Wednesday, March 19, 2008

iPhone Doesn't Drive Mobile Usage. But AT&T Might.

According to a recent study by M:Metrics, summarized here, Apple's (AAPL) iPhone is having a dramatic effect on mobile web usage.

Per senior analyst Mark Donovan: "Beyond a doubt, this device is compelling consumers to interact with the mobile Web, delivering off-the-charts usage from everything to text messaging to mobile video."


Even more breathless praise for the iPhone: "This data indicates that the iPhone's widgets are an effective means to drive mobile content consumption," observed Donovan.

The numbers seem to back up the claims:

  • 85% of iPhone users accessed news/info via browser, vs. 58% of smartphone users and 13% of all cellphone users
  • [a "staggering"] 31% of iPhone owners watched mobile TV or video (vs. 4.6% market average)
  • 59% used web search vs. 37% of smartphone users and 6% of the general mobile population
This would all be nice if it actually said anything about causality. It doesn't.

It is equally possible (more than likely, I'd guess), that iPhone users are self-selected for this usage pattern. Call them early adopters, technophiles, whatever. People who use--or would like to use--the web more often are among those most likely to buy an iPhone. There's no evidence whatsoever in this study that indicates the iPhone itself is driving greater usage. (It may be making it somewhat easier or more elegant for those who are so inclined, however.)

In fact, there's no data here that indicates mobile web usage has grown at all. For all we know it shrank last year. (Yeah, I know, I don't believe that one either.)

Sort of like a Dear Abby survey that shows women overwhelmingly believe something (e.g. breastfeeding is best) when all it really shows is that belief is held among people who write to Dear Abby.

Even if you assume the iPhone is a causative factor, consider this: Apple's U.S. market share is on the order of 1%. Given the size of the U.S. mobile market, there's no way that's having a significant impact on mobile internet usage. If we assume 200M U.S. mobile users, M:Metric's numbers imply 26M accessing the web via browser; iPhone users account for 1.7M of those. It's difficult to believe most of those 1.7M weren't using the internet on their old phone.

What would have been interesting is to show the deviation--if any--from the trend in growth that has occurred since the debut of the iPhone.

None of this is to say the iPhone isn't a great smartphone, or that its sales won't increase. I'm only throwing cold water on the claim that Apple is singlehandedly driving up mobile internet usage.

I did find one quote interesting, though: "... all iPhones on AT&T (T) are attached to an unlimited data plan. Our data shows that once the fear of surprise data charges is eliminated, mobile content consumption increases dramatically, regardless of device.

Now that I'd believe.

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