When It Comes To Mobile Phone Users, Statistics Can Be Misleading

Though it would appear that open source Android is the big winner, is it really just a flea on the elephant?

comScore just released their January 2010 US Mobile Subscriber Market Share report. It covers the period of October '09 through through January '10. Looking at the numbers you could make the argument that open sourced Google Android is dominating. It did post the biggest market share gains in the period. But if you look at the bigger picture, Android is really still just the flea on the Elephants back.

My fellow blogger Tony Bradley (I had a chance to meet Tony at RSA two weeks ago) wrote a column over on PC World that says "Android Dominates, Windows Mobile Plummets, iPhone Stagnant" in regard to the comScore report. But when it comes to numbers, there are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics.

One reading of the report does indeed show that Android had a phenomenal quarter. It more than doubled is market share among smart phone users. The reasons for this are several, but certainly its open source status allows it to be more widely distributed in a shorter time period. This allows it to be a choice among all 4 wireless network providers and a wide range of handset and smartphone manufacturers.

As Tony points out, the iPhone without any major new release and closed box, one carrier status basically treaded water. Windows Mobile in desperate need of a refresh was a big loser in the smartphone category. Also Palm is just not making it. They lost some significant share as well. RIM continues to be the uncontested leader in smartphones with a whopping 43% market share and of course they are not open source.

But folks all phones are not smart. In fact the overwhelming majority of phones are not smartphones (does that make them dumb phones?). While smartphone usage did increase by a healthy 18% from the prior reporting period, lets put in in perspective. There are 42.7 million smartphone users in the US. There are 234 million mobile subscribers! That means that something like only 20% of all mobile phones are smartphones. 1 out of 5. 80% of mobile phones are not smart.

So who are the real giants in mobile phones?

Top Mobile OEMs
 Share (%) of Mobile Subscribers
Oct-09Jan-10Point Change
Total Mobile Subscribers100.0%100.0%N/A
Motorola24.1%22.9%-1.2
LG22.0%21.7%-0.3
Samsung21.0%21.1%0.1
Nokia9.3%9.1%-0.2
RIM6.4%7.8%1.4

3 Month Avg. Ending Jan. 2010 vs. 3 Month Avg. Ending Oct. 2009

Total U.S. Age 13+

Source: comScore MobiLens

Motorola, LG and Samsung have 2 to 3 times the phones out there than smartphone champion RIM has. Also Motorola and the rest are using open source Android, as well as other smartphone OS'es to get their share of the smartphone market too. With Nokia having two entrants in the smartphone OS category, they will be looking to be a player there too.

For all of our talk about Android, iPhone and the like here is another chart with some important statistics:

Mobile Content Usage
 Share (%) of U.S. Mobile Subscribers
Oct-09Jan-10Point Change
Total Mobile Subscribers100.0%100.0%N/A
Sent text message to another phone62.0%63.5%1.5
Used browser26.8%28.6%1.8
Played games21.3%21.7%0.4
Used Downloaded Apps18.3%19.8%1.5
Accessed Social Networking Site or Blog13.8%17.1 %3.3
Listened to music on mobile phone11.6%12.8%1.2

3 Month Avg. Ending Jan. 2010 vs. 3 Month Avg. Ending Oct. 2009

Total U.S. Age 13+

Source: comScore MobiLens

Take a good look at these numbers. Less than a third of all phone users use a browser on their phones. Only about 12% use the smartphone as a music player and less than 2/3's text message.  When talking about numbers like 250 million users, those are a lot of people not using the smartphone features. 

Now this is an open source blog, so let me bring it back to open source. From the good news for open source point of view, the newly minted open source Symbian is a major force in the traditional handset OS market. This bodes well for open source to be a dominant force in the mobile market going forward. 

Of course Microsoft is releasing Windows Mobile 7 and there will be a new iPhone model sooner or later. RIM's blackberry continues to lead the way. But with Android, Symbian and the rest, open source mobile OS's are all but guaranteed a leading place in the mobile market, smart or not.

Please visit the Google Subnet home page for more news, blogs and podcasts. Sign up for the weekly Google newsletter.

More blog posts from Alan Shimel:

Subscribe to all Google Subnet bloggers or Follow Google Subnet on Twitter

Check out Alan Shimel's Podcast and other blogs, too.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in