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Is iOS winning the smart device war?

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On the eve of what looks increasingly like the announcement of an 'iPhone 4S', a pumped version of the current iPhone, rather than an all-new 'iPhone 5', let's look at Apple's numbers for spring 2011.

For both Apple Macs and Apple devices, market share has been growing steadily.

Apple's iOS devices (iPod touch, iPhone and iPad) make up more than half of all web use originating from mobile devices, as measured by NetMarketShare.

Note that this is despite Android powering so many more smartphones and tablets from a wide range of manufacturing partners in more global markets. Despite this, Android accounted for only 16.26 per cent of overall mobile web access in September, although that's growing - in August, Android was responsible for 15.98 per cent.

RIM's BlackBerry, once a market leader, lagged at a depressing 3.29 per cent.

Apple device users seem to be much more into to using their devices to access the web than users on other platforms. Apple also dominated in mobile browser market share, with the mobile Safari browser taking 55.59 per cent of all mobile browser impressions this September.

Ina Fried of All Things Digital reported that Wi-Fi hotspot provider Boingo's stats prove Apple devices are dominating airport mobile device Wi-Fi connections.

The figures from June, 2011 showed that the iPhone makes up 42.1 per cent of the mobile device connections to Boingo's airport hotspots. The iPad is second at 23.5 per cent. The iPod touch was third most popular device at 17.5 per cent. In total, Apple products make up a whopping 83.1 per cent of all of the connections to Boingo's hotspots. Android is taking a very small back seat to iOS at 11.5 per cent.

Why? I dunno. I'm guessing Android devices are just harder to use or something. Or that, apart from the true geeks, people who buy them just because they are cheaper don't really get that much use out of them beyond making phone calls.

Meanwhile, in-flight wireless provider Gogo says the iPad now accounts for one-third of all inflight Wi-Fi connections, with Macs near 20 per cent and Windows PCs leading at about 41 per cent.

So what about computers? NetMarketShare puts Macs at 6.04 per cent of entire global web access. 'Global' includes markets where Apple has made barely any penetration whatsoever, like Africa.

In the global market, Windows still looks pretty unassailable with 92.44 per cent of operating system market share. This isn't sales, this is web access by OS.

But Net Applications reports that Apple global desktop share in Fiscal 2011 shows a 25 per cent increase. The firm thinks the bump may be because students and parents are getting ready for school, and notes there was a similar jump in September 2010 - but that increase was much smaller than what the research is showing now.

Of course, some markets have more Macs than others. Zimbabwe, very few, Switzerland, Japan, Germany - loads. The highest figure for New Zealand I've ever seen was 11.6 per cent, but that dropped afterwards to just over 11 per cent soon after. I am not sure what NZ's figure for Macs is now but, as in the US, I suspect it has grown. Net Applications reckons OS X has a 13.7 per cent share now in the US, which may be the highest it has ever been.

Apple's latest desktop operating system, Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, is doing well although it's still a new system. It's already nearing the almost four-year old OS X 10.5 Leopard in popularity, according to the new OS market share numbers. Mac OS X 10.5 Snow Leopard, released in mid-2009, is still the most popular version of the Apple desktop operating system out there.

A month after its release, Lion has a 1.03 per cent share of the overall desktop OS picture, while Leopard is still in use by 1.17 per cent of internet visitors (the source data comes from 160 million units measured).

Snow Leopard saw 0.78 per cent share after its first full month of availability, passing 1 per cent during its second month on the market.

Remember, OS 10.7 Lion is the first Apple OS distributed almost purely digitally.

Why does Apple keep increasing Mac market share? Reliability is a big factor. The American Customer Satisfaction Index released its latest results on US consumer satisfaction in the personal computer industry, and Apple topped the charts for the eighth consecutive year, setting a new company high for ratings. The ratings are calculated from a survey of 70,000 customers. I reckon that's pretty definitive.

But whenever I report something like this, I get comments from individuals about specific problems they have, or had, with their Macs. Please do note that the survey does not say 'there are no problems with Macs at all', just that customers relate higher levels of satisfaction with them than with other devices. I'm not trying to denigrate your individual problems, but please to refer to the NZ Consumer Guarantees Act, as you are protected as to reasonable use and expectations of a device's life.

"In the eight years that Apple has led the PC industry in customer satisfaction, its stock price has increased by 2,300 per cent," remarked Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI and author of The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference.

Apple scored 87 on the index - it was 86 last year. This marks the third straight year that Apple has held a nine-point lead over its nearest competitor in the US PC industry.

That customer satisfaction is reflected here, also, according to Consumer, but to my mind, affordability - or at least, perceived affordability - is also a factor in the steady rise of Macs.

So, the brand is still growing, and Apple looks pretty good on the eve of a new iPhone launch, even though, as a '4S', it may seem a bit disappointing.

- Mark Webster mac-nz.com

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