The Race to a Billion

I last looked at the race to a billion in September 2010. I’ve now added a few more data points to the tracked platforms and also added points for the major console game platforms and Symbian.

The chart shows the cumulative number of users (approximated by units sold) for 11 platforms indexed to the same starting date. The horizontal axis is the number of quarters since a platform launched. Every fourth quarter is numbered so each number on the axis represents a new year. The last number on the axis represents 10 years.

The vertical axis is the cumulative number of users on a logarithmic scale. Each number of the vertical axis is 10x more users than the previous number. The top of the graph represents a billion users.

The overall chart shows how quickly a platform has grown and is bounded by a billion users and a decade of usage.

When judging the performance of a platform, the adoption slope and sustainability over time is perhaps the most interesting measure.

One can see how many platforms slow down before reaching 100 million and so far none have hit the billion mark (Windows has but not in the 10 year time frame of this chart.) Looking at game consoles also shows the limits of a narrowly focused platform. They performed better than i-Mode and Netscape but not as well as iTunes or iPod which themselves have growth limits.

If you’re looking for the “fastest growing” title, it’s a toss-up. Both iOS and Android are following almost identical trajectories.[see Notes]

The absolute highest cumulative sales total is Symbian, though now that it’s been deprecated, it’s set to be bypassed.

It does appear that Android and iOS each have the potential to reach a billion users in less than a decade. Perhaps Android will do so faster but the mobile computing platform race will not play out as the personal computing platform race did.


  1. For Android I used my own summary data for historic performance except for the last estimate and forecast which came from IMS Research.
  2. iOS forecasts are my own.
  3. Symbian data comes from VisionMobile. Forecast is based on Nokia’s 150 million additional sales prediction.
  4. Game console data is current as of end of 2010 via Wikipedia.
  5. Other data sourced from Morgan Stanley.
  • ______

    I think the chart needs to be repositioned with respect to the text. Very narrow column. Also, a boxed/tabular legend might help clear it up a bit.

    Otherwise, great update to the earlier chart. Might print it out and put it up on my office door. Should be very interesting to my colleagues.

  • Asymco_Fan

    If you are looking at platforms, could you also plot out facebook as well?

    • asymco

      I could, but these platforms have one thing in common that is different from Facebook: users had to pay something to use the platforms. (iTunes is perhaps an exception, but use is defined by the use of a Credit Card)

      The dynamics of growth for platforms where users don't have to pay to join are likely to be very different.

  • anon

    Mm… I'm not sure to understant the graph. Could you explain it a bit with a legend or something like that?


  • Jon t

    Perhaps another chart is unique credit card accounts held – perhaps iTunes will be the first to a billion too?

    • asymco

      I added a few paragraphs explaining the chart.

  • ExGoogler

    I am sorry but market research/future prediction is basically astrology. Sorry to be harsh. Neither Google nor Apple depend on much of any kind of market research. Maybe Microsoft does(guess thats the reason of their downfall)

    • asymco

      This is not market research. They may not depend on it but Google has asked me to share this data with them, so perhaps they do find it (like I do) entertaining.

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      These are actual users, not potential future users. This is the market's past, not a prediction of its future.

  • RichyS

    Great chart Horace.

    It would be interesting to overlay a Bass Diffusion model on these (difficult with the current log scale) to get an idea of the rate of adoption due to (a) innovation, and (b) word of mouth.

    Fascinating as it is though…

    RichyS (long time lurker, first time commenter)

  • Babak

    Horace, very nice graph and quite compelling! However, I think your numbers show sold devices/platforms, not users? Especially for phones, life times are roughly correlated to the 2 year carrier contracts. Afterwards phones are often ditched and disfunctional, thus not in use anymore. So, I would say you display cumulative sales, not number of users.

    • Murphy

      This makes sense to me. I can attest that my household has gone through four iPods in order to get to the fifth one which has worked with stability since it's purchase. The previous four are no longer in use due to catastrophic malfunction/old batteries/etc… Subsequently the current iPod which does function sits on a shelf because my wife and I have upgraded to iPhones.

      We can only use two of our seven total purchases at any given time. I understand that mine is a unique case and probably does not represent the population as a whole, but I have a hard time believing that the cumulative usage numbers could be this large.

      • InterestedObserver

        We also have a few failed iPods which were replaced rather than repaired. I don't know how common it is to get them repaired – most people I know just get a new one when they break because the endless upgrade cycle means the old one is somehow not worth the repair cost any more.

    • Device longevity would be an interesting study. My elderly neighbors get their sons hand-me-down iPhones so one is using an iPhone and the other an iPhone 3G. I know my sister wants to upgrade from her 3G S and my mom needs, at a minimum, a new battery.

      If I move to Verizon in August, I don't know what I will do with my current iPhone 4. Test platform? Ny nephew is a bit young to handle a smart phone (not smarts wise but responsibility wise)…

      What happens to all of these old devices and how long do they actually live?

      My gut says the typical iPhone will last about a year longer than the typical Android phone due to Apple actually getting updates to the software to older devices.

  • asymco

    Each iOS user does not require an iTunes account. iTunes accounts are useful only if you intend to use the app store or iTunes music store. I'm sure there are many iPhone users who don't use either and iOS is growing faster than iTunes accounts. You point out that there are also multi-device users.

    • Andrew

      When I got my iPhone from SoftBank, I was required to have an iTunes account with Apple Japan. I had one already but my wife had to set up an account. This was used to migrate contacts and calendars from our old NTT DoCoMo phones, but obviously it would help if I wanted to sign up for any of SoftBank's premium services.

      I know that you need iTunes software on your PC to use any iPod or iPad, but don't need an iTunes Store account. Can you use an iPhone in the US without a credit-card based account?

  • did you factor in all the IPODs out there that are sitting in top dresser drawers now that those people have bought smartphones?

  • Hamourabi

    Android and IOS are close substitutes and I wonder if the change of exponentiality rate for IOS starting quarter 4 is the result of Android emergence. Also IOS data contains a quite new device the iPad since spring 2010.

  • skips

    The chart is a bit misleading. It mixes hardware sales with subscriptions and the two are not really comparable. It would be better to present the information as two graphs with the cumulative hardware sales on one and the subscriptions (i.e., AOL, iTunes and Netscape) on the other. Both are indicative of the total user base, but really cannot be compared without making some rather severe and unjustifiable assumptions.

    Also it would be nice to see some of the history of the sales of the game consoles. That information used to be available on but the site has changed significantly in the last couple of years. That history would be interesting in relation to the other mobile hardware sales. Various bloggers have suggested that mobile gaming is cutting into the sales of game consoles. OTOH, the adoption of these platforms might be a reasonable indicator of the potential size of the mobile gaming market place.

    Just some thoughts and observations, skips

  • Pingback: Which mobile users will platforms harvest first? | asymco()

  • Pingback: The Frontiers of Platform Adoption | asymco()

  • Bruce

    Put some arrows in there dude so your graph is easy to understand. Dont know what's Netscape, Xbox, etc.

  • Pingback: The ‘Age of Apple’ will end | memeburn()

  • Yoni

    the chart is no longer visible (I tried multiple browsers and computers). Can you replace the current picture please?