Looking at Market Share Data

Something I’ve noticed is the technology press’s fascination with data from AdMob, and implication that it as indicative of marketshare for smart phones. According to AdMob’s October 2009 report, the iPhone dominates with their share representing 50% of the data. Symbian represents 25% of the data, Android represents 11% and Blackberry is 7%.

While thost are interesting numbers, the reality is that it doesn’t actually measure handset marketshare. It represents requests for ads on the AdMob service. Compare this to Canalys and their report on market share for a similar timeframe, which has the iPhone holding 17.8% of the market. That places them 3rd behind Blackberry at 20.6% and Symbian at 46.2%. Globally, Windows Mobile (at 8.8%) still has more than Android (which holds 3.5% globally).

So why is AdMob’s data so different? Because they are only measuring requests for ads on their mobile ad service. Basically, what they are measuring is a form of usage. Some number of iPhone apps are ad-supported, so every time you fire one up and run it, it is making requests to services like AdMob to get ads and display them. What AdMob’s numbers tell me are two things.

First, people are using a lot of different apps on the iPhone, compared to Symbian, Android and Blackberry. I have an iPhone and a Blackberry, and I have been a Blackberry user for several years. I only ever use the built-in Blackberry apps, and most of the people I know who have Blackberries only use the built-in applications. Why? Because almost all of the people I know get their machines through work, so they only use them for work-related stuff. On my iPhone, I use a bunch of different applications, but that’s because I use the phone differently, and its part of my personal life, not just my professional life. If I were to have a Blackberry for my own activities, I expect that I would give some apps on the Blackberry a try, but its never been high on my list.

The second thing these numbers tell me is that a lot of apps on the iPhone are ad supported. I don’t expect that a lot of the web sites I go to on my iPhone via Safari use AdMob. I expect those sites use more traditional ad services like those from Google and Yahoo. This means any browsing I do isn’t showing up as AdMob data, and that any traffic to AdMob is from an app. The question, though, is how much revenue are these ad-supported apps generating through their ads. That would be an even more interesting number to know.

The issue I have with the press reporting on AdMob data is that, for the casual reader, the data implies it is handset marketshare, when it is anything but that. The AdMob data is useful as some indication of usage. But it is not useful in terms of trying to understand the potential installed base for an application.