iOS trumps Android in mobile shopping. So what?

iOS trumps Android in mobile shopping. So what?

But what's that really mean in the Android/iOS battle?

Apple iPhone and iPad owners again put their stamp on holiday sales in the U.S. last week, accounting for the bulk of revenue booked from mobile devices, several analytics firms said.

But the data those companies touted was, if not meaningless, certainly not revelatory, experts argued.

"It's well understood that iOS attracts more affluent consumers," said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research. "It would be more indicative of trends to see what percentage of their transactions they were doing on their mobile device versus their PC or at brick-and-mortar retail."

That wasn't what data firms like Adobe and IBM were trumpeting, though. Instead, both cast their numbers as part of the iOS-versus-Android battle, the two mobile OS ecosystem that are fighting, if not for global dominance -- Android won that in a landslide -- then for share in the U.S.

According to IBM, iOS-derived online sales accounted for 22% of the total online sales for Thanksgiving and Black Friday in the U.S., nearly four times that of Android's 6%.

Adobe's numbers were of a different cast: Of the 29% of sales tagged to online on Thanksgiving and 27% on Black Friday, iOS users drove 79% of mobile sales revenue while Android users generated 21% -- an almost-four-fold edge to the former.

The dominance of iOS on mobile sales generation was in contrast to its second-place status in ownership share among U.S. consumers. By comScore's latest data, Android powers 52% of all smartphones, iOS 42%.

But as Rubin said, it's long been a given that iOS, even though with a minority share -- globally, it accounted for just 14% of all device shipments in 2014 compared to Android's 82%, IDC said recently, and will fall by a few points between now and 2018 -- remains the preeminent mobile OS in the after-purchase economy. Independent app and mobile game developers, retailers, banks and others either first target iOS or failing that, create for it simultaneously with Android.

Data, whether app store revenue or app counts, has long tagged iOS as the top dog. As to the reasons why, well that's iffier, although the usual arguments stress, as Rubin put it, "more affluent consumers" above all others. Others have speculated that iOS device owners are more engaged with the app and Internet ecosystem, that iOS is easier to use than Android.

"More affluent consumers leads to more disposable income ,which leads to more spending," said Rubin of iOS. "There's good reason to speculate that Apple users are more likely to buy online because of a better experience, but we're not seeing hard evidence of that."

In fact, said Rubin, there's a counter argument to be made for Android. "Because they're less affluent, they're much less likely to own a PC and so more likely to do their online shopping from mobile," he said.

Because the mobile shopping prominence of iOS was not new, nor indicative of much more than what was already known, some pooh-poohed the data. "I don't think this is news," said Stephen Baker, a retail analyst for the NPD Group. "Most of this is people reporting what they can report rather than having what they would like to report."

Absent from the information are a whole host of "wouldn't-it-be-great-to-know" data points that no one, NPD included, has been able to capture, said Baker, especially granular data on what mobile shoppers buy and down-to-the-individual splits on online purchases between different platforms.

"It would be great to know exactly what iOS owners are buying," said Baker. "It's far easier, for example, to buy digital content than physical goods on a smartphone."

The whole online-versus-offline segmentation is on its way out in any case, some said.

"This is not nearly as relevant as last year," said Baker. "More and more retail is omni-channel, where there's not a big difference between physical stores and online in the products they sell or the deals they do. Retail is increasingly agnostic."

But not entirely, others argued.

IBM said that personal computers accounted for 74% of Black Friday online sales revenue in the U.S., about three times that of mobile, meaning smartphones and tablets.

"This shows the trust and comfort level many in the U.S. have in making purchases on the PC," said Ben Bajarin, principal analyst with Creative Strategies, in a piece posted Monday on Tech.pinions (subscription required). "What struck me is how different this picture is with regard to the PC and e-commerce in the U.S. versus other regions I study, particularly markets like India and China."

Bajarin's interpretation of the IBM data made him wonder whether the U.S. is behind the mobile curve, with consumers relying much more on relatively stationary PCs and Macs to finalize their purchases rather than going all-in on smartphones and, to a lesser extent, tablets.

"[This] is potentially a roadblock keeping the U.S. from progressing to the mobile reality the rest of the world is living in," Bajarin wrote. "Perhaps this is just a matter of time, but the centrality of the PC in the U.S. may be a negative compared to innovative things happening in markets where the mobile is the center of consumers' universe."

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