Kantar ComTech Worldpanel’s latest numbers for smartphone sales share are out (or dig the groovy but very dark animation), and pretty much as expected they show that iPhones have had a terrific time in sales terms for the three months to the end of November – so that covers September, October, and November, basically all the time that the new range has been on sale.
My only frustration with Kantar is that it doesn’t index the numbers from year to year; there’s no way to know if sales in 2014 are lower, higher or the same than the previous year or year before. You might think that because more people own smartphones that volume must be increasing, but it’s not necessarily the case; GfK data suggested that mobile phone sales value fell in Christmas 2013 compared to 2012, though increased in 2014 (helped, one suspects, by the Apple phones).
I’ve asked Kantar previously to include an indexing figure (eg 2012 = 100, 2013 = 105, ie 5% greater in sales volume) with these numbers, but they haven’t. (In a future post I’ll try estimating this from general levels of mobile sales from quarter to quarter, and country populations and smartphone shares.)
In the absence of that, we just have the graphs – which I’ll put below. But there’s a much more interesting story which hasn’t been picked out of the press release, though they put it in there. It’s about the refuseniks: the people who have a featurephone, but are determined not to move to a smartphone.
(Note among all these that Windows Phone is still not making anything resembling progress; nor is “other”, though Firefox phones are few and very far between in these countries. The smartphone platform space is played out.)
Here’s the most interesting part, left to the very last paragraph of the release:
Smartphone penetration reached 58% in the US and 65% across Europe’s big five economies. “While die-hard featurephone owners state they are not planning to buy a smartphone in the next 12 months, they might not have a choice as vendors continue to transition their portfolio away from featurephones to smartphones”, concluded [Kantar head of research Carolina] Milanesi. Forty-seven percent of featurephones owners looking to change their current device in the next six months in the US and 35% across Europe’s top five [countries] are not planning to upgrade to a smartphone.
Once again: 47% and 35% of featurephone owners in the US and EU5 (Germany, UK, Italy, Spain, France) who are looking to change device won’t go to a smartphone.
Now, you could flip those numbers over: out of all (remaining) featurephone owners, 53% in the US and 65% in the EU5 may go to a smartphone in the next six months. It’s only “may” because they haven’t said they will, only that it isn’t definite they won’t.
The longrunning ComScore data in the US, meanwhile, which tracks installed base, shows that at the end of October there were about 65m featurephone users remaining there. For the UK, I calculate that smartphone penetration of mobile phone users is now 80.2% – based on the data and calculations I did for a piece last April using Kantar’s data.
In the US, the number of featurephone users converting to smartphones had been fairly constant, at a few million per month, but as the graph below shows, it nosedived during 2014 (the data only goes up to the end of October) – indicating that fewer are shifting up to smartphones.
And indeed, why would you shift to a smartphone in the US if you don’t particularly need one, given its crazy system where you pay a huge per-month fee for the phone, and then for carrier service, and then for data, and then perhaps for “extras” (loosely defined)?
Thus we may now be at the point where the only ones without smartphones are the refuseniks – the people who don’t want a smartphone. In other words, we’re hitting the “laggards” – the 16% who don’t care. Given that the best fit for the data suggests smartphone penetration will top out at 92%-95%, and with 80% already using them (in the UK), we’re clearly in laggard territory.
What does this mean? Mostly, that selling more phones becomes a battle where the existing smartphone platforms try to win people over from their rivals, while there’s also a gradual accretion from the last featurephone holdouts – who, as Milanesi says, might find they have barely any choice when it comes to replacing their dead one.
For BlackBerry, this is almost played out; it’s down to something like 40m users worldwide, of whom perhaps 8m are consumers and thus remain to be poached.
For Windows Phone – well, it’s unclear quite what’s happening there. The numbers sold remain consistently small, and low-end, and there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of movement. There’s some anecdotal suggestions that many of the low-end ones are used as sort of semi-smartphones, with pay-as-you-go contracts and little use made of their internet capabilities.
Android and iOS
The more interesting flow, aka churn, is between iOS and Android, and Android and iOS: in percentage terms for the three months, 11% of iPhone buyers were previously Android users; and 13% of Android buyers were previously iPhone buyers.
I know – the simplistic view would be that iOS is losing users overall. Except the numbers don’t work out that way; there are more Android users than iPhone users in the US (92m v 73.7m), so that iOS is actually gaining users.
• 13% of 73.7 = 9.6 iPhone users shifting to Android;
• 11% of 92 = 10.1 Android users shifting to iOS.
Assume that the number of people changing phone is proportional to the total installed base at any time (which is likely), and the iPhone user base grows – just.
Even so, that churn must be a concern to Apple. Maybe the new screen sizes of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will reduce that, or perhaps it’s inherent in the dynamics of smartphone platforms.
Meanwhile, if you know a refusenik, do ask them what they’ll do when their phone breaks. Smartphone without data? Buy a featurephone on eBay?
Whatever; it’s unlikely the refuseniks are going to make a big impact now. In the developed world, the smartphone platform wars are so played out.