A recent post on Barrons states that Apple tied with Samsung in the 4th quarter of 2014 (with about 75 million smartphones each). The problem? Apple may be actually be ahead, because Apple does “ship”. They “sell”.
Shipped vs. Sold
Generally speaking, Samsung never publishes sales numbers. They publish “shipped” numbers. These are units that are manufactured, and sit in transit, in warehouses, on store shelves or are sold to customers. I have yet to see Samsung publish a number that says what they actually sold.
Contrast that to Apple, which only publishes numbers that represent units sold to customers. Apple doesn’t say how it figures that out (possibly via device activations, since every iPhone and iPad is activated the first time it is started up). But when Apple quotes the number of iPhones sold, they mean sold. Not in transit. Not in warehouses. Not on store shelves. Apple is very tight lipped about inventories and product in transit, possibly because it may give away some useful information about their supply chain.
Only Sold Counts
This is a pet peeve of mine going back a while now. Time and again we see numbers about units shipped, but what doesn’t happen is those numbers being corrected when inventory is written off. It makes for a misleading number, and allows a manufacturer who is willing to spend to “buy marketshare” by building a lot of units and reporting that number. Basically, I suspect that the marketshare for Android is inflated as a result. That isn’t to say that Android still doesn’t outnumber iPhone. I believe it does. But I’m not convinced the gap is a big as it reported.
Some statistics do show “device activations”, getting their data from the carriers and not the manufacturers, but that is typically only seen in the U.S. What is intriguing is how the numbers reported by Apple and the activations are fairly close, but the “shipped” vs. activations can sometimes see a gap. Also curious is why no major tech publication is interested in talking about it. Is it a conspiracy? Nope. More likely just not important or interesting enough for anyone to bother with right now.
Frankly, I would like to see the stats reported like they are for car sales: it is sales only. Units that are built but not sold do not count (and in cars, the manufacturers are no longer counting commercial fleet sales as part of their “units sold” number. No more grabbing marketshare by selling off cars to your captive rental agencies).
A unit that is sold is something in the hands of a customer that might buy my wares. A unit sitting in a warehouse may or may not turn into an app or content sale. As far as I’m concerned, until it is actually sold, it doesn’t exist.