April 22, 2011, 11:52 AM

Sorry, Android: Apple rules, comScore shows

When comparing more than smartphones, Android is far behind.

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Web and mobile web measurement firm comScore Inc. just released numbers I’ve been wanting to see for some time. Finally, someone measured Apple Inc. iOS mobile operating system users versus Google Inc. Android mobile operating system users. Not iPhone smartphones (of which there is one) versus Android smartphones (of which there are many), but the total number of devices in use that run the two leading mobile operating systems. The results confirmed my suspicions: Apple trounced Android.

According to comScore, in the U.S. there are 37.9 million devices running Apple iOS, which include the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. That’s 59% more than the 23.8 million devices running Android.

Two factors make Apple the mobile kingpin. First, all of these other reports you’ve read about compare only smartphones in use. And this ignores the iPod Touch. This device is exactly the same as an iPhone, it just can’t make a phone call. The iPod Touch is all about wireless data, accessing the mobile web via apps and the Safari browser. And for years consumers with phone contracts with carriers that do not offer the iPhone have been picking up an iPod Touch to get all the mobile Internet functionality of an iPhone while keeping their existing phone for voice calls.

The second factor is smartphone comparisons ignore tablets on both sides of the aisle. Here, again, Apple rules the roost. In 2010, 85% of tablets in use were iPads, ABI Research says. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, which runs Android, ranked a distant second with about 8%. A handful of other tablets with paltry numbers rounded out the lot. Apple says it sold 15 million iPads in 2010, and that it is sold out and trying to keep up with demand for the iPad 2, which debuted last month.

So for all the bluster about Android, it’s Apple that you should be focusing on like a laser. When you design an app for iOS, it will run on the iPhone, the iPod Touch and the iPad (it will appear the size of an iPhone screen on an iPad screen but can be blown up to the size of an iPad screen, though losing a bit of resolution in the process). And when you optimize a site for the mobile Safari browser, you’re doing so for all iPhone and iPod Touch devices—and with a few more tweaks for all iPads. By focusing on one mobile operating system, Apple iOS, you’re reaching a potential audience of nearly 40 million people (and growing).

I think retailers should build apps and optimize sites for the Android, too. But when it comes to where to begin, there is no question that it is with Apple. Apple is the clear leader. And when it comes to numbers, make sure to understand what exactly is being compared. My Dad always used to say, “You can’t argue math.” But numbers can be deceiving.

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