The Global Smartphone Market Landscape

There is finally enough information to try to give an estimate of the smartphone market as a subset of the overall phone market.

The chart to the left shows the overall picture.

To sum up: The smartphone market has now reached over 30% of shipments. Non-smart devices are at 69% of total. The individual phone platform shares are as follows:

  1. Android (and Android-like): 17.6%
  2. iOS (iPhone only) 4.4%
  3. Nokia Symbian: 4.3%
  4. BlackBerry: 2.76%
  5. Bada: 1%
  6. Windows Phone 0.5%

The past quarter was the first where there is evidence of significant non-seasonal decline in incumbent platforms. Both RIM and Symbian saw two sequential drops in volume. The iPhone had a seasonal (or, more accurately, transitional) decline. Windows Phone had a very modest increase in share from 1.3% to 1.7% share though this is well below a margin of error in the estimate.

Android (and Android-like) shipments ballooned to nearly 70 million but sell-through could be about 10 million less. Nearly one in five phones sold is now powered by an Android variant. A remarkable story since the share was zero less than three years ago

Of the vendors involved, here is the division of share:

Samsung achieved 26% share, nearly swapping share with Nokia over a single year. Nokia reached below 14% while Apple maintained above 14% but down from 19% the quarter prior. HTC overtook RIM with 11% vs. 9%. Sony Ericsson is around 6% and Motorola probably slipped below LG with 4% vs perhaps 5% respectively.

The absolute performance of shipments by vendor and platform follows:

        I maintained the historic distinction between integrated (green) and modular (brown) OS strategies to show how the value chain evolved. As Nokia swaps its share to a licensed Windows Phone the share held by integrated vendors is likely to shrink even further.

Does this mean it’s the end of integration? Or even more importantly, as I have previously suggested the link, is this the end of innovation in the mobile phone market?

It would appear that with 30% smartphone share, the vast majority of phone vendors are ready to abandon any ambition to obtaining extraordinary profits from mobile devices.[1] Apart from Apple, there seems to be complete capitulation to being manipulated by platform orchestrators with unpredictable or opaque intentions.

The thesis of perpetual innovation rules this out. While new input methods offer a clue that visual interaction and the platforms that depend on it are not permanent, the fact remains that cloud computing and the coupling of additional intelligence that comes with it will enable new points of integration and the positioning of these points on new jobs to be done.

Stay tuned as we discuss the future of mobile computing. The best is yet to come.


  1. By extraordinary I mean margins above what a component assembler and distributor would be able to obtain–see the PC industry.
  • Ab

    Couple of points

    1) Is this data based on Gartner recent Prss release re shipments or have you cumulated the data from elsewhere?

    2) Android (and Android-like) shipments ballooned to nearly 70 million but sell-through could be about 10 million less. What is this assumption based on?

    3) What do you define as a smartphone? Will series 40 one day become less and less distinguishable from smartphone o/s it may finally be called a smartphone o/s?

    4) What would be interesting to note is how has the ASP changed as the volume of smartphones each manufacturer has shipped. Is volume increasing as prices is dropping so in effect smartphones are entering into what once was featurephone prices and in fact disrupting featurephones?

    5) Re extraordinary profit – are you essentially referring to the economic meaning of supernormal profits? Ie current manufacturers will be resigned to making normal profits but not excess profit?

    • 1. Gartner reports sell-through estimates (as far as what they report recently). My shipment data is drawn from company statements except in the case of “other” and missing components like Android volumes. I use multiple sources to fill in the blanks. Overall shipment data comes from Strategy Analytics but Android shipments is derived from Gartner’s estimate but adjusted for what it would take to bring “other” to a share that is more plausible. The process sometimes varies each quarter depending on which piece of data other analysts are willing to share freely. At the end, I suggest that you consider my estimates as just that, estimates.

      2. The estimate of Android sell-through that Gartner suggests (about 59 million) coupled with a sell-in total number from SA implies a far higher “other” share that is implausible. I increased the sell-in number to bring “other” inline and thus came to about 69 million Android sell-in, a delta of 10 million from Samsung’s sell-through.

      3. A smartphone is defined as any phone running an operating system from a set list. That includes all the OS’s listed above with Other representing WebOS and MeeGo and LiMO. Series 40 cannot be counted as a smartphone because it’s not one of the OS’s in the list.

      4. You can test hypothesis regarding ASP for vendors using the data analysis section of the site. I don’t have ASP for smartphones only since that is not available from any companies that sell both smart- and non-smart devices (except for Nokia, but I don’t capture that since it would be in isolation).

      5. I’m only referring to profits or margins that are above the historic average and are thus predictable.

  • Pedro Cezar de Andrade

    Horace, did you find any data on the volume of mobile phone sales per price point? I’ve never found a good source yet it seems critical to understand iPhone price elasticity and growth potential going forward.

    • No, I have not found such data, but I’ve seen some in the past. The data is different by geographic market. Perception of value depends on the coupling effect of service plans.

      • Micromeme

        While I would sometimes like to think that the quality of a technology/product determines competitve outcomes in some cases. Its just not true. What if we can explain all or most of the ratio of iPhone to android phone sales by their ratio of carrier footprints? As far as I can tell android phones (because their manufacturers mostly had preexisting carrier relationships) are available on all carriers and iPhones are availble on less than half. Could this be dominating the unit sales ratio? Are there data which would allow you to plot a sales volume vs carrier footprint graph for iphone and android? Then one could attempt to compute phone type under or overperformance on carrier footprint.

      • Chandra2

        Micromeme, That is an interesting thought. For example, U.S. Cellular is served by Android but not iPhone. Price of phone upon sign up, carrier footprint and service plan costs should together explain 80% of the story which is good enough. I hope Horace reads your post and offer his view and may be a separate blog post on this angle.

  • Hossein

    Your posts are very interesting and informative when you focus on financial and market share issues, but not so good when you step into the technical world (user interfaces, modular vs. integrated, etc.). I wish you understood that statements regarding user input, back-end technologies, and such need to be backed by (solid) research as much as financial statements. I am yet to find a single reference to solid research findings and facts here, when you comment about technology.

    • I understand the technical world insofar as I had a career in technology and obtained degrees in both computer science and electrical engineering and a graduate degree in computer engineering and spent five years in an industrial research laboratory doing computer science research and publishing research papers. I’ve also started companies and directed engineers in their work. (I might add that I have no degree or certification in finance or accounting and have only an MBA as training in the language of business).

      However, I also understand the limitations of technology frameworks. The meaning of user interfaces and modularity and integration that I use are different than those technology authors may use. The meanings I use were put forward by Clayton Christensen in his work on disruptive innovation theory and they are broad enough to encompass the world of steam powered excavators, steel plants, discount retailers and semiconductor design and fabrication as well as operating systems. In fact, these notions need to be broad enough to cover all industries and value chains.

      Every business thinks it’s unique and every industry thinks it’s special. This is no more true than the thought that physics works differently on every continent. We need a common language to describe all observed phenomena.

    • Anonymous

      Actually, I find this site to be informative on many disciplines. The posts usually needs the readers to stretch beyond their comfort zone. I appreciate the thoughtful questions where other bloggers write for bling bling.

  • End of innovation in the mobile phone market? Though I understand the meaning of your statement/question, I don’t believe it is true.

    Looking at Apple’s 4.4% market share, as presented in your first chart, I’m reminded of the statement floating round the Internet that 6.2 billion people are _not_ on Facebook.

    There remains a critical mass of potential consumers who will use a mobile device as a primary means of communication, payment and learning; and who need a raft of services that might not be provided by a network operator.

    Samsung and Microsoft will both attempt to recreate the Apple biome, one of them will succeed.

    • I agree, however my question was more rhetorical. The fact that so many vendors chose to abandon self-determination *may* indicate to the casual observer that “it’s too late” and that innovation is over and commoditization a certainty.

      I don’t share this view.

  • Canucker

    Gruber points to this site for an insightful visualization of hardware fragmentation:

    With Amazon appearing to be ramping up to enter the Android smartphone business, the race to the bottom will accelerate. The question often asked is whether Apple is more concerned about profitshare or marketshare. If they believe in Steve Jobs mantra, they care about neither of these, but do care about the customer, believing these other fruits flow from building products that provide value to the customer.

    • They should be concerned about both. Profit share is important because it allows Apple to stay in business to continue building more great products.

      Market share is important because it’s important to developers and the vast accessory ecosystem that’s developed around Apple devices. Continually increasing marketshare gives developers & accessory makers incentive to develop more apps and cool peripherals that extend the capabilities of Apple’s devices. This in turn gives consumers more reason to buy Apple products because of the vast software / peripheral ecosystem supporting. It’s a win-win-win cycle.

      • unhinged

        Perhaps instead we should be trying to measure the app markets (Apple, Amazon, Google) for revenue and app numbers? I think Horace came up with an ASP for the Apple app store; it would be interesting to see if similar data is available for the others.

      • Canucker

        Shameer – you are missing my point. Take care of the products and the profits and share will take care of themselves. If you obsess with marketshare, you’ll undermine your ability to generate products (unless you achieve a monopoly which is much less likely now). If you obsess with profits, you will become uncompetitive. Both represent short term thinking. That is the antithesis of successful business. I don’t think most people realize how precarious Android is in terms of its relationship to the OEMs. They are have hedges despite the roaring marketshare.

  • This is a nice comparison for marketshare with smart vs. non-smart but what about revenue or profit share? Smartphones have another 70% of the market segment to grab but how much of the market’s profit and revenue have they already taken up? If they already have 70% (just throwing the figure out there, it doesn’t come from anywhere) of the revenue or profit how much more can they grab without growing the entire markets revenue. I would love to see a chart of the growth of the revenue of the market and compare the growth to the growth of the smartphones growth in revenue.

  • Anonymous

    Eerily reminiscent of how Windows vs Apple share payed out back in the days..(yes I know Apple has more profits right now…)

    • Canucker

      Big difference is the difficulty in achieving monopoly tactics today. The telcos won’t allow it, there are hard linkages (e.g. Microsofts license revenue from Android which provides a revenue stream) and there are vibrant, competitive ecosystems. There will be at least 3 or 4 players in this field when the dust settles. WebOS is done. iOS/Android/WinPhone are long term bets. RIM is still kicking and Baidu has legs.

      • I don’t agree that Baidu has legs at all. It has virtually no ecosystem, be it cloud or content ecosystem, behind it. Plus the user experience compared to its competitors is a joke. RIM’s OS is far better than Baidu

        As for achieving monopoly, it’s not that difficult. The main reason MS achieved it on traditional PC’s is through licensing their OS. It’s the same reason right now that Google has more than 4X marketshare versus iOS. MS is pursuing the same tactic, with a very good OS, so they can achieve the same success through licensing.

        Through licensing and ensuring strict quality standards, it’s not difficult to achieve such a dominant position. Apple’s in a more difficult position to achieve 20% marketshare vs Android or Windows Phone OS. Whether we want that to happen, that’s another matter. I for one do not as I prefer choice & competition.

      • Canucker

        The problem with the licensing model is that there is not as good integration of software and hardware. Microsoft has strictly defined the hardware specs for Windows Phone 7 devices. Apple can introduce whatever hardware technology it likes (as can RIM). The Microsoft monopoly was really based on Intel’s chip dominance since the hardware powering the suits was best in class and non-Wintel competitors struggled to keep up. The same is not true in the smartphone market. As far as I know, Apple did not design cpus (they did design the I/O chips). Apple does design it’s a-class processors (based on the ARM reference design).

        I’m simplifying but I do think that vertical integration is a very viable model compared to licensing (which is highly volume dependent). I think both can live in harmony and learn from each other.

      • Why did Microsoft fail to achieve market dominance with Windows Mobile? It was licensed widely with every OEM (except for Nokia) licensing it and creating hundreds of models available with every operator.

  • Anonymous

    So there’s an interesting data nugget that just came out with the Google Music announcement.

    You’ll remember that Google announced 190million activations in mid-October, up from 130million in mid July. That gave us a rate of around 60million activations a quarter or 20 million a month.

    At the Google music launch they announced 200million activations. Which would imply the last month was only 10million. Perhaps they’re just rounding down, I guess we’ll find out when they tweet their next numbers.

    • Canucker

      I wouldn’t read much into that single datapoint. The sales of Android phones are higher than they’ve ever been (true also of iOS). This is still a growing market. It might be that they’ve revised previous counts (i.e. that they have corrected for inaccuracies) or, as you say, rounded down.

      • Anonymous

        Revising previous counts would in itself be very significant, in fact since they quoted the 190million figure in their earnings call any errors in it would probably have to be publicly acknowledged.

  • TwangisKhan

    I’d be interested in the US only subset in terms of market share. Since this gives us an idea what happens when a market is actually defended by Apple. Let’s face it, Apple has market share approaching zero in many prepaid markets

    Still, it is very concerning. Tim “stock-out” Cook needs to radically look at the model Apple employs. It is flawed. It has to be managed too perfectly where the slightest mistake by a supplier has devistating effects. There needs to be more redundancy in the chain or you end up forcing customers to Android since many won’t wait 3 weeks:

    There is no question the user first model gives Apple a huge advantage in many areas, it’s just too bad the company is operationally broken.

    • If Apple has this much difficulty meeting demand for 4% market share and while spending $1 billion in capex on process equipment per quarter then imagine the challenge of obtaining 20% share.

      • Indeed. Any estimate how much money Apple would need to invest if it wanted to produce 500M devices per year? (Nokia’s annual output, more or less)

        If Apple currently sell 4.4% for a capital cost of $1B, then each 1% would have cost them $227M.
        In order to reach 20%, assuming capital costs don’t scale down much further (how much economy of scale can you get?), they will have to spend at least another $3.5B. Not an earth-shattering sum when you have so much cash in the bank.

        Although the devices produced by Nokia are (on the whole) not comparable in material cost/production difficulty, if Apple wanted to make 500M iPhones, they would need to increase production 6.66x, so they’d be looking at a further capital cost of ~$6B.

        Anyhow, I doubt it is possible for Apple to continue their current model and ramp up any faster than they are already doing. In order to do so, the phones need to be designed for manufacturing rather than for impact. It’d be quite a shift for Apple.

      • Canucker

        Given that they have so few models and only two designs (over the past 3 years), I’d think Apple’s output is far easier to expand than their competitors. The limiting factor is not production of the final product (which they’ve surely perfected to the nth degree) but supply of components. That’s where they have been investing to build out component capacity. Don’t think for one second that the iPhone isn’t designed for manufacturing. That is why it commands 2-3X the profit margin of its direct competitors. The components (e.g. metal antenna) may be complex, but Apple threw $$ at getting that part made in volume and it’s a major differentiator. Same goes for the lathes for unibody Powerbooks. Their competitors are shamelessly releasing look-alikes (e.g. the HP Envy) but these are not unibody designs and you can tell as soon as you pick them up. Even the state-of-the-art Nexus Galaxy has a plastic shell.

      • Anonymous

        “Don’t think for one second that the iPhone isn’t designed for manufacturing.”

        Horace did a 5BY5 show on 10/19, and he explained how the glass/steel unibody of the Mac, iPhone and iPad were not designed for large scale manufacturing. (It was such a good show, it was really great.) He said that when Apple launched the Mac in 2008, they showed videos of the machines in production, and they looked very impressive with the lasers and drill bits. And some in the audience were remarking that these machines were not normally used for manufacturing–they were used for prototypes or for small batches, and to make enough Macs, they’d have to buy thousands of these machines! And that’s what Apple did: they bought numerically controlled equipment to make the unibody parts exactly how they needed them–the glass, in terms of being thin enough and having to bind to the touch panel beneath it, and to have everything be in such close tolerances that they demanded. They placed large orders with these tool makers, for maybe a thousand machines that had to be delivered to China and up-and-running by a certain day in order to produce the iPhones. I think Tim Cook is awesome for having managed this side of the business so well.

        The discussion starts at 22 minutes into the show – The Critical Path #10 – The Means of Production

    • Chandra2

      Apple is not operationally broken… Come on!! They are operationally excellent. But I agree with you that they probably can afford a bit more buffer in their supply chain and can afford to take bit of a hit in operational efficiency and ramp up on production to meet demand. They can not be supply constrained on every product launch and blame it on ‘unexpected’/’far exceeded’ demand. After a while such characterizations tend to become stale.

  • Ovi


    I would love to see a story that breaks down the profits from each manufactures over a period of 3 years. If we follow a pattern we can determine how quickly the race to the bottom will end.

  • mysterio

    It would be amazing to see how this compares to the evolution of the PC market of ’78-1995. I know those share numbers are harder to come by and less consistent, but it would be very strong historical context. Intuitively we know the story is basically the same as what you lay out here.

    Astonishingly, Apple is in exactly the same position in smartphones today as they were in PCs in 1985. A vertically integrated company driven primarily by the success of one iconic device, and, crucially, without Steve Jobs.

    • Kizedek

      I don’t you looked very closely when making such a sweeping statement. It is not *exactly the same position* at all for a number of reasons.

      Also, it sounds like you might be falling into the trap of thinking that “vertical integration” is what almost killed Apple before, and that modularity is the saving grace of companies that follow a Microsoftian approach without considering some of the circumstances that led to their success with this particular approach at the time. The failures MS have had in some areas outside their core success with Windows and Office is not necessarily due to the more vertical nature of those projects. Certainly, Google has built their value in a different way, but they are making some of the same mistakes that MS made.

      You line up “vertically integrated” and “one iconic device” in one statement, as though these are two arbitrary choices Apple/Jobs has made, but perhaps there is a real relationship there between the two: the reason Apple is more successful and can continue to be so into the future *this time around* is because they are indeed focusing on fewer products (see differences below). Apple makes “the whole widget” and does so rather well, precisely because of their focus on fewer products. “Open” does not always “win” (whatever the definition of winning is), nor should every company be vertically integrated (it takes an exceptional company to pull that off successfully, too).

      Because of Apple’s success at this, HP is dithering about selling off their whole consumer computing division and doesn’t know what to do with Web OS, countless hardware projects have been scrapped by other companies, netbook sales are in the toilet, many have to rely on MS (who may have something to offer “next year”) or Google (Our Lady of Perpetual Beta). What “position”, pray tell, does this leave others in? Is anyone worrying about their “position”.

      To list just a few differences between the 1984 and 2012 situations:

      • Apple wasn’t driven by the success of the Mac in 1985. It still sold Apple ][c and e for some years. Part of the differences between Apple management and Jobs was precisely that they did not echo his concern that the whole company go all in solely on the new line of GUI computers, iconic or otherwise.

      • As soon as Jobs came back after some eleven years, he scrapped a plethora of computer models and built exactly what you describe, “one iconic device”, the iMac. We know where that has led.

      • Another concern of Jobs in 1984 was that networking between computers should become a focus. This became a focus at Next. The iPhone, with iCloud, Siri, iMessage, open standards, and licensed standards, etc. is getting ever more networked and networkable all the time. Apple is a leader in this area.

      • Mac OS for Macintosh was new in 1984 (started on Lisa). Few developers, few tools, few apps. With iPhone, its OS, iOS is just another version of OS X.

      Today… there is parallel development of iOS and OS X. Plus, tons of developer support, tons of apps, tons of development tools, tons of momentum, tons of retail experience (another industry Apple has transformed in the meantime) and points of sale.

      • Though the first Macs were intended to be low cost for a workstation (3000 vs 10,000), personal computing was in its infancy. It was still a stretch for most famililes to have a PC at home. If you weren’t part of the new field of desktop publishing, it might have been hard to justify the purchase.

      Today… every man woman and child has a personal device; and guess what, the last three models of the iPhone are numbers 1, 2, and 3 best selling personal devices in the world. Apple can’t make them fast enough (though it is perhaps the most efficient and forward thinking company on the planet regarding supply chain and manufacturing, another difference).

      • Hossein

        It takes too much time to point out all the errors you make in these few paragraphs, but just as examples here are two:

        1. WebOS was crushed by Android. If iPhone did anything, it made the need for more smartphone platforms more obvious and created more demand.

        2. Single product strategy does not necessarily translate to higher market share nor more profit. It depends on the market — it requires a case by case study. In the case of smartphones, for example, during the past quarter Samsung could sell a few more million units by diversifying and targeting a wider range of consumers. Not all companies can do this, but those that can will do and are likely to dominate market and later profit share.

      • jawbroken

        Why do you presume that a dominance in market share will translate to the same in profit share later, when it clearly doesn’t currently?

      • kevin

        “Not all companies can do this, but those that can will” is a phrase completely empty of content. Nokia was the best at diversifying and targeting a wider range of consumers and had a dominant market and profit share at one time. Yet over time, their Board and leadership concluded that they were on the wrong path – how did they get from the right path to the wrong path? Maybe it should be “Not all companies can do this, but those that can will yet somehow eventually will no longer be able to”

        Also, what evidence do you have that “WebOS was crushed by Android” and not iPhone?

      • Kizedek

        #1. Exactly. There is room for more smartphone platforms. To say we should look to the “PC Wars” of 1984 or 1994 says exactly the opposite, which is why I responded to mysterio’s post.

        Further, I didn’t comment on WebOS, other than to say “HP doesn’t know what to do with it”.

        If the goal of Palm or HP is to “open it” and license it like MS or Google with the idea of making it a platform with large market share, then no, hardware guys are not going to fare very well, are they? You could say Android crushed that idea.

        However, the stories of RIMM and Apple show that a good, integrated product can be a very good thing to pursue. WebOS is probably much more suited to being a good smartphone platform going forward than is RIMM’s OS.

        However, Apple has raised the bar in many areas, and I will repeat my sentence, “due to Apple’s successes [in both hardware, software, and cloud computing, ie. vertical integration], HP doesn’t know what to do with WebOS.”

      • mysterio

        There are obviously differences, so I apologize that my rhetorical use of “exactly” offended you. The point of my post was to say that the situations are so compellingly parallel that it’s worth gathering the data and then having the debate about whether or not mobile will play out the same way as the PC. Some of the differences you point out may actually be meaningful, but many may have little bearing on the distribution of success in unit share, revenue, or profit share.

        The goal is to use the data as context so we can have an informed discussion rather than an argument about features and facts we can’t evaluate.

      • Kizedek

        Neither the data nor the debate will be meaningful, unless more of the context is explored first.

        The problem is that your nice little phrase “play out the same way as the PC” needs a lot more discussion and contextualization.

        What does it mean to “play out the same way” unless all you are looking at is some single, superficial characteristic, like one big licensor has 90% marketshare, and one other, integrated platform has 10%? Which is just what I took issue with. It’s meaningless.

        The times are different; the devices are different; the players are different; the platforms are different; the models are different; the world is different; technology is different; users and their expectations are different; the value chain is different; the markets are different…

        These are all things that Horace goes into great detail to analyse and explain article after article, including the role of carriers. How can it possibly “play out the same way.” So, what if it does? Is Apple doomed? Are they going to change course? What has happened since that “situation” in 1984 – 1994? Apple has grown to be the biggest company in the world and they are newcomers to the growing smartphone market.

        This has been debated throughout the last 4 years already. But why look at the PC industry in 1984 or 1994? Why not look at the digital music player industry in 2004?

        Apple has already bet that it won’t “play out the same way”. Looking at the iPod “situation”, it looks so far as though they have bet correctly.

        Anyway, the PC “situation” is arguably not over (despite Jobs conceding it). Apple is in good shape with laptops, and iPads should be considered PCs (depends who’s talking and how the definition affects their company or clients).

        Yet, surely you are right about one thing: to many people “the situations are compellingly parallel”. Perhaps this can account in large part for Apple’s stock price situation. Articles on this site have on several times discussed what may be affecting it; and that’s what I think of: that people find the saga of the PC Wars SO COMPELLING that they want to apply it to every subseqeunt industry, technology and situation, despite the obvious differences in just about every way you can imagine.

      • mysterio

        I had hoped Horace could weigh in, but you’ve thoroughly hijacked my comment so I imagine no one else will comment.

        Analysis requires diligently moving step by step through many factors, determining how they impact the outcome, and measuring their impact relative to other factors. I proposed a hypothesis I thought was worth exploring through this type of analysis, which Horace excels at. It’s very difficult to start that exploration with an avalanche of judgements and opinions, which is what you’ve written here…

      • Kizedek

        Possibly. But to be fair, I can say the same thing… I get tired of judgements that “this is the PC wars all over again”, or that “Apple is the new Microsoft”, etc. these are judgements that betray very little imagination and analysis.

        Crucially, your OP, which I dumped an avalanche on, did not ask a question, such as, “what can we learn from the PC situaton Apple found itself in 1984 or 1994?

        Rather, you stated (made a judgement, if you like), that “Apple is in exactly the same position in smartphones today as they were in PCs in 1985. A vertically integrated company driven primarily by the success of one iconic device, and, crucially, without Steve Jobs.”

        Not only do I disagree with your assessment of its being the same (either exactly or not so exactly), but I disagree with the hallmarks you have provided as to why they are the same (for example, the company is today driven by the success of at least four iconic products).

        Now, if you’d like to begin again and phrase a question for Horace, I will gladly bow out and await any forth coming insights and discussion at least as much as anyone else.

      • mysterio

        I said it would be great to see data on a comparison and then I provided a rationale for my interest in the comparison. I’m sorry if you took it another way.

      • Kizedek

        I think I did take it the wrong way. Sorry.

      • Davel

        Price is a major difference too.

        A phone is not the cost of a used car.

        You guys make some very nice points and Horace should really explore this..

      • Davel

        You make some excellent points about product lineup and issues internal to the company.

        There are many similarities between the two eras. The philosophy is the same, but the founder wondering in the wilderness obviously had an effect.

        1) he was more front and center this time around. More accessible, a better pitchman illuminating the benefits of the products.

        2) cost – although not cheap, still in the ballpark of ‘like’ products.

        3) purely consumer – in the old days people who bought a computer had to be compatible with the office. This is not true for mobile.

        4) distribution – apple was dependent on others for distribution and message and totally controls that now. One of the early initiatives was the store to drive the message and make the products accessible. This is both physical and logical stores.

        I especially like your points about the internal product frictions, and developer and third party participation.

        In some ways things are different. As you point out Apple has been destructive, companies are exiting businesses in direct response to Apple. On the other hand Apple itself is being attacked along the same lines, Google with android ( and their apps ) and Amazon with the kindle and the rumored phone along with their growing store.

        It will be very exciting to watch how things unfold. Especially without Steve around to react.

      • Chandra2

        “Though the first Macs were intended to be low cost for a workstation (3000 vs 10,000), personal computing was in its infancy. It was still a stretch for most famililes to have a PC at home. If you weren’t part of the new field of desktop publishing, it might have been hard to justify the purchase…”

        Good points. A few added observations.

        1) Though inflation adjusted incomes have stagnated in the developed world, the average earnings in current currency has gone up a lot in the past 20+ years. And close to the entire population of U.S+Canada+Western Europe have come up the economic ranks to afford the devices. While at the same time, the prices of such devices have down 75%. All the three combined has increased demand by more than an order of magnitude.

        2) More significantly, Horace made an excellent point in a different context. Use of computing moved from productivity to entertainment. This brought in a lot more people to the mix and Apple is perfectly positioned to addressed the entertainment oriented use of computer-based devices.

    • Noah Berlove

      I believe comparing the PC market of ’78-95 to the smartphone market today will offer little insight and its quite a stretch to even consider them comparable. There are lots of problems with a comparison especially when you consider the respective sizes of the markets and the overall environment in which they developed. Probably the biggest thing that separates the two is that the PC market was driven by business purchases (something like 75% of PC’s were sold to businesses & governments) while today the smartphone is now predominantly a consumer device.

      Apple’s problem during the early PC era is that they had very limited success selling to businesses. This was the same problem faced by all the other early PC makers, most of whom failed (including Commodore even though it had the #1 selling computer for years). This was not because they were vertically integrated or because they had few products. RIM fit this description and they were very successful selling to businesses. In fact, the interesting comparison should revolve around Microsoft as their model worked with businesses for PC, but failed with businesses with smartphones.

      And Apple today with smartphones is nowhere near being in the same position as they were with PCs in 1985. Back then, the Mac was still very new and did not even outsell Apple’s other iconic product, the Apple][, which Apple continued to make. Today, the iPhone is a very well established, successful and profitable product. Plus, even though its is outsold by Android devices, if you include all devices, iOS has a larger install base than Android. On top of that, the iPhone, though their most important product, is not their only profit maker.

      • mysterio

        To clarify, the entire point of my comment is that we need the data on the PC market to analyze the analogy. I think that analysis would be useful.

        Watching how one hardware+software+applications market evolved most certainly provides useful context for understanding another hardware+software+applications market. You just have to apply judgement to the data. The differences you and Kizedek point out are certainly factors and will help us fine tune the analogy. There are also vast similarities between the markets. If there’s no data, there’s no common point of reference to start a debate and we’re just flaming back and forth at each other.

        Again, my apologies for using the hyperbolic term “exactly,” which has clearly thrown the discussion off course. This is a great example of how unproductive debates can be without data.

        Horace – Help! As you can see, there’s a rich, impassioned debate to be had here 🙂

      • mysterio

        Also, the iconic device I was thinking of was the Apple ][, not the Macintosh. Maybe the right analogy is iPhone=Apple ][, iPad=Mac. But it’s not worth debating without data 🙂

      • mysterio

        For the record, Horace found this data and publishing it was a huge hit and generated rich discussions.

    • The main difference between the early 80s and today is that the cycle time for innovation and disruption is far shorter. There have been great advances in process engineering, the breaking down of trade barriers, the opening of huge new markets, the ability of software engineers to work on far more complex projects and the productivity of product development is immeasurably higher.

      As a result, the time from a disruptive advance (technology or business model) to its becoming a commodity is only a few years. The value that can be captured is also higher and there is huge growth potential still to tempt innovators.

      Apple does find itself being copied more quickly (Windows took a decade to copy Mac OS while Android took about 5 years). However Apple can also introduce new categories more quickly. I expect them to do so with increasing frequency and to ramp them up to significant volumes far more rapidly.

      • mysterio

        Horace –

        What’s interesting to note is whether this acceleration of disruption has any impact on market dynamics, or whether it simply scales the entire cycle down. We have on the one hand time compression, which shrinks the duration of the opportunity for innovators, and on the other hand market expansion, which expands the size of the opportunity. That innovation may be happening faster is an interesting difference, but is it an *important* difference for valuing companies or making market forecasts? I’m not sure it is.

        The disruptive cycle favors innovators early and commoditizers/operators late. The bull thesis on Apple has to be that they have managed to become proficient commoditizers so they’ll thrive past the innovator stage (yay Tim Cook!). But in addition to asking whether they can efficiently make Apple products late in the game, it’s important to look at whether their products will be more compelling than products made by competitors who are willing to destroy value to get into the market (Google, Chinese manufacturing). This has bit them before (PC), and they’ve survived it once (iPod).

        I’m also highly skeptical of the extent to which innovation is truly accelerating. In many ways it hasn’t: Windows 1.0 came out in 1985 just a year after Mac System 1; Windows 3.0 came out 6 years after. This is pretty similar to the iOS/Android timeline. The “decade” you refer to was probably the launch of Windows 95. Win95 may have been the knockout blow to ur-Apple, but the fight was won long before that…

        There are many measures that show *adoption* of technology is accelerating (i.e., fewer years to 50% penetration), but I have yet to see convincing evidence that *innovation* in technology is accelerating. The rate of change of technology seems fundamentally driven by Moore’s law and only mildly deviated by business and design changes like the “quantum leap” of the iPhone or the drag of Internet Explorer.

      • On the cycle time question the analysis will be difficult. You’re right that initial imitations appear quickly but market change takes time–how much time is the question. Android was announced within months of iPhone’s launch but a version that is (subjectively) of comparable quality took five years. Similarly the gap between first DOS-based windowing system and Mac OS was small but the gap to Windows 95 was a decade. How do we decide the tipping point of commoditization? We need a proxy for market value which is why I watch profit figures. At the iPhone launch SJ said the company was about five years ahead of the competition. He was about right. I see the innovation cycle time shrinking (i.e. frequency increasing) but I also see the value created increasing (i.e. amplitude increasing.) The question for an innovator is still whether the investment is worthwhile.

    • Chandra2

      I wonder if Apple also had a predominant shares of the profits of computer companies back in 1985. How about after Dell and others got into the PC game? ( I mean before the downturn for Apple started in the early 1990s )

  • Anonymous

    The charts really show the rise of Samsung in the last quarter. I am loath to ascribe too much meaning to this as far as Android or modular systems are concerned.

    • Anonymous

      Samsung is now large enough that it begs for some more detailed analysis. I’d like to see a geographic breakdown and start to understand how seasonality and product cycles affect this vendor. What % of sales are their newest phone vs. their large array of cheaper phones?

      Does Samsung provide much detail in their reporting?

      • Samsung does not report the number of phones they sell, their prices or the mix of smartphones or operating systems. The only information is sales value for their telecom division.

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  • Anonymous


    Though I’ve just purchased the book, The Innovator’s Dilemma per your recommendation, I’ve not yet had a chance to read it. (With a holiday weekend just around the corner, however, I’m sure I’ll have time to squeeze it in given its non-tome length.) I have, however, listened to the Clayton Christensen speech you linked to a couple of blogs ago.

    Thinking about the theory that was put forth in that speech, I’m curious to know your opinion on modularity vs. integration vis-à-vis the iPhone. In my mind, prior to the iPhone, the cell phone was the thing that wasn’t good enough, thus it was the system that needed to be optimized thus making its complimentary products and markets modular.

    I think that this is still true to this day. I think that the iPhone is a great phone, but it’s still not good enough, that there is more efficiency, experience or generically utility to be absorbed by mainstream customers. I do not believe that the iPhone has over-served its primary target market given the recent story in the Wall Street Journal that the iPhone can’t be produced fast enough.

    In contrast, I see Android phones and even Windows phones (for the time being) as prematurely modularized. This is painfully obvious in Android’s case: there is no single Android device that is good enough or even over-serves the market as a single package.

    Perhaps this makes Android disruptive–that Android “packages” (where package is defined as the hardware and software combined) aren’t good enough. At least, anyway, this would explain why so many Android handsets were sold: the modularity could better serve the low end of the market, which is to say that cheap Android handsets serve the market of those people that do not own smart phones and are therefore purchasing their first smart phone.

    But now with Apple making the iPhone 3GS “free” on AT&T, Apple can now compete in the low-end of the mobile market and use their established product as a disruptor, meanwhile producing a device (iPhone 4S) for the high end user of the mobile market that cannot be over-served. So Apple competes on both the high and the low end of the market, in theory insulating the company from either low-end disruption or high-end competition.

    So my question to you is this: do you think, especially as Apple serves more of the low-end of the mobile market, that Android is prematurely modularized?

    I think that Windows 8 phones (or whatever they are being called these days) initially have the problem of pre-mature modularization because there is, in the broader sense, no market for that product. Windows phones aren’t low-end disruptors; they are too expensive to serve the low end of the mobile market. The aren’t a competitive product for the high end of the market because they don’t have the the Apps, developer base or user base, so Windows phones can’t over-serve many–if any–of its customers. I do think, however, that if Microsoft builds a platform that is a dream to develop for and that is somehow “better” than the iPhone–that is to say, Windows phones come closer to over-serving the mobile market than the iPhone currently does–Windows phones could become a dominate player IF AND ONLY IF Microsoft maintains tight control over the user experience.

    Based on the above ramblings, do you think I’m even in the ballpark of correctly comprehending low-end disruption? How accurate do you think this analysis is?

    • Noah Berlove

      The 3GS is only free on a contract. Bought outright, its $375, which is still a lot higher than most Android phones and probably very close to what some MS powered phones will start at. Apple would need a $200 device to start having an impact on the low end of the market, though I doubt competing there is one of their priorities.

      • Anonymous

        While your facts are correct (“free” is on-contract, price point to market) I think your conclusion is incorrect because I believe that the overwhelming majority of phones bought in the United States are bought on contract. As such, I think it’s legitimate to claim that the cost is “free” to consumers, with understood caveats, much like “understood you”.

      • Noah Berlove

        Yes, but the overwhelming majority of phones, including smart phones are sold outside the US. Nokia, Samsung and others sell millions of smartphones under $200. That Apple has nothing that low and Android does does a lot to explain the market share numbers.

      • Anonymous

        Good point.

        Not traveling outside of the States, it’s easy to assume that the US is the only place on earth.

      • Chandra125

        True and such thinking can cause financial ruin in this modern connected world.

      • Apple management have stated in the past that they will not enter the low-end market until and unless they have a way to re-define it. Note that they did not say that the market is unattractive to them. Quite the opposite in fact.

    • In terms of business architecture modularity, Android and Windows Phone/Mobile are comparable. The difference is in technical architecture and pricing/contract (openness). Because of this difference Android can improve much more quickly than Windows Phone can. However neither can improve in ways that require integration with the device or network that is beyond the ways the technology is designed to work. In other words, they cannot absorb innovations that extend beyond some fundamental assumptions (for example they cannot absorb interaction that does away with a screen or is non-visual).

      The premise of the current set of platforms is that interfaces and business models will remain unchanged. Once there is a shift in interface, a new set of platforms will emerge. This is why I would agree that modularity is premature, or perhaps never appropriate if your plan is to be a disruptive new market innovator.

      For more see:

      • Anonymous

        I agree with both of your assessments. Apple is the leader in the mobile industry. As such, Android and Windows Mobile are therefore “me too” players. This doesn’t mean that either Android or Windows Mobile won’t find a “better”, more innovative, or more elegant way to solve a particular problem (e.g. Notifications in Android), but Apple will always be able to fold such singular ideas into their product.

        Android and Windows Mobile are doomed to live a profit-free existence because they are not developing a new product, nor do I think they will find a way to better solve the problem of mobile computing in a way that will cause Apple to want to fleet this business.

        It’s kind of interesting, though, when you think about the layers in the mobile market in terms of disruption. On the one hand, the hardware isn’t good enough. There will always be an ever-increasing demand for multi-tasking bandwidth. On the other hand, the hardware is modular enough that in theory, iOS, Android and Windows Mobile ought to be able to be installed on any handset that the competition is running on with relatively minor problem.

        On the one hand, the OS isn’t good enough; there will always be problems to be solved at a lower level of abstraction or services that the OS can provide to apps that it doesn’t currently supply. Yet the OS is good enough to provide a platform upon which some truly amazing apps have been built.

        I think though, that the apps are the thing that need to be optimized the most and that is where the most money will be made over time. Yes, it’s true that Apple makes more money from selling the physical device rather than from the apps that get installed on the device, but it’s because the physical device and OS provide such a rich platform for this apps to run on in the first place.

        It’s interesting to see the various games of innovation being played simultaneously in the layers of optimization and commoditization.

  • Michael Corrado

    I feel I don’t understand the prepaid phone market. I have a $30 Tracfone which I use for private calls, which don’t eat a lot of minutes. It’s quite cheap to buy minutes – a lot cheaper than having a monthly plan. (It’s not a disposable or burner phone, just one that is dedicated to private calls.) It can browse the web in a very clunky way, but adequate for occasional uses. I only bought it because it has a blackberry-style keyboard for text messages. Horace, you have been describing how disruption in markets can begin at the low end, the “good enough” end, and it seems to me that Android is NOT the low end disruptor, but these pay-per-minute phones are more like the low end of the product scale. I added a 4GB memory card, which cost $10 – and can imagine that 4 gigs could hold a lot of dedicated map info, local-restaurant info, stuff like that, to obviate 90% of my occasional web-usage. (4 gigs was the max the phone could accept, but why so low?)

    I feel that this prepaid phone is actually a “smartphone.” I can’t estimate how its processor is slow or fast, compared to other phones, because I only use it for basic stuff. It’s quite good enough for those basic uses. I have never tried to download a game, but I’m sure it would be a crappy experience to play a game on this phone.

    Can Apple ever condescend to make a phone that is just a telephone, with some added functionality? Why are the carriers getting so much money for telephone connectivity? In your last podcast you addressed the matter of industries that haven’t changed, due to political mandates. (Education, healthcare, etc.) But the carriers don’t need to exist. Why do people subscribe to phone plans? A lot of people are overpaying for the way they use their phones.

    • I think a lot of people use more than $30 worth of phone, SMS and data each month, so the cost of the contract is worth it, or close enough to worth it to round up. I guess it depends on how much of your life you are in someplace with wifi and/or a landline.

      Also, I googled Tracfone browser for both images and video and it looks horrible to use. Usable in a pinch, sure, but not the device you turn to when you’re at a bar and want to know the hockey scores or who played the love interest in the first Indiana Jones movie.

      The Google results for Tracfone email and Tracfone calendar were so varied that I can’t tell whether you actually don’t have that functionality or whether they’re both just awful. I’m guessing you don’t really, since the images page only had 2 pictures that looked like email and several pictures of naked women. There was this, though: which, despite being published in 2007, has lots of “Thank you! I couldn’t figure out how to make it work!” responses from 2011.

      If my smartphone doesn’t completely replace my address books (email, phone and snail mail) and my calendar while partially replacing my laptop in contexts where it’s hard to pull out something laptop-sized (e.g., writing emails on the streetcar), then it’s just a feature phone, not a smartphone.

      • Michael Corrado

        Sure, Thea, you are absolutely correct about the limitations of my cheap Tracfone. What’s interesting is how this phone is “good enough” for most uses. My cheap Tracfone does things that were quite desirable not so long ago.

        There is no argument about the benefits of technology. It’s kind of a “how much will you pay” question now. The cost of “hiring” a phone to do that business is getting lower and lower.

        I think that the telecom carriers are going to be routed by some enlightened entity. They are just charging too much for what they do, and do badly. In the US, the entry fee to overturning what exists is very high. I hope that Apple uses its cash horde to gut the telecoms.

        I think it would be good for everyone if that happened. I mean, if Apple doesn’t become another greedy horder of spectrum itself. This blog is sort of dedicated to what-if ideas.

        Otherwise, I have no argument with anyone, I just am curious about the future, and how it will arrive, knowing what we already know about the trends in tech.

      • One could use an iOS device as a prepaid device if you’re willing to buy the phone outright. The cost ranges from $375 for a 3GS to $850 for a 64GB 4S.

        Do the benefits of prepaid compare with the benefits of paying almost $400 less for your phone on the spot for most customers? I doubt it.

        For Apple, the phone contracts help them increase market share, for the customers, the contracts help make their phone more immediately affordable (even if they’re less affordable over the length of the contract), for the carriers, phone contracts increase customer lock-in.

        To disrupt this model, Apple would need a strategy that provides new benefits to both customers and the company. Perhaps if production gets cheap enough that a 3GS can be sold for $150 instead of $375 we’ll see that happen.

        Perhaps Siri will mean that Apple can make high quality, non-touchscreen, non-smartphones that compete with your Tracfone while missing most of the features of current iPhones. Those might be able to be made at a cost that allows them to be sold for cheap.

        Until then, the costs of the prepaid market outweigh the benefits.

    • kevin

      The smartphone – featurephone distinction is arbitrary. Today, the people who count this stuff say smartphones have an OS that lets a user load and run applications. According to them, it has nothing to do with prepaid or postpaid, data plan or no data plan. Theoretically, one could sell a smartphone on a prepaid account with no data plan (of course, apps on the phone that needed online data would not be fully usable).

    • I believe Apple is looking at the low end market with the intention of changing it enough to make it worth entering. This does not mean they will succeed but I believe that is the condition they need to participate. They are not “above” entry any more than they are above making iPods or low end computers (iPads.)

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  • r.d

    Horace, did you see that Google announced 100 million phones in 7 months.
    that is only 475,000 activation per day and
    only 43 million phones per quarter.
    So 60 million and 70 million is way beyond.
    Even 100 million in 6 months = 16 million / month and 50 million / quarter.

  • Anonymous

    “As Nokia swaps its share to a licensed Windows Phone the share held by integrated vendors is likely to shrink even further.”

    But it is likely that over the next 18 months the fragmentation of Android will complete and that you will need to replace the single brown Android with several separate green integrated Android pluses.

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  • Good breakdown by vendor and platform. I certainly agree with the closing statement:
    “…the future of mobile computing. The best is yet to come.”

    In addition to understanding the relative competitive dynamics of vendors, it’s also interesting to see where all the mobile phones are being used world-wide. FedEx has done some interesting visualizations of mobile phone presence (along with many other socio-economic changes) on their “Our Changing World” website, which I reviewed on my Blog at
    One clear trend is that mobile phone adoption grew especially in Africa in the last decade. It would be interesting to see similar data for smart-phones, which are presumably much rarer in the developing world.

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  • C Zg2008

    I’m an undergraduate from Nanjing University, China. Lately I’ve been busy with my graduation thesis about innovation and smartphones. Would you mind sending me the data that you use to creat the charts in the essay, or telling me the data of the market shares from 2007 to 2009 seasonly?
    My email adress is
    Waiting for your reply~

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