOS it was quite the reverse, taking the operating system down 0.3 percent in share over the month, 3.1 percent in the quarter, and a whopping 11.4 percent over the year.

In other words, Apple's loss is Android's gain. Much as iPhone fans might argue the reverse, it's also no real surprise. In fact, there are three key reasons Android is stealing iOS's thunder.

1. Choice

Choice is good; it means you can get whatever is best for your business and your users. In the mobile context, Android opens up a world of choice that's just not available to iOS users.

* In hardware: There's only one iPhone, and it's available from one vendor: Apple. That's not much of a selection from a company that encourages consumers to "think different." With Android, however, the fact that the platform is mostly open means that the door is wide open on hardware possibilities, including variations in processor, display and other form factor features. Who likes to be forced into one option? One-size-fits-all rarely fits anyone well.

* In the carrier: Even more significant, in my opinion, is the fact that Android users are not restricted to a single carrier. Even if Verizon gets added as an alternative to AT&T for the iPhone, a choice between two still can't compete with the many options available to Android users. Every major cellular carrier offers at least one Android device, so there's a good one for everyone and every business.

* In the apps: As in virtually every other aspect of its overall strategy, Apple keeps tight control over the apps that can be sold in its App Market, which means that users can buy only what Apple wants them to buy. The rapidly growing Android Market, on the other hand, offers whatever developers choose to make--which is likely a much better representation of what users want to buy, at least if the capitalist model is anything to go by. As an extra benefit, most of those apps are also free.

* In the content: Like it or not, Flash is part of as much as 80 percent of the content available on the Web. That's a non-issue for Android users, but those using iOS are not allowed to see such content. What happens when your employees need to view a Flash site from their phone? If it were me, I'd want them to be able to see it without having to jailbreak their device.

* In the experience: With all the many custom ROMs and widgets available for Android, users can make the interface and experience whatever they want it to be. Apple's iOS? Not so much. You get what Apple wants you to get.

2. Multitasking

If anyone needs to be able to multitask on their phone, it's the business user. Android allows multitasking just fine, but iOS? Not so fine--rather, even in iOS 4, it's a bit horrible. As businesses increasingly open their doors to various non-BlackBerry devices, it's no wonder Android smartphones are the more attractive choice.

3. Security

Because Apple keeps its proverbial cards so close to its chest, it is far more vulnerable to security breaches, as several notable examples have shown. Android, however, enjoys many of the security advantages of the Linux platform it's built on, owing primarily to the way privileges are assigned.

Its openness also makes security vulnerabilities more likely to be found quickly, and its involvement of the user as an intelligent participant in the process--rather than merely a consumer of the Disney-like "walled garden" experience Apple tries to present--means that fewer problems are likely to slip by. Particularly in a business context, I'd much rather keep control of security in my own hands than leave it up to Apple--or anyone else.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)
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