The Android-iOS Data Disparity

It's one of the biggest mysteries in wireless these days: More people worldwide own Android smartphones and tablets, yet iOS devices often drive the lion's share of Web traffic from handheld devices.

For example, during the first five weeks of 2013, iOS devices drove almost 7 percent of all traffic on non-cellular networks -- while Android accounted for 2 percent. That’s according to Akamai’s IO portal, which tracks usage across a variety of browser types. Another company, Net Applications, says iOS devices drove about 60 percent of mobile traffic each month over the past year.

These kinds of differences aren’t academic. Instead, they’re things that developers should keep an eye on because they affect the market for their apps. The catch is that the differences melt away or flip-flop depending on factors such as network type and device type.

For example, the disparity reverses when the devices are connected to cellular rather than WiFi. In that case, Android accounted for 23 percent of traffic, compared to 20 percent for iOS, Akamai found. iOS leads on WiFi because of  the iPad, whose owners typically forgo the cellular option.

“Out of that 7 percent of overall traffic that iOS accounted for on non-cellular networks, 4.2 percent was iPad,” says Guy Podjarny, CTO of Akamai’s Web Experience business unit. “It’s the iPad that tips the balance when you talk about browser market share, but it has a very small foothold in cellular traffic.” You can read more about data disparities here.


Behind the Numbers of iOS vs. Android Data Usage
There’s no shortage of theories about why these differences exist. For example, some thing that vendor and operator pricing encourages people who are replacing their feature phone to buy an Android device even though they have little interest in more than voice and text. If that’s correct, then the addressable market for Android apps isn’t as large as it seems.

A related issue is that unless an operator is subsidizing the heck out of an Android smartphone, a low price often indicates mediocre hardware capabilities. That too can affect whether owners of those devices are a good fit for apps that work best when the phone has a powerful processor and lots of memory.

“While top-range Android devices are on par -- and in several cases higher spec -- than iPhones, there is a large amount of Android devices that are much lower spec, providing a sub-par user experience that could also affect user engagement,” says Andreas Pappas, senior analyst at VisionMobile.

The relationship between OS choices and audience engagement level also plays out overseas, but for other reasons. “Android is popular in countries where mobile broadband and even fixed broadband has low penetration (e.g., China),” Pappas says. “In these markets, access to the Internet via mobile devices can be much lower than in the U.S., preventing users from engaging with online services.” 

In any part of the world, demographics can be an even bigger factor. “It is most likely that the same demographic group will have similar levels of engagement on either platform,” Pappas says. “So if you take 100 iPhone users and 100 Android users among, say, users that are industry analysts, you will probably observe, more or less, the same engagement pattern.”

That’s an example of why it can be more important to focus on the target demographic’s attributes rather than fixating on whether developing a native Android or iOS app is the best way to reach as many potential customers as possible.

“I don’t think the usage gap justifies [targeting] one over the other,” Podjarny says. “I would look at statistics around conversion percentages, how likely are iOS users to pay for something or click on an ad versus Android users, or is one platform more dramatically popular than another within your target audience.”



Change Is the Only Constant
A mobile operating system’s market share, brand perception and app usage can change dramatically in just a year. Think back to the fall of BlackBerry and the rise of Android. So if you’re going to use information on data usage to decide, for example, which OS to develop for first, look for numbers that are no more than a couple of quarters old.

“Android is making inroads both in developed and developing markets and is no longer considered the cheaper/alternative platform," Pappas says. “Android devices have come a long way and they offer features that are not available on the iPhone (e.g., NFC), making them the preferred choice for a lot of tech-savvy people.”

What’s more, “data usage on Android is likely to approach the levels of iPhone usage as they are increasingly being adopted by data-hungry users,” Pappas continues. “User engagement on low-cost Android devices (feature phone replacements) is likely to rise as users get up to speed with apps and better understand the use cases enabled via smartphones.”  

Mozilla’s Mobile Gambit with Firefox OS

The first phones running Mozilla’s Firefox OS are expected to hit the market this year, giving developers another platform in the mobile space.

Firefox OS is a mobile operating system that lets developers create all of a phone’s capabilities as HTML5 applications. In January, Mozilla announced developer preview phones, created by Geeksphone, based in Spain, in conjunction with Spanish telecom firm Telefonica.

In a consumer thrust, the first commercially available phones using Firefox OS are expected to roll out in Brazil early this year. That venture involves device maker TCL Communication Technology and Telefonica. Chinese smartphone maker ZTE, meanwhile, disclosed plans to launch a Firefox OS-based phone in Europe this year. The company told Bloomberg that a U.S. debut is also possible in 2013.

Firefox OS joins entrenched mobile OS players Apple and Google and challengers such as Microsoft. It also competes with other mobiles OSs emphasizing web standards. Those include Tizen, an OS that counts Intel and Samsung among its backers, and Jolla’s Sailfish. [Disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this content.]

How Firefox OS Fits in the Industry
Industry watchers say Mozilla will make its mobile presence known primarily as an open-standards advocate as opposed to a major smartphone platform player. Aapo Markkanen, lead analyst for mobile apps and software at market watcher ABI Research Inc., believes people generally misunderstand Mozilla when they compare Firefox OS’s proposition on a like-for-like basis with other OSs.

“Mozilla is a not-for-profit player, so I would argue that its primary objective is not to take over the mainstream smartphone market,” Markkanen says. “Rather, it’s to act as a key driver for a more open -- less walled -- development landscape.” Markkanen adds that he would chalk it up as a win for Mozilla if Firefox OS prompts competing OS vendors to start adopting web APIs more aggressively.

“It’s early and there’s a lot to still discover about what its goals and impact will be,” says Tim Hoechst, chief technology officer of Agilex, a mobile app solutions provider based in Chantilly, Va. “It feels to me less like a viable new platform for commercial mobile devices and more of a reference architecture for developers to be able to drive web standards more rapidly.”

Like Markkanen, Hoechst also points to Firefox OS as a potential industry influencer. “If we say there is a reference architecture that is the latest and greatest and even the bleeding edge of what those mobile standards will be for...truly portable web applications, it will act as a forcing function for those commercially viable OS platforms to keep up with the standards,” Hoechst explains.

Firefox OS: Who’s Buying?
Industry watchers anticipate Firefox OS phone activities to initially focus on lower-end devices and emerging markets. “Aiming for the lower-end devices is the right strategy, because the performance gap versus native OSs -- and native apps -- won’t be that substantial,” Markkanen says. “Emerging markets are an obvious priority, given the price points.

A Telefonica executive last year was quoted saying the Firefox OS handsets in Brazil will cost less than $100. “Latin America is probably the most important region, at least for the time being, with Telefonica being the most active carrier partner thus far,” Markkanen says.

That said, Hoechst notes that Firefox OS might be better off as an exemplar of openness rather than a platform. Mozilla describes Firefox OS as existing free of the “walled garden” in which other mobile OSs find themselves. But he adds that Apple and Google needed to put up their walls to secure their products and make them work with various OEM platforms.

Firefox OS may eventually need its own walls to prove commercially viable, Hoechst suggests. “It would be cooler if...this was a pure implementation of what an HTML5-based OS should support, instead of a new mobile phone platform.”

Photo: Mozzilla Press Center

Upcoming Devices from CES

Last month’s 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show let consumers and enterprises glimpse the shape of the future hardware market.

Make that shapes. The variations on display included small tablets rivaling Apple’s iPad Mini, Windows 8-based tablets, enormous tablets exceeding the screen real estate of most notebooks, and large-display smartphones that edge into the tablet territory. The show also pointed to the future direction of Ultrabooks and underscored speech recognition as an increasingly prominent feature for a range of hardware types.

Hardware Options

In the tablet space, a number of products debuted with 7- or 8-inch displays and prices below the $329 iPad Mini. Another trend: the arrival of new Windows 8 tablets. Acer’s Iconia W510 and Asus VivoTab, both present at CES, come with 10.1 and 11.6 screen, respectively, and both have keyboard docks.

At the other end of the tablet spectrum, Lenovo introduced its, well, brobdingnagian IdeaCentre Horizon, a 27-inch tablet. Lenovo describes the device, which uses Windows 8 touch capabilities, as a table PC. The company says the IdeaCentre Horizon will support “touch screen game-play among several players” but can also serve as a desktop PC.

The hardware options shown at CES also included convertibles, devices that can shift from one form factor to another. One example: Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga 11S, a Windows 8 convertible that users can operate like a laptop and then flip the screen and deploy as a 11.6-inch tablet.

The “phablet” form factor, a smartphone/tablet hybrid, also grabbed some attention at the show. Lenovo, for instance, announced the K900, a smartphone with a 5.5-inch screen, which employs Intel’s Atom processor. [Disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this content.]

The Ultrabook category -- the subject of numerous product announcements during CES 2012 -- continued to have a presence at this year’s show. Convertibles such as Dell’s XPS 12 and the touch screen-based HP Envy TouchSmart were among the Ultrabook products on the floor.

What Developers Need to Know

The range of form factors is an important consideration for developers targeting mobile devices. But from the user perspective, size and weight aren’t the only importnat variables. For enterprise customers, in particular, the form factor becomes an issue only after other requirements are met, says David Berg, vice president of product strategy at Shunra Software, which provides network virtualization solutions for testing mobile apps and other software.

“Essentially, [employees] want to be able to do their jobs with as few impediments as possible,” Berg says.

The critical components for accomplishing that objective boil down to enterprise connectivity -- the ability to remotely tap corporate IT assets in a secure fashion -- and the ability to both create and consume content, according to Berg. After customers feel they have addressed those two items, they will then think about a smaller and more efficient form factor, he adds.

Mobile Plans

Companies such as Intel, meanwhile, outlined their plans for the mobile market at CES. The company’s rollout includes a smartphone platform, based on the Atom processor, for emerging markets. Safaricom Ltd., a communications provider in Kenya, recently announced Yolo, a smartphone based on Intel’s platform.

Intel also discussed its “North Cape” specification, an Ultrabook detachable reference design. The design calls for an Ultrabook form factor that can convert into a 10mm tablet. Intel launched the Ultrabook-branded device market in mid 2011. The new Ultrabooks will employ the company’s 4th generation Intel Core processor line, formerly known as Haswell.

In another glance at the future, Intel suggested that more Ultrabooks and all-in-one systems will begin to offer applications for voice control, citing Dragon Assistant. The voice assistant application was launched in September and stems from collaborative work between Intel and Nuance Communications.

Nuance, for its part, provided a look at its Wintermute technology at CES. The company, which provides voice recognition technology for personal assistant applications, describes Wintermute as a cross-device persona project.

The Femtocell Market: Big or Small?

Femtocells are cellular base stations roughly the size of a Wi-Fi router. Their diminutive size belies the market opportunity for apps that use femtos to enable services that otherwise would be difficult or impossible with other technologies.

Mobile operators such as AT&T and Sprint have spent the past couple of years offering femtocells to consumers and enterprises as a way to improve coverage, capacity and performance around a home or office. Part of the “small cell” category, femtos complement big, outdoor sites known as “macrocells.” Many mobile operators, analysts and vendors believe that small cells will be key for delivering the multi-megabit speeds that customers expect from 4G/LTE while reducing traffic loads on the outdoor sites.

But femtos also can facilitate moblie apps, particularly those that provide location-based services. One example is a child-location service: When a latchkey kid steps inside her home, her cell phone automatically switches its connection from the macrocell to the femtocell. That change triggers a text message to her parent that she’s home.

Why wouldn’t an app just use a traditional location technology such as GPS to facilitate that service? One reason is because a femto can be tuned to cover an area much smaller than GPS can pinpoint. That granularity is a potential market differentiator versus GPS-based child-locator apps.

“If we were relying on location-based services and an accuracy of plus or minus X meters, it might send the SMS when the user is still outside the house,” says Malek Shahid, joint chairman of the LTE SIG of the Small Cell Forum. “Small-cells-based apps can cater to legacy UEs [and feature phones], as well as for smartphones with GPS enabled. Another major drawback of GPS-based services is that GPS might not function as well inside building."

Femtocells are Nascent and Niche -- for Now

The market opportunity for femto apps depends partly on the installed base of femtos. Currently there are more than 6 million femtos and other small cells installed worldwide. Although that’s already more than the number of macrocells, collectively it’s still a tiny addressable market because each small cell serves only a handful of potential mobile app customers.

That will change as small cell deployments continue to mushroom, according to analyst predictions. In the meantime, finding the market opportunities for app development means focusing on what specific operators are doing.

“What the developers want to see is individual operators with large volumes,” says Andy Germano, Small Cell Forum vice chairman. “Sprint, for example, has more than 1 million deployed. That’s a pretty good-sized market for an app. AT&T is estimated to have over 600,000. Vodafone has hundreds of thousands.”

The Small Cell Forum is creating APIs that help app developers create femto apps. There are multiple options for implementing a femto app, and they don’t all require a smartphone. For example, virtually every smartphone and feature phone sold over the past five years supports SMS. So in the case of the child-locator example, one way to cater to all phones is to have the message sent from the cloud rather than relying on an app on the device to trigger that.

“These are all Web-based REST APIs that application logic would consume,” says Tom Lismer, vice chair of the forum’s services group. “This logic could easily reside on smartphones, cloud-based servers or any other client that can send and receive HTTP requests with JSON payloads.”

The forum also offers a portal -- -- where app developers can access an emulator for testing femto apps virtually instead of buying the necessary hardware and software. That’s because the forum wants to seed the market now so that when the installed base of femtos tips into mass-market adoption, app developers will already have the experience necessary to start cranking out apps. Currently there’s a limited selection.

“I’d say maybe half a dozen to a dozen commercial apps today,” Germano says. “We’re at the early stage of the market where what we’ll see is a little more mobile operator involvement in new small-cell-based applications. Some of these applications will be unique to specific operators or for specific enterprise customers.”

For now, the scarcity of femto apps could be a way for a developer to make its app stand out in a crowded category, such as by presence-enabling a popular social networking service that already has dozens or hundreds of coattail apps. Operators, meanwhile, could use femto apps to create additional revenue-generating services.

“Almost all [operators] that have launched femtocell services -- including most of the 10 largest mobile operators in the world -- are interested in such applications,” says Richard Webb, an Infonetics Research directing analyst who tracks the femto market.

“Femtocells give those operators [opportunities] to deliver a ‘home network’ product, which had previously been the domain of DSL/cable broadband providers selling a fixed-line service with a Wi-Fi router so that multiple users in a home can share that connection. A femtocell offers mobile operators an opportunity to go further. It can provide a small group of users -- in a home, in a shared apartment, student house, small business, etcetera -- with a shared mobile broadband connection but with added applications, making it potentially far more interesting than the ‘plain vanilla’ data of Wi-Fi in the home, for example.”

Windows 8 for Ultrabook Devices and Beyond

As the installed base of Windows 8 devices grows, so does the opportunity for mobile developers to target a wide range of users and device types, including users of Windows 8 Ultrabook devices. In fact, Windows 8 makes it relatively fast and cost-effective to code once and run many -- meaning a big pool of potential customers.

“If [developers] build for the store, they have to recompile for each processor and put in flexibility for screen sizes, but they don’t have to recode,” says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. “Assuming they follow the guidelines, it is a couple hours recompiling and testing for each platform, much of it automated. Much easier than with anything else. Developers love this platform.”  

Netflix was one of the first companies to offer a Windows 8 app. “We reuse a significant amount of C# code among our Windows 8, Windows Phone, Silverlight and Xbox apps,” says Joris Evers, corporate communications director. 

The ability to reuse code means developers can also leverage their existing skills for Windows 8 even though it provides a host of new features. “The tools offer Windows 7 developers familiar ramp-up to the platform, but Windows 8 offers HTML and Java Script developers [opportunities] to develop for the platform as well,” says Russ Whitman, Ratio Interactive’s chief strategy officer.

“These devs will be new to the tool set but will find there are a number of great online resources to ramp up on the tools,” Whitman continues. “They will find the platform supports their skill sets extremely well. We have turned several Web developers into Windows 8 app devs quickly.”

Windows 8 and Ultrabook: The Perfect Match?
On the Ultrabook platform, Windows 8 enables features and user experiences that are difficult or impossible for developers to create on Windows 7 Ultrabook devices. Enderle singles out four Windows 8 features that work particularly well with Ultrabook devices:

  • Fast boot, suspend and resume. That speed can increase productivity for mobile workers, says Enderle. “Improved load time is a big benefit we see,” agrees Whitman agrees. “It allows us to create highly complex experiences that are performant and offer users instant experiences.”
  • Wireless convenience. “[Windows 8] is both fast and easy to use with wireless networks, far easier than Windows 7 was, and this class of product is intended to be mobile,” Enderle says. 
  • Integration with Windows Store. “[Windows 8] uses the Windows App store by default, which, much like it is with a tablet, allows users to quickly get the applications they need for work or entertainment,” Enderle says. “Given these users by nature are more mobile, being able to get access to this stuff on the road is very compelling.”  
  • Integration with Microsoft’s SkyDrive. “SkyDrive links the user’s PCs, phones and tablets, allowing the user to switch devices quickly and still have access to their personal content, be it work, product or entertainment,” Enderle says. “This is a platform designed to optimize the highly mobile worker, and it dovetails nicely with the Ultrabook, a product class with similar design elements.” 

Windows 8 Ultrabook Devices: Additional Features
The UI options of Windows 8 are another draw. “The introduction of touch fundamentally creates opportunities to create more compelling user experiences,” Whitman says.

Speech control is another example of how the Ultrabook platform is enabling new ways for users to interact with their devices. This fall, some Ultrabook devices began shipping with Nuance’s Dragon Assistant Beta, which will run natively on the device. (By comparison, iPhone’s Siri uses the cloud.)

“With the recently announced Intel SDK, developers will have the ability to include speech recognition technology using Dragon’s API into applications for the Ultrabook,” says Mark Geremia, Nuance senior director for Dragon marketing. “We will have more to share on speech as it relates to Ultrabooks in the coming year.” [Disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this content.]

That’s also another example of how developers can leverage their mobile expertise -- such as creating a great touch-driven GUI or speech-controlled app -- in the Ultrabook environment, where touch and speech input will be common. It’s a new world, but also a familiar one.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons