Shipments vs. Traffic: Market Share Data that Really Matter

Numbers are everywhere as we head into the final month of 2012 -- an undisputed "year of mobile" -- and many sources have released loads of market share and device penetration figures over the past week. Some of those numbers are meaningful and some are not.

Among them ad network Millennial Media put out some monthly device figures this morning, based on ad impression share on its network. I'll take a quick look at those numbers and then discuss some of the other recent device data in the market, with an emphasis on tablets.

The iPhone is the single most prevalent device (and has been so for several years) on the Millennial Network. It generated 16% of all the ad impressions in Q3, while iOS devices in total generated 31% of all Millennial's ad impressions. Collectively Samsung devices (phones, tablets) were responsible for 24% of impressions; the second most prevalent device OEM.

RIM devices were responsible for 7% of ad impressions, which is now basically on par ith the company's overall market share in the US. There are no Windows Phones in the top 20 on Millennial's network. Windows Phones (Lumia in particular) has sold reasonably well in select countries in Europe (i.e., Spain, UK, Italy). However they have not sold well in the US. 

Screen Shot 2012-11-29 at 6.45.57 AM

While Apple is the leading manufacturer and has the leading device on the Millennial network, Android devices dominate collectively -- with 52% of all impressions, compared with 34% for iOS. This share breakdown is almost identical to comScore's September US smartphone market share data.  

Finally Millennial ranks the top tablets on its network (see graphic above). The iPad leads, followed by the Samsung GalaxyTab, Kindle Fire and others. Tablets will clearly be one of the most popular holiday gifts and the top electronics item sold in Q4. 

It's curious to see the Acer and Motorola tablets on Millennial's list. From a sales and traffic standpoint there are now effectively three tablets in the market: the iPad (and Mini), Google's Nexus tablets (mainly the Nexus 7) and Kindle Fire devices. While the Nook and Galaxy Tab have some market presence they're essentially "also-rans" at this point. The Galaxy Tab has had greater success in Europe.

A new report from ABI Research claims that the iPad's share (of shipments) fell to 55%, down 14 points in Q3. Lower-priced tablets from Google-ASUS and Amazon are driving a lot of sales to be sure. Indeed, Amazon made the claim earlier this week that Kindle device sales more than doubled over last year. 

But collectively we need to get rid of "shipments" as a market-share metric. It's widely used because it's easier for analyst firms to track than actual sales. However it's not meaningful in any sense. As an industry we need to shift to actual device sales or even other metrics such as web traffic/transactions. This past weekend's data have shown this.

What do sales matter if devices aren't widely used or are used for very limited purposes. For example Kindle Fire devices, though they're selling well, are essentially used to consume Amazon content. They don't show up very often on internet traffic reports. And while the impact of Nexus devices has yet to be fully felt, the broader notion (promoted by the ABI report) that Android tablets now constitute nearly half the devices in the market is misleading.

As widely discussed earlier this week, the iPad is the only tablet right now that appears to matter in a "real world" sense. According to this weekend's e-commerce data from IBM, the iPad generated 88% of tablet traffic on Black Friday and more than 90% on Cyber Monday. 

In Q2 ad network Chitika found that the iPad was responsible for almost 95% of the tablet traffic on its network. Other publishers and e-commerce sellers report similar results: so far the iPad is the only tablet that matters.

E-commerce site Fab.com has said that 95% of its mobile sales come from iOS devices. And tablet content platform Onswipe has said that the iPad is responsible for a remarkable 98% of all tablet-based traffic to the company's publisher partner network. Based on global web traffic data from Q2 this is what actual usage market share looks like:

tablet OS faceoff

Despite Android's dominance in terms of device penetration the majority of mobile web traffic in the US (not to mention transactions) is coming from iOS devices. And when it comes to tablet traffic alone, there is no Android surge. 

There may be a lot of Android tablets out there but engagement and usage levels are far below the iPad.