Apple's Ultimate Mobile Dominance Is In Usage, Not Units


We've come a very long way from the pre-iPhone mobile web. Android devices are being activated at the rate of 500,000 per day. Tens of millions of web-capable Blackberries are in consumers' hands. All but the very cheapest phones can show you a webpage on the go.

The big story has been Google's operating system, Android. Comscore's latest statistics indicate that Google's smartphone OS market share is 42 percent, while Apple lags at 27 percent. 

But this notion of what the mobile web looks like doesn't seem to reflect usage patterns that I've seen. We know that there are tens of millions of smartphones out there, but when we look at who actually uses those devices to access content, we see that iOS device owners use their devices far more than other people, whatever size installed base Google or RIM may claim.

As a starting point, here at The Atlantic, the iPod Touch generates more web traffic than any phone by the likes of Motorola, HTC, RIM, or Nokia. Nearly three-quarters of our mobile web traffic comes from just the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. The best performing non-iOS device (Motorola's Droid X) accounted for about 2.5 percent of our mobile usage. Check out the chart below for the details.

Though I'm sure other websites have slightly different numbers, the general pattern of the large majority of usage coming from iOS devices will hold, despite the wide availability of Android phones and tablets. Take the GoGo In Flight WiFi stats that Jon Gruber pointed out last month: The iPhone and iPod Touch account for more than 85 percent of the handheld devices accessing the service from the comfort of their airline seat. 

And it's not just the the mobile web. Take a look at Flickr's statistics about the most popular camerphone pictures. iPhones of all stripes lead all the competition easily. When it comes to apps, Android is doing a bit better. Google announced this summer that 4.5 billion Android apps had been downloaded. Apple countered a week later saying their app store had reached 15 billion downloads.

My point is: Apple's iOS isn't just pretty. iOS is a usage catalyst. There's nothing quite like it on the market, even though there are many devices that look a lot like it. 

This week on The Atlantic Technology Channel, we're looking at mobile devices from a bunch of different angles with an eye to the future. Apple's usage dominance is a fundamental truth that is shaping the entire space. Android's growth notwithstanding, there is iOS and there is everything else. 


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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