November 6, 2012, 4:32 PM

Don’t be misled by smartphone market share numbers

Android may be tops, but iPhone users are the ones shopping.

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Web and mobile measurement firm comScore Inc. has released its latest smartphone market share numbers and they tell a now-familiar tale: It’s a two-horse race with Google Inc.’s Android way out in front and Apple Inc.’s iPhone a solid second.

In September 2012, 52.5% of smartphones in use ran the Android mobile operating system, up 0.9 percentage points from 51.6% in June 2012, comScore finds. The iPhone was at 34.3%, up 1.9 percentage points from 32.3%. Research in Motion’s BlackBerry continues its death spiral. The once-dominant smartphone player had only 8.4% of the market in September, down 2.3 percentage points from 10.7% in June. Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Phone remains an also-ran at 3.6%, down 0.2 percentage points from 3.8%. And the once moderately popular Symbian is almost nonexistent at 0.6%, down 0.3 percentage points from 0.9%. Other minor operating systems account for the remaining percentages for both time periods.

A glance at these numbers might seem to indicate that Android is where a retailer should be focusing its mobile commerce efforts. But that’s not the case—it’s the iPhone user who is the apple of a retailer’s eye, many retailers and experts say. A retailer need go no further than its web logs to see the real story.

Take the University Co-op Society, which sells University of Texas merchandise via stores, the web, an m-commerce site, an iPhone app and an Android app. When it comes to m-commerce, Apple rules.

“IPhone app sales are about 25% of our total mobile business and Android app sales are less than 10%,” says Brian Jewell, vice president of marketing. “That leaves a big chunk of sales that come directly from the mobile site. People entering our address directly or coming to us via a search engine or also possibly clicking through from an e-mail blast.”

And on the mobile site, Apple dominates. Today, 50% of mobile traffic to the University Co-op Society’s web site stems from iPhones, 25% from iPads, 20% from Android devices and 5% from devices running other mobile operating systems.

Retailers of all stripes tell similar stories, which is why retailers building mobile apps invariably have started with an iPhone app. Android is an afterthought.

One reason for this trend is the higher cost of the iPhone, which correlates with owners who are more affluent. Consumers shell out $199 for a new iPhone. Android devices are on the whole much less expensive, and sometimes come bundled for free with wireless contracts. Many retailers say iPhone users spend more, and more often.

“Android users do not buy. IPhone users buy,” says David Sasson, president and founder of overstockArt.com.

The latest release from comScore’s MobiLens data also shows how mobile phone owners are using their devices. 75.5% of mobile phone owners (not just smartphone owners) sent text messages in September 2012, up 0.5 percentage points from 75.0% in June 2012, comScore finds. 54.0% used downloaded mobile apps, up 2.6 percentage points from 51.4%. 52.6% used a mobile web browser, up 2.4 percentage points from 50.2%. 39.0% accessed a social network or blog, up 2.1 percentage points from 36.9%. 34.4% played games, up 1.0 percentage point from 33.4%. And 28.6% listened to music, up 1.0 percentage point from 27.6%.

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