Android vs iPhone user base. Can I have some real comparisons please?


I’ve just seen another headline about how the Android user base has overtaken that of the iPhone in the US and it really irks me. Let me start by saying I’ve not got either, so this is not a disgruntled fan-boy post. Also, my argument is based on the situation in the UK market, so if the US market is very different I apologize.

My problem with this sort of headline is to do with the lack of clarity in these comparisons. How do the writers define smartphone? It seems where Android is concerned they just mean a phone that can actually run Android. I guess Android does allow for most of the functionality you would commonly associate with a smartphone. OK. So let’s assume this a a fight between iPhone and anything else that can run Android.

If I do a price comparison from one specific UK retailer, based on their “most popular” contracts here’s what I get:

  • iPhone 4: £139 one-off payment, plus £35.75 contract
  • Android: Free phone. £15.32 per month.

So why is there such a discrepancy? Because you can run Android on some very mediocre phones. In some cases the kit is inferior to the first generation iPhones. I would suggest the cheaper Android options, although capable of doing all the things associated with a smartphone, do them so badly (mostly due to very small screen size) that they shouldn’t really be called smartphones. They certainly shouldn’t be compared with the user experience of the iPhone 4 or the top end Android phones. Also, the basic Android contract listed above comes with no data plan, so it’s a phone with no internet connectivity. That’s right, you have bought a smart phone that is really not smart. In the UK market Android phones span the entire market from “cheap and cheerful” to expensive and bleeding edge.

So when I look at these headlines I have to question what is really being compared. If you buy an iPhone and only use it as a mobile phone you are a bit of a muppet. If you buy a bottom of the range Android phone and contract, I don’t think you should be included as a smartphone user because what you have is not usable in a manner that I consider a smartphone should be.

So what I would like to see is a comparison of people using iPhone 4 with people using “real” Android smart phones. In the UK at least, I think this would drastically alter the results.



Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

14 thoughts on “Android vs iPhone user base. Can I have some real comparisons please?”

  1. I’m afraid it’s doomed to be an apples and oranges comparison, esp now that the OS extends to devices that are not phones.

    Verizon in the US has been running a buy one, get one free promotion for Android for a long time. I know many people that bought 1 for themselves and another for a Christmas presents. That really inflates the numbers I suppose.

    If the phone has a browser and can run apps, that makes it a smartphone – even with inferior hardware. My old BB was a smartphone, but it didn’t do squat compared to the ‘ancient’ Android 1.5 OS.

  2. I like your point about someone who gets an iPhone just for a mobile phone being dumb. I use my Android (a top-end one, mind) as a mobile device connected to the internet. In fact, I do very little talking on it.

    Also, the comparison is a bit like saying ‘Lenovos are now outselling the Dell Inspirion 1521s’. There’s only one phone using iOS and there are tens of them running Android.

    Google are already struggling to stop the Android space being too fragmented. There are four Droids available over here already Droid 2, Droid X, Droid Incredible, Droid Pro). Look at the mess that is Chrome OS vs. Android.

  3. Mark: Agreed.

    Peter: I know. I love that. “I Don’t Care” became a catch phrase at ODTUG in Washington because of that clip.

    Chris: I’m not sure this helps. The OS still includes dumb phones (by *my* definition) on the Android side. Tablets will definitely confuse the issue more. 🙂



  4. The edges are becoming too blurred. Database comparisons are the same. sqllite versus Access versus mysql versus Oracle ? All very different beasts.

    I think the number that everyone wants is, how many customers do I miss if I don’t have an iPhone app / Android app.

  5. A local morning-zoo radio show has a person who is always being picked on for being a geek. This morning, there arose an argument over whether the female intern could use her phone to talk on the phone and browse the web at the same time. Geeky guy explained that was only because the building had wifi, and you can’t do that if you are only on the phone network. After some silly argument, they made a bet, with the loser having to strip off his or her clothes. So they troop outside to the street corner, call the radio station, and she attempts to surf the web.

    The guys at a nearby plumbing supply house apparently heard this on the radio, and came out to watch.

    I missed the rest of it, except for something about she lost the bet, and some harassment of the geek about when he qualified his assertion about wifi.

    Podcast, should anyone care.

  6. G’day Tim,

    I’ve had both now. I started with an iPhone 3G, now I have a Samsung Galaxy S.

    From an end user perspective, I think the iPhone is great for the broader market, as in it’s easy to download apps, synch your music and use as an actual phone.

    My new Android is also easy to download apps and use as a phone – in fact the SWYPE typing function is so much better than tap tap tap…
    If you want to have it double as a music player – I haven’t bothered. The connection won’t apply to most docks and besides, my iPod works just fine for that.

    The app market I guess is much more diverse since Apple doesn’t have a big-brother domination over what gets published. I haven’t needed/wanted to pay for any apps on the droid, but I advise my wife to be careful of some applications as it is a more open market.

    I do like the extra bits and pieces you get with the default droid OS – the widgets, the general finish as opposed to just a list of apps and one button. My samsung has three buttons which provides more options and flexibility for software.

    As for hardware, the iPhone 3G was a slow POS. I’ve played with my friend’s iPhone 4 and I’m very impressed with the speed. If you’re like me, any type of lag is a real pain in the behind. The samsung is fairly comparable. I’ve ‘rooted’ the phone, added a few custom tweaks, but certainly haven’t taken advantage of the full flexibility android openness offers over the iphone. Although the (rooted only) app that blocks IPs for known ad servers is superb!

    So my thoughts on hardware choice – you have the option to choose the brand you prefer, but CPU speed is a great advantage, then memory. Just like buying a itty bitty laptop. All other things like camera quality, screen size, weight etc is just fruit – in my humble opinion.

    I wouldn’t go back to apple, but I hope to keep the samsung for quite sometime anyway. I hear HTC are good, with latest & greatest being released recently. I think apple have the brand but it means they’re overrated.


  7. I think the distinction is quite clear:

    I have a 2.2 Android and my bro has the i(diot) phone 4.

    His iphone is really cool. Great for kids and people who don’t understand computers.
    It is clear and easy; Very “Fisher Price: my first SmartPhone”.
    My Android is the mutt’s nuts; It is a PC in my pocket. Sure it may be harder for the elderly or dumb people to use but for us cool kids, the decision is pretty obvious

  8. I have to say I don’t see android really going anywhere with such poor apps and poor support for developers. As much as I wish android was better, it just isn’t. A developer can write an app for the Iphone and make a decent amount of money, at least over $300 a month, but on android you’d be lucky to make $10/month after doing a full month of work.
    So it just doesn’t make sense to develop for android and that’s why the apps are so poor. Users won’t pay for apps, and the few paid apps are pirated so easily all your work is lost.

  9. Hi.

    I guess time will tell. I think there will be more Android phones out there because they span a much wider price demographic. What will “win” in the app sales market is a different factor.



  10. Droid is open source. The best apps in the world come from open source development. Apple can’t secure their apps from piracy any more than Droid can. The only reason Apple sells apps is because the only people that can afford one are drug dealers and rich people. They wouldn’t know how to pirate an app on either OS so they buy them. Many Droid apps are ad supported so guess who is making more money? The guy that sells his app once with a cut to Crapple or the guy that gives it away and gets paid every time you open the app? Iphone will always be the super snotty snooty must have for rich Liberals and people that can’t even set up their own email but Droid will be the people’s choice until HTC decides to go Apple.

  11. Why has a Smart phone be connected to the Web to be “Smart”?
    I highly dislike the whole Cloud idea and want my data safe. When I charge it, is is automatically connected to my PC for syncing and voila I have the same data everywhere, no internet connection required.
    No internet connection means also no potential hack intrusion risk.
    And no camera in the phone or other features missing?
    Might actually be useful!
    Some companies DON’T ALLOW cameras in phone when you are in their premises. With a “cheap” phone you might be able to keep it on you, rather than leave it at reception (Security risk!)
    I used the Palm organizers since 1996 and have used the first Treos in (I think) 2000, which was a Smart Phone even before the term was created. Even back than I could partially multi-task (listen to Music and do work on the Calendar or other software) and Apple sells this as “new” feature…

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