Does anybody really know what smartphone market share is?

An article in Wired online this week had a chart showing US smartphone market share (link). The chart gave more detail than I've seen recently from other research companies, so I thought it was worth reproducing the data here:

The source is Nielsen Mobile, formerly Telephia. The interesting thing about them is that they do much of the service quality monitoring for the operators, so they have much more direct access to mobile usage information than folks like IDC and Canalys, the people usually quoted for smartphone share.

Wired was focused on Palm's loss of market share, which is indeed striking (but not exactly news). But take a look at the chart again; there are a couple of other items that I think are more newsworthy.

The first surprise is that Nielsen shows Apple in fourth place in smartphone share. That's wildly different from what Canalys, the source usually reported, has been saying (link). Here's how they compare for Q4 2007:

What in the world is going on here?

I'm not sure, but I have some guesses. Canalys doesn't directly measure market share, it receives self-reported shipment reports from the manufacturers and then adds them up. That means Canalys measures shipments into the channel rather than sales, and it depends on the hardware companies to be honest.


Nielsen Mobile doesn't explain on its website exactly how it measures share, but apparently it's using a mix of survey results and the usage data it gathers from the operators (link). So its numbers should reflect current usage of phones rather than shipments. If Nielsen is measuring installed base share, rather than share of current sales, that might explain the difference. Although in that case, share should not be changing as fast as Nielsen shows. So I'm still confused.

If anybody can shed more light on the source of the difference, please post a comment. I've also asked Nielsen, and will let you know if I hear anything.

The conflict in the numbers underlines how ridiculously useless the publicly-available third party sales numbers are in the mobile phone market, and how little attention the press is paying to the inconsistencies. Apple's share varies from 8% to 28%, and no one even notices. Hey, we got a pretty chart and it confirms what we wanted to say, so don't ask questions.

If you want more information on the problems with mobile market share tracking, I wrote a detailed post here (link).

I said there were two newsworthy things about the Nielsen numbers. Can you spot the second one?

That's right, since the iPhone was released, RIM has been gaining share. So much for the folks who predicted at the launch of the iPhone that it was going to take the smartphone market away from RIM. Instead, at least in the first round of competition, we see what you'd expect from a segmented market -- RIM appeals to some customers, Apple appeals to a different group, and both companies do well.

I can't wait to see what the numbers will look like in six months, after the iPhone 3G has been out for a while. Although probably Canalys and Nielsen will still disagree wildly on what's happening.

Only 10% of Japanese people know how to use all the functions in their mobile phones

A Japanese survey of mobile phone users, translated by What Japan Thinks, reports that only about 10% of Japanese mobile phone users say they have mastery (or a good command) over all the functions of their mobile phones (link). About 75% of users say they have mastered less than half of the functions in the phone.

The most confusing functions were e-wallet, applications in general, music player, and Internet access.

What Japan Thinks concludes that few people in Japan "are really comfortable with their phones," which I find reassuring because it says that people in Japan aren't all that different from everyone else on the planet. In many countries there's a tendency to believe that people in Japan (and Korea) use mobile devices so differently from everyone else that there's nothing useful to learn from them. It's as if they're on a different planet. But the reality is that even in Japan, a phone overloaded with features and cryptic menus is confusing to anyone except the most dedicated technophiles.

It is interesting that so many mobile phones in Japan have e-wallet, applications, music, and Internet built in. That's a result of the aggressive rollout of integrated phones and online services by Japanese mobile phone operators -- the real driver that I think makes the Japanese mobile market so different.

(By the way, in case anyone's interested, another survey determined that 14 percent of Japanese cats won't go to the bathroom if someone's watching [link]. Who knew?)